Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Refugee Resettlement Syllabus

As we have launched Canopy NWA, many volunteers have asked for a refugee resettlement reading list. Quite a bit of contemporary fiction has been inspired by the migrant experience, so such a list could become quite long. If you're looking for a few holiday reads that will deepen both your empathy for the refugee experience, and your understanding of it and how to advocate for and with refugees, I recommend:

The Sympathizer, by Viet Thanh Nguyen, which begins at the very end of the Vietnam war, and chronicles the refugee experience in what may be THE refugee novel so far of the 21st century. It won the Pulitzer Prize.

They Are Us: Lutherans and Immigration, by Stephen Bouman, which is not directly about the refugee experience, but is tremendous in understanding a theology of immigration and sanctuary from a Lutheran perspective. Makes a compelling case for the problems that have arisen in our nation when we began calling the undocumented "illegal."

The Lost Boys of Sudan: An American Story of the Refugee Experience, by Mark Bixler. Bixler, a reporter, chronicles the resettlement of Lost Boys in Atlanta, Georgia. This is the best and clearest description of refugee resettlement I've ever read. It really helps potential volunteers understand their role.

Longing for Home: Forced Displacement and Postures of Hospitality, by M. Jan Holt. "Longing For Home offers a frame for understanding how communities can respond to refugees and various homeless populations by cultivating hospitality outside of their own comfort zones. This essential study addresses an urgent interreligious global concern and Holton’s thoughtful and compelling work offers a constructive model for a sustained practical response."

City of Thorns: Nine Lives in the World's Refugee Camps, by Ben Rawlence. Although many of us involved in refugee resettlement think about the experience once refugees arrive here in their "third" home, this book is direct description of refugee life in the camps.

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration, by Isabel Wilkerson. Sometimes we forget that one of the most recent and major refugee crises happened within our own borders, with large portions of the African-American population in our country seeking refuge in northern cities.

Where the Wind Leads, by Vinh Chung. By a refugee, a memoir of his own experience entering the United States through Fort Chaffee, Arkansas, and thriving in his new country.

Strangers at Our Door, by Zygmunt Bauman. "Today we find ourselves confronted with an extreme form of this historical dynamic, as our TV screens and newspapers are filled with accounts of a 'migration crisis', ostensibly overwhelming Europe and portending the collapse of our way of life. This anxious debate has given rise to a veritable 'moral panic' - a feeling of fear spreading among a large number of people that some evil threatens the well-being of society. 

In this short book Zygmunt Bauman analyses the origins, contours and impact of this moral panic - he dissects, in short, the present-day migration panic. He shows how politicians have exploited fears and anxieties that have become widespread, especially among those who have already lost so much - the disinherited and the poor. But he argues that the policy of mutual separation, of building walls rather than bridges, is misguided. It may bring some short-term reassurance but it is doomed to fail in the long run. We are faced with a crisis of humanity, and the only exit from this crisis is to recognize our growing interdependence as a species and to find new ways to live together in solidarity and cooperation, amidst strangers who may hold opinions and preferences different from our own."

A few more novels:

Behold the Dreamers, by Imbolo Mbue
What is the What, by Dave Eggers
The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, Anne Fadiman (not a novel, but literary)

And for those looking for a biblical theology of refuge:

Unceasing Kindness: A Biblical Theology of Ruth
Or, just read Exodus, about Israel as refugee, or Matthew, about Jesus as refugee.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Election Apocalyptic: Revealing Signs of God's Kingdom as anti-dote to white nationalism

I think it is important to share with readers of this column that many, many of our brothers and sisters in minority communities are especially disappointed in white evangelicals this week. Some are scared. And it is our responsibility as Christians
to put away false theologies like ethnically based nationalism, and instead to remain faithful to the liberating gospel of God’s breaking down the dividing walls between us. “Build the wall,” or “send those people home,” should never be the chant of any Christian. Welcome the refugee, love the neighbor, honor the image of God in each other, these are the core commitments of Christianity. All hateful practices that violate such love and welcome and honor are 
disordered practices. It is a sin to confuse Christianity with whiteness, or America.

Yolando Pierce, professor of African-American Religion and Literature at Princeton Theological Seminary, wrote, “Watching 81% of my white brothers and sisters vote for Trump has broken something in me. I do not know if I can continue to pay the cost of being a peacemaker and a bridge-builder with those who refuse to see how their actions have so deeply wounded minority communities. Something has been broken for me; a fragile hope that the work of racial and gender justice will be embraced by the larger church.

I am calling on evangelical Christians all across Northwest Arkansas to join Donald Trump in saying, “Stop it!” to the hate speech that has increased in our region since his election. We elected a man who used dog whistle race-based rhetoric to fuel his campaign, and the result has been harmful speech and actions against black and brown bodies all over our country. It is not just politically correct to speak out against racist and misogynist and homophobic slurs. It is human, and Christian, to do so. 

Yolando is not alone in feeling like something broke this week. Many of us feel like things broke. Others are celebrating. But the shared narrative is one with which many of us are familiar. This election felt, on some levels, apocalyptic.

When you hear the word apocalypse, you might think about the end of the world. That’s the popular definition. So apocalyptic films and literature tend to be about the end of the world, or at the very least the end of the world as we know it.

But when I hear the word apocalypse, I do not think about the end of the world. Instead, I think about the in-breaking of the kingdom of God. I think about the arrival, advent, and recapitulation of all things in Christ. In other words, apocalypse is really about revealing, showing forth the signs of God’s kingdom here and now.

Ask yourself: Where can I see glimpses of God’s kingdom? How can I help make them a reality? That’s apocalyptic. One of my favorite theologians said: “Apocalyptic is the mother of all Christian theology” (Ernst K√§semann). What he meant by this is that almost everything we read in the New Testament, from the teachings of Jesus, all the way to the letters of Paul, is informed by this lived anticipation of the arrival of the kingdom of God. Jesus himself constantly points toward the kingdom. When the Son of Man comes, he says, and then he has very specific things in mind that happen in that coming kingdom. The thirsty receive water, the hungry are fed, the naked clothed, repentance and humility are practiced, the poor are lifted up, the rich are brought down from their thrones. 

The outposts of this coming kingdom (of which churches are called to be the foremost) will be notable for taking up their cross and following Jesus on the way of the cross. This is not cross as tool of the oppressor (like the way the cross is used in white supremacy), but cross as a public sign of Christ’s love made perfect in and through our weakness and vulnerability.

That phrase, Son of Man, which so frequently occurs in Scripture, especially on the lips of Jesus, comes to us first in a great apocalyptic book, Daniel. In Daniel, God gives dominion to “one like a son of man” (7:13).  It’s a phrase that could perhaps be better translated: The Human One. The one who will rule over heaven and earth is the truly Human One, the one in whom the authentic image of God is restored. 

Christians perhaps uniquely among people of faith look at this Human One and see Jesus Christ. In Jesus Christ we see the humanity of humanity restored. Paul talks about him as the New Adam, restoring what had been lost in the Old Adam. Making humans human again (and so humane). 

Not only that, but this Human One, that Jewish brown-bodied Jesus, reigns in a peculiar way. He ends up executed at the hands of the empire, persecuted by the religious authorities, victim of a rigged trial, with a mocking title above his head—King of the Jews. 

And there, precisely in that moment, the kingdom of God is revealed. Jesus reigns from on high, on a cross. The suffering servant is our vision of the kingdom of God. There are historical moments when it is sometimes easier to be a Christian, because the culture simply aligns with your perspective and protects you. In a moment when all kinds of vulnerable people are more under threat and in need of loving neighbors, the responsibility of Christians becomes much more clear. Take up the cross, and endure being maligned by others, maybe even your fellow religionists, for associating with those who are being hated.

That’s what apocalypse looks like.

[Published today in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette Faith Matters Column]

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Dis-establishmentarian Jesus

I'm enough of a dis-establishmentarian to have been perhaps more ready than some for the emerging political climate we find ourselves in. I'm not at all pleased to be living in a nation with such a hawkish military. I tend to think we've allowed the plutocrats to divide the demos and order most of government and "the system" towards their benefit, padding the pockets of the rich.

So, as a pastor committed to not only raising a voice in solidarity with the poor, but also living into the reality where class war is no longer waged and all people are free to thrive, I try to find a third way beyond the tired tropes of the system.

In this sense, the anti-establishment movement (which was also a populist movement) that elected Trump and I share common cause. We think the system is rigged.

The difference, though, between our sense of how it is rigged is rather profound. Whereas they prefer nationalism, tend to use rhetoric against ethnic and various minorities as a way to consolidate and emphasize what might be better about our nation, I find myself seeing our diversity, our offering of refuge to strangers, our democratic process of always seeking more ways to engage and give voice to those on the margins, as our greatest strength, our sources of resilience.

I'm at work, always, striving to amplify the practices that encourage our resilience. It's why I march against plutocracy, it's why I gather with intentionally diverse and ecumenical communities, it's why I try to learn about my forms of complicity in the system that is, and repent of it.

This is what I think it means to listen to Jesus, to love my neighbor as myself, and to very clearly, articulately, and steadily, distinguish myself and my movement from the interests of Empire.

Monday, November 14, 2016

To what is God calling the North American progressive church in this moment?

"The role of progressive clergy and nuns in creating sanctuaries and in demanding accountability from the new administration cannot be overestimated." (Lisa Corrigan)
I will resist white ethno-nationalist fascism with every thread in my body. And I'll be damned if I watch Lutherans repeat their past. (Eric Worringer)
There's a lot of noise, and many conflicting voices, in this transition period between the election of a ethno-nationalist presidential candidate and his inauguration into a seat of power. Even if he offers some ameliorating words (Stop it!), the flood-gates have already been opened by his campaign rhetoric, and his current slate of nominees to influential positions and cabinet seats illustrates quite clearly the "alt-right" direction he intends to lead the country.

And let's be completely clear: Trump was elected by white Christians. They made up the largest block of his supporters, and the percentages of white Christians who voted for Trump were, as he says, "Yuge!"

Since white Christianity played such an important role in the election of such a candidate, in the process blessing ethno-nationalist sentiments (notice the major uptick in hate speech post-election), it is now the theological and moral responsibility of those of us who lead white Christian congregations to take clear and decisive action, offering a clear and compelling voice and vision in this moment.

But what, exactly, should we do, and what should we say?

I think we might try at least the following:

1. Admit complicity.
2. Listen to and amplify marginalized voices.
3. Stand with.
4. Articulate a clear and compelling vision of the kingdom of God.
5. Don't wait and see.

Admit complicity

If I look at a map of the country, and see which counties and states elected Trump, that map by and large matches another map, a map of where the majority of ELCA churches are located. We are a rural church, by and large, and much of our membership lives in majority white communities. Even if the Christian perspective of the leadership of our denomination emphasizes some of the classic liberal emphases on diversity, inclusion, valuing multiculturalism and racial reconciliation, our makeup and practice falls far behind our ideals. 

The truth is, we've been failing at this. We think we are above the fray, and can judge communities who are more transparent in their racism and ethnic profiling, but we are complicit. We haven't done the work of reparations. We're been far too influenced by the theology of whiteness. 

We need to confess. Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa. I/we have not done enough of the work myself, and we are now reaping what we have sown, by our neglect and indifference. Lutherans in particular have been here before, and we didn't do that well. But we have some examples of how to do better. We should learn from them.

To all those affected by the results of an election like this, I say, I am sorry. I am working to do better. I take full responsibility.

Listen to and amplify marginalized voices

I am hearing so many movements that are starting that are going to attempt to do the work of creating sanctuary, holding our government accountable. I want to amplify what they are doing. Here are a few:

An open letter to Our Nation from 100 Woman of Color Leaders

The American Civil Liberties Union

Southern Poverty Law Center


I stand ready to amplify and share more. Tell me who you believe is doing the best organizing work.

Stand With

This week I plan to attend a community cohesion forum here in our Northwest Arkansas community. I believe bringing diverse people together to hear their voices and find common cause is essential. This doesn't solve everything because getting to the shared table isn't as easy for everyone, but if communities work on such community organizing, and work hard at repairing the breach, offering special space for the ostracized voices, even amplifying them, good work gets done.

I plan to attend a listening event for the Latino community Thursday, and hopefully participate in an anti-racism walk over the weekend. The point is to get out, be with, stand for, stand with, stand strong. Get organized, run for office, visit your congresspeople, march on Washington.

Articulate a clear and compelling vision of the kingdom of God

Many of us have been intuiting that we need another Barmen Declaration, another Darmstadt Word, to boldly proclaim that there's only one thing that centers us as Christians, and it is Christ and him crucified, not whiteness and itself asserted. We are increasingly aware not only that racism and misogyny are influential in our culture, but that they are alternative theological narratives that have so inhabited our worldview that we have confused whiteness with Christianity, and the kingdom of God with patriarchy. 

It is going to take a lot of work from diverse voices to condemn the heresy of whiteness. It is going to be a very long journey dismantling patriarchy. And tied in together with those heresies, we have significant doses of other false religions, chief among them being consumerism and capitalism.

I don't list these because of the politics or the identity issues, although those are there. Significant critiques of all of these things can be and are expressed in secular terms. But for Christian communities, the problem is even more problematic: these structural sins have become so entangled in our theology that we confuse them for Christianity itself. 

So one part of the theological work is critique, and confession. But then an alternative vision needs to be written and lived in a post-critical phase. We need to be able to say two things: what the kingdom of God is not; and then what the kingdom of God IS.

Here, at this point, progressive Christianity has in fact done some good work, deserves some credit. We indeed already offer sanctuary. We tend to win the culture wars even if we lose some elections.

And frankly, because of the God we proclaim (one who is always found among the oppressed, whose Spirit rises up from the bottom, who lifts up the downtrodden and is made perfect in powerlessness), the church who will stand against the principalities and powers of ethno-nationalism is and will be at its best when it lives the alternative rather than beating the abuser at forms of abuse, playing power games just like the powerful (that is, we at least try to learn a bit about mimetic theory). 

Don't Wait and See

Some people be like, "Well, we really don't know what this administration will be like. We'll just have to wait and see." That's the worst strategy ever. It's what evil is always hoping for, good people who do nothing until it's too late, and then they can't do anything at all. Start imagining and acting now, living towards the future. Be an outpost of the kingdom of God now. Don't try to float only after everything has flooded.

In the end, I find forward movement on all of this challenging, on some levels disheartening, and on other levels incredibly energizing. As the pastor of a progressive Christian congregation, I feel like this is a kairos moment, an opportunity for us to confess the faith that is in us, and to find common cause with others. I am hopeful, in spite of the challenges; I'm mindful of the real threat many feel, and promise to stand with all those who are afraid.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

What's a pastor to say after this election?

First answer: I'm somewhat at a loss. I have too much to say and not enough to say, all bound up together in a numbing confusion.

Those with whom I share common political perspective hope I'll say something. Those who disagree with me politically are probably wondering whether it will be comfortable to come to church Sunday. So my ability to say anything meaningful is constrained by my own confusion and disappointment, and the wide range of expectations in play.

If you know me well, I'm going to try to be pastoral, while also being totally transparent about the particular perspective out of which I think and pray and speak.

At a very basic level, I myself have a mix of feelings about this election. I'm worried on behalf of women. There was a lot of misogyny in this election. I'm worried for people of color and immigrants. I'm really worried about refugee resettlement. I'm worried that basic civil liberties and progress will be rolled back. I'm worried about Supreme Court nominations, and I'm worried that Trump really is at risk of implementing fascist strategies. So I'm watching for that.

On the other hand, I'm more "ready" than "anxious", because I consider our democracy to be rather resilient and sturdily constructed, and I'm hoping that the checks and balances of our system will function well. I plan to use my voice and vote in every possible way to protect my neighbors who I believe are now threatened by a Trump presidency.

I also think that Trump won because he listened to a broad cross-section of Americans better than the Democrats did, and inasmuch as Democrats write that whole group of voters off as "fill-in-the-blanks," they're failing to listen to the actual concerns. It's more complicated than that. It must be, because 45% of all United States voters voted for Trump. Think Bell Curve here.

Responses to this election vary widely. I have friends who woke up this morning and had to comfort weeping, scared children, even while they themselves were panicking. I have friends who woke up this morning not that worried at all, more curious how things will work out between a Trump presidency and a Republican House and Senate.

I have friends who have said, essentially, "Huh... well, I wouldn't have voted for that man, but many of my friends and relatives did. So I guess I need to watch and see and learn why they did so."

I have friends who have decided to move, because the climate of fear and hate will be too much for them in their communities. They feel literally less safe today than yesterday.

I have friends, especially conservative Christian ones, who woke up this morning and said, "This will finally shake things up in Washington."

In other words, we live in a world so divided by politics that our horizons are incommensurable. It's as if we live in two different countries. There are two different sets of facts. Maybe there are even more than two sets of facts. But it's confusing living in the same country that is two different countries.

It's especially hard to listen to each other, or understand each other, if the facts, the discourse, the whole ecology of understanding, is on different footings.

This election cycle has been a frenzy of rococo micro-aggressions and gothic macro-aggressions. We've built up an edifice of cross-condemnations, partisan brinkmanship that brought the doomsday clock dangerously close to its metaphorical midnight... but the bell hasn't tolled, and we woke up this morning wondering where (and when) we were.

Here's a collection of quotes from friends. I think seeing the range of responses is illuminating.

Critiquing liberal doom-saying
Liberal voice of solidarity 
Prayer for unity when it's hard
Incommensurable horizons
The civic duty
Naming implicit white supremacy

I resonate with many of these quotes, to be honest. But quoting them doesn't yet get me to saying what I need to say.

So what I am supposed to say as pastor? I think my job is to offer hope-filled realism. I'm taking this assignment from the gospel lesson for this Sunday. Jesus both warns that many things will happen to the community of faith, many of them difficult to endure, but then tells them to have hope, and to be strong.
Luke 21
5 When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, 6 "As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down." 7 They asked him, "Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?" 8 And he said, "Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, "I am he!' and, "The time is near!' Do not go after them. 9 "When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately." 10 Then he said to them, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 11 there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven. 12 "But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. 13 This will give you an opportunity to testify. 14 So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; 15 for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. 17 You will be hated by all because of my name. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By your endurance you will gain your souls.
This is the text I'll preach from Sunday. It's the assigned text. It's in the lectionary.  I didn't pick it. But it is right for the moment. I think it's my responsibility to listen, express grief, express solidarity, and then point to hope.

I'm supposed to tell the truth. But I can't get to the truth without a deep listen, especially listening to voices that make me uncomfortable. If I write off everybody who voted for Trump simply because I disagree with them (and find the man himself disgusting), I miss an opportunity to build coalitions that can move us forward in the future.

I think my job as a pastor is to stay, and stay strong. I'm supposed to keep steadily pointing in the right direction, the arc that bends towards the justice of God.

Also, and this is important, how did I ever get the impression that I as a Christian would get to be on the winning side, in the position of power? Certainly Scripture doesn't teach us that. Jesus is speaking in the passage from Luke to a small and oppressed religious minority. The text is written probably around 70 A.D., after the destruction of the actual temple, and to the early Christian community, themselves a small and oppressed religious minority. His words, Luke's words, are words for our moment.

Christian, this is your moment. You've got your work cut out for you. You may get arrested. You may be betrayed by family. You may be brought before the government, or even before the church.

This will give you the chance to testify. And you get to testify yourself, and hopefully your fellow Christians will listen to you, even if you need to tell your fellow Christians, "Wake up, you haven't been listening very well!"

But don't get all apocalyptic about it. When the moment of martyria happens, it will happen, but you shouldn't hope for these things, or imagine them before you're in them. Don't get so wrapped up in reading the signs of the times that you over-signify the present moment.

And don't go chasing after candidates of false hope. You'll end up disillusioned (and as a side note, and as someone interested in statistics, what are we all going to do with the news that data is dead?).

And so on.

I can hardly think of a gospel passage more appropriate to our present moment. Go read it again, and again. It offers some comfort.

I often think about Dietrich Bonhoeffer in these moments, because he more than many Christians of the modern era intersected Christian faith and power politics. Bonhoeffer had many professional opportunities, and spent time as a pastor in Italy, later in England, then study abroad in the United States. But when things got particularly rough in Germany, while he was in New York at the invitation of Union Theological Seminary, he made the decision to return home. Here's how he explained his decision to Reinhold Niebuhr (one of the more prominent and politically savvy Christian theologians of the 20th century):
"I have made the mistake in coming to America. I must live through this difficult period of our national history with the Christian people of Germany. I will have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people…Christians in Germany will face the terrible alternative of either willing the defeat of their nation in order that Christian civilization may survive, or willing the victory of their nation and thereby destroying civilization. I know which of these alternatives I must choose, but I cannot make this choice in security."
I do not yet know if our present moment is as rife with peril as his was, but there are enough parallels that I am mindful of it. So that letter of Bonhoeffer, it serves as a clarion call, an alert. It wakes me up each time I read it. "I will have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people."

If you're reading this, and you're really afraid... I see you. You're my people. Give me a call. Send me a note. I'm happy to talk.

If you're reading this, and you're really glad Trump got elected... I have to tell you, I'm not happy, but hey, I'd still like to work together for the common good with you. Can I tell you why I'm so worried, and can you tell me more about your perspective?

That might work. It might not. Jesus teaches that sometimes he will unite us, and sometimes he will drive us apart.

But I'm going to try, inasmuch as possible, to stick with Jesus. Which is I think what a pastor is supposed to say after any election.

Linking to blogs here:

Saturday, November 05, 2016

Still pondering produsage (peer production)

A review of Blogs, Wikipedia, Second Life, and Beyond: From Production to Produsage

Axel Bruns coins a new term to describe all those involved in innovative new methods of internet-based production--produsers--the most succinct definition of which may be "productive users." It's a useful term, simply indicating that often in the new media, producers are also users and vice versa. Some of his examples include Wikipedia, Everquest, Second Life, and of course, one of the most famous products that is completely open source and user-produced--Linux.

Bruns offers a useful summary of the core characteristics of produsage early in the book, and then re-visits these core characteristics in each chapter. I found this immensely helpful. I basically memorized the core characteristics, and then was able to predict almost in advance how the characteristics functioned in the media or product/artefact under consideration.

Towards the end of the book, Bruns even offers a description of how produsage might function in relation to politics, thus indicating that this is a cultural shift and not simply a technological change in the means of production. Taking his cue, and for the sake of this essay, which is striving to bring these media and cultural texts into conversation with current understandings of the church, I list them but then interline thoughts on how they might function (or are already functioning) in the life of the church:

1) Open participation, communal evaluation: Participation in produsage must be invited from as wide a range of produsers as possible (Wikipedia is an excellent example of accomplishing this) because this increases the overall quality of the artefact or product. The same community who participates is also involved in the evaluation. "This holoptic model of communal evaluation in produsage, in which each contributor is able to see and evaluate everyone else's contributions, also acts as a driver for a continuing process of socialization of participants into the community ethos. In a church context, this might mean that potential learners in adult education would participate in the planning process and selection of study material, and then evaluate later how they as a group did at selecting study material that helped the group grow in faith, knowledge, etc. I happen to think church leadership seldom does this in most contexts, but I do not have statistical evidence to back that up. Furthermore, I find it intriguing to ponder what it would look like to produse sermons through open participation and communal evaluation.

2) Fluid heterarchy, ad hoc meritocracy: Leaders in the system hold that role through the quality of what they produse. No hierarchy is needed to elect people to positions of authority. Instead of a bureaucracy, you find an ad-hocracy (Toffler). I find this concept to hold incredible promise, and I already see how it works on the ground. In almost every congregation I have served, some of the most significant ministries that were happening simply happened, and the congregation celebrated them because individuals had a passion and gift for them. Often, the elected bureaucratic machine, such as a church council, actually played a less important overall role in the economy and work of the congregation. Teams address needs as they arise, or as gifts are called out. This is called the principal of equipotentiality. I wonder, for example, if a fluid church in a produsage era even needs an elected council or board?

3) Unfinished artefacts, continuing process: Brian Eno suggests that we "think of cultural products, or art works, or the people who use them even, as being unfinished. Permanently unfinished. We come from a cultural heritage that says things have a `nature,' and that this nature is fixed and describable. We find more and more thatn this idea is insupportable--the `nature' of something is not by any means singular, and depends on where and when you find it, and what you want it for."[1] This principle would introduce more grace and flexibility into churches. Things we do together in church are experiments, unfinished artifacts, as are we ourselves. I am in the continuing process of being finished by my relationship with you, and vice versa, and in God we anticipate the completion of this process, but only at the parousia. This is a thoroughly eschatological, and we can thank Bruns for pointing out how to think about it in terms of organizations and produsage.

4) Common property, individual rewards: I think this quote describes the key leaders of many congregations I have been a part of, "Innovative, commited and networked amateurs working to professional standards."[2] Bruns is at pains to distinguish this phenomenon from another one, sometimes called "prosumers." Prosumers are professional at their consumption. High-end audiophiles may be an example. Often the character of this group, who hold the property in common with others but receive individual rewards (prestige, etc.), is described in some unsatisfactory terms, such as nerds, geeks, enthusiasts, or hackers. In the church context, I see this most often happen when people simply give to the common good of the congregation, and take pride in the success of the congregational ministries. However, it is not insignificant to figure out how rewards for individuals happen in congregations, and to ensure that systems are in place to be clear about produsage in congregations as common property.

If you are short on time (this is a long book), I strongly recommend reading at least up through chapter six, the final chapter on Wikipedia. I was simply amazed and staggered by how Wikipedia works. I actually have always trusted Wikipedia for what it is. "By contrast with traditional encyclopedias, which seek to present the current state of knowledge about the world--Wikipedia presents the currently prevalent representations of knowledge about the world.[3] This is an epistemological distinction with hermeneutical consequences.

This, together with the fact that Wikipedia is a palimpsest where you can always view the history of the development of the document you are reading (a fact not known to all users of Wikipedia), makes me trust the information I gather from it more than other web sites, and to a certain degree, even from an encyclopedia. I have not expected Wikipedia to be an encyclopedia. Wikipedia is a wiki. Both are beautiful and interesting in their own right, if read for the genre they truly are. It is Bruns' great contribution to the cause to have analyzed thoroughly precisely what is innovative and important about Wikipedia and other prodused artefacts.

[2] 29.
[3] 114.

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Lutherans and Catholics Together: Is that a good thing?

Many of us were deeply moved by the joint Lutheran-Catholic observance of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation Monday in Lund, Sweden.
Bishop Munib Younan and Pope Francis

Since Christ prayed for unity, it is natural that we lament disunity, and celebrate whenever Christians find ways to signal and practice greater unity.

I have friends, however, who have legitimate questions about the significance of this event. I join them in their questioning.

They have some legitimate worries, and I have less worries. So let me suggest that the joint observance is reason for measured rejoicing.

Unity isn't same-ness, but rather gracious diversity. We are free to celebrate that each person in Christian community brings different gifts, while one Spirit unites us all (1 Corinthians 12). So too in terms of Christian communions, each communion brings unique gifts to the global ecumene. Differences are not erased, but become many gifts that strengthen and build up.

Keep an historical outlook on such observances. Ecumenism is always a back and forth. A church publishes a confession. Another side in the dialogue responds. Sometimes this pushes churches further from one another, even to the point of breaking. Sometimes such confessional give-and-take draws them closer to each other. They begin to meet more regularly, find places of agreement, and celebrate those agreements. This is what happened in 2000 with the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification.

But just like in any family, one agreement doesn't signal perfect and static unity. It's a continuing relationship. So of course not everything on the doctrine of justification has been resolved by JDDJ. Of course it hasn't, and even the document itself recognizes that.

So, not surprisingly, Roman Catholics and Lutherans are able to find great unity in terms of service. Pope Francis has taught, "Let us meet each other in doing good." Lutherans are quite into doing good with others.

But each communion will have its own way of thinking about these joint observances. So, here's the Roman Catholic "take."

And there will remain some unresolved differences, some of them very significant. Like this one:

Which means we all have continuing work to do. Lutherans will need to push the Roman Catholics, and push them hard, to recognize that Scripture itself records women serving in preaching and leadership roles. And will need to make an argument that the ontological understanding of the priesthood with priests as in persona Christi doesn't ultimately work very well.

But that doesn't mean Lutherans have figured out ecclesiology all that well. Clearly we haven't. And Roman Catholics can choose their issues on which they legitimately can push the Lutherans.

So we'll keep dialoguing, and studying, and serving together.

I do have one legitimate worry. I believe the ELCA has made significant progress in full inclusion of the LGBTQ community in the life of the church, something the Catholics can learn from. And I refuse to do anything that throws those gains under the bus under the guise of "ecumenism."

That being said, Roman Catholics do far better at ethnic diversity than American Lutherans... so we have much to learn from them.

In the meantime, I for one believe it is a tremendous gain, accomplished in just these past 100 years of ecumenical relationships, that two great communities that represent Christ in the world, have shifted from mutually anathematizing each other, to jointly worshipping together.

Because the witness of Christian unity is of great import to the world. It's why Jesus prayed for unity in the presence of others. It matters to Christ.