Friday, December 30, 2005

Why It All Matters: Race and the Emergent Church

So, whiteness and white privilege; let’s review previous posts very quickly:

Labor historian David Roediger points out that many white people have never once thought that African Americans are expert observers of whiteness, and therefore know it and can identify it while many white people rarely think about why they think of themselves as white, let along investigate the ways in which they live life based on the assumption of white privilege.

Ralph Ellison’s 1970 article reminds readers that woven throughout America’s “heritage” are African and African American culture(s), and without them, America would not live up to its so-called “ideals” of freedom, etc.

Writing in the early 1990s, bell hooks, in her customarily engaging and critical way, comments on the ways in which white people never “see” black people in a white supremacist culture since a white “rhetoric…supplies a fantasy of whiteness.” She then references post-colonial theory that seeks to dismantle hegemonic discourses of oppression that perpetuate and encase societal expectations and “ideals” – in this case “white” customs and traditions.

James Baldwin insightfully enters a place that white people know, live in/with, yet rarely discuss but repeatedly enact – white guilt – and identifies dialogue as one way to begin a process of change.

Journalism scholar Robert Jensen offers his own definition of white privilege, as does feminist scholar Peggy McIntosh, musician Derek Webb, and finally, Robert Paul Wolff in his important Autobiography of an Ex-White Man (2005).

Finally, I narrate my own recent moment during which white privilege dominated the conversation, and importantly, resulted in a productive and positive exchange; it was a consciousness-raising moment.

I bring these threads of conversation up because I want to suggest that in Emergent conversations about diversity and multiculturalism, if they are to proceed forward with rigor and meaningful depth, a clear witness to whiteness and white privilege must be part of the discussion.

This is important, I believe, for at least five reasons:

1. Like it or not, the face of the Emergent church is largely white, and largely male. To be fair, this is partly a function of how the media present and discuss the movement/church, but it also reflects the reality of the movement’s leadership at this point in time.

2. Though global in orientation and global in scope, to more cogently and faithfully enact the gospel and participate in the Kingdom, the Emergent church in the U.S. must deal with the issue of race. This issue is part of the missional landscape of which the Emergent church is a part (more on this point below). As the Emergent church shares various interwoven threads of the larger evangelical quilt (to adopt a metaphor from Randall Balmer’s Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory [1989]), larger, structural realities of evangelicalism matter for the Emergent church.

3. Recent research provides data that attest to the importance of the issues I raise. Based on sound scientific research, in Divided By Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America (2000), Michael Emerson and Christian Smith find that despite paying lip service (sometimes) to interethnic initiatives, the political, social, and economics structures of evangelicalism and U.S. society result in white evangelicals perpetuating and supporting racial division. This manifests itself very often, the authors demonstrate, with white evangelicals (when they admit it) claiming that racial tensions are the result of individual conflicts, and shy away from acknowledging larger structural parameters of racism.

Consider this quote from Divided By Faith: “Like their forbears during Jim Crow segregation, who prescribed kindness toward people of other races, but did not challenge the Jim Crow system, present-day white evangelicals attempt to solve the race problem without shaking the foundations on which racialization is built. As long as they do not see or acknowledge the structures of racialization, they inadvertently contribute to them. And, insofar as they continue to give solutions that do not challenge racialization, they allow racial inequality and division to continue unabated” (132).

4. In a provocative article titled “The Economics of the Emerging Church,” James K.A. Smith baldly asks, “What’s the median income of a ‘new kind of Christian’”? “How bourgeois is the emerging church?” “What can we do to prevent the emerging church from being simply another bourgeois institution?” [Smith refers to the “emerging” church in the U.S.] In essence Smith points out that to “be” postmodern and to ask the sorts of cultural questions raised by the Emergent church implies a sort of privilege. “But how will the postmodern church reach those who’ve been on the underside of modernity?,” Smith asks. Smith positively notes the missional nature of the Emergent church and suggests that it has the potential to address “socio-economic structures that systematically disempower” places and peoples. A concern for these things in the North American context, Smith suggests, is not enough; the Emergent church must powerfully speak to exploitative socio-economic structures globally as well.

I deeply, deeply appreciate and embrace (what appear to be) Smith’s socialist analysis of the Emergent church; his comments resonate in important ways, and provide an opportunity to suggest that discussions of class come with conversations about race. If theology is praxis, as Gustavo Gutierrez and James Cone show, then both race and class deserve equal attention. The North American context (to say nothing of the global situations) demands it.

6. The missional character of the Emergent (Emerging) church suggests an orientation that is conscious of the embedded character of the Christian gospel and the importance of the particularities and situatedness of issues related to life in North America. And the most important issue at hand, I suggest, is race. Because the Emergent church is missional, and because of this (by definition) attuned to the particularities of the North American context, then the Emergent church must grapple with the issue of race in profound and radical ways if it is to faithfully carry out its missional tasks.

So, if my assessments in this series are accurate and if my suggestions are worthy of reflection, then what is to be done? What kind of educational/pedagogical (or ecclesial) initiatives must we undertake to begin the task(s) I propose? Any ideas or suggestions?

Here’s one, and I’m sure there are more.

Missional Thinking About Darfur

Hannah Im (HT: Allthings2all) offers this Advent reflection on Darfur. It is relevant anytime of the (Christian) year.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Cybershuffle for 2006

My good friend Anthony Smith, who practices Pentecost and lives missionally as a Postmodern Negro, has a new blogspace here. You should read his blog often.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Bearing Witness to White Privilege: Further Reflections

In recent weeks I have had several conversations regarding race/race-ism/white privilege with a number of people, many of whom are white.

One of these conversations really stands out, as it exemplifies the assumption of white privilege, yet demonstrates the possibilities that (re)education about race and white privilege in America’s history might offer and what a willing heart/spirit/disposition (to learn) might bring.

Setting the scene: I am eating lunch with several people at a restaurant, and one of the people there is a white female in her 50’s, wealthy, politically conservative, patient, thoughtful, and also a Christian. This woman’s background includes family members who are racist, and who regularly use racial slurs towards non-whites. Not a regular witness to this aspect of such a familial orbit anymore, the woman about whom I write has a number of non-white friends, some very close, as well as a number of African American co-workers.

Through the course of our conversation over lunch, through the lens of race we discuss history, politics, the Christian church, and interpersonal dynamics – people’s personal or ethnic “space.” It was a lively conversation, and very interesting as well. As we finished our meals and as conversations were winding down, this woman remarked (paraphrasing): “I’m just at a point in my life now where race doesn’t matter to me; I mean, I don’t look at people as African American, etc., I just look at people as people. Though I grew up around racist people, I did not adopt their point of view, nor do I condone their slurs and inappropriate comments. A person’s race just doesn’t matter to me.”

Anyone who knows this woman and who heard this conversation knows that these comments are sincere: this woman truly does love people, and pours her heart out for people all the time.

Yet, with eyes to see, the subtlety of these comments is clear and visible: this woman, by virtue of her whiteness and by virtue of the fact that she takes comfort in not being personally racist, she can say that to her race doesn’t matter. As a white woman in her 50’s, as a white upper-middle-class woman, as a white female Christian, she has the privilege to say that race does not matter. Would her non-white friends who are in their 50’s (or any other age for that matter) say the same thing?

Here was my response (paraphrased): “But, that’s just it: from a privileged position of whiteness, white people can say race doesn’t matter because, most likely, being white has never cost you anything. In other words, in U.S. society, being white is a currency that is taken everywhere, it is a key that unlocks numerous doors, it is a welcome, open door to almost anything, anywhere – without undergoing questioning or interrogation, without assuming you harbor ill-will or malice, without suffering the inhumanity of suspicion because of one’s ethnicity. It is called white privilege. From this lofty position, it is always others who play the race card.”

I will never forget the look on this woman’s face; she realized after my response that, as a white woman [or person], she had the “privilege” to say that race doesn’t matter. For the first time in her life, I think, she realized not only what white privilege is, but what it means, and that it is something on which to reflect deeply and about which to think critically and educate robustly.

Do you have any stories to share?

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Witnesses to White Privilege: Race and the Emergent Church, Part 3

In a previous post I argued that despite the positive and important gestures the Emergent church has made with respect to creating a more diverse and multicultural composition, structural changes will not emerge without a profound, sustained, and rigorous recognition and interrogation of white privilege.

To push this part of the conversation further, in another post I offered, via David Roediger's keen observation, and through the words of Ralph Ellison, bell hooks, and James Baldwin, a definiton of whiteness.

Today, I would like to continue looking at whiteness, but now through the words of white observers.

University of Texas journalism professor Robert Jensen prefers the term “white supremacist” to write about white privilege. In The Heart of Whiteness he writes: “I mean a society whose founding is based in an ideology of the inherent superiority of white Europeans over non-whites, an ideology that was used to justify the crimes against indigenous people and Africans that created the nation. That ideology also has justified legal and extralegal exploitation of every non-white citizen immigrant group, and is used to this day to rationalize the racialized disparities in the distribution of wealth and well-being in this society. It is a society in which white people occupy most of the top positions in powerful institutions, with similar privilege available in limited ways to non-white people who fit themselves into white society” (pp. 3-4).

The website defines white privilege as a “social relation” and offers a 7-part definition (found here):

1. a. A right, advantage, or immunity granted to or enjoyed by white persons beyond the common advantage of all others; an exemption in many particular cases from certain burdens or liabilities.
b. A special advantage or benefit of white persons; with reference to divine dispensations, natural advantages, gifts of fortune, genetic endowments, social relations, etc.

2. A privileged position; the possession of an advantage white persons enjoy over non–white persons.

3. a. The special right or immunity attaching to white persons as a social relation; prerogative.
b. display of white privilege, a social expression of a white person or persons demanding to be treated as a member or members of the socially privileged class.

4. a. To invest white persons with a privilege or privileges; to grant to white persons a particular right or immunity; to benefit or favor specially white persons; to invest white persons with special honorable distinctions.
b. To avail oneself of a privilege owing to one as a white person.

5. To authorize or license of white person or persons what is forbidden or wrong for non–whites; to justify, excuse.

6. To give to white persons special freedom or immunity from some liability or burden to which non–white persons are subject; to exempt.

Here, academician Peggy McIntosh defines white privilege as “unpacking the invisible knapsack,” and observes: “I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was "meant" to remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools, and blank checks.”

She also has a list of 50 benefits (“daily effects”) that accrue from white privilege. A feminist scholar, McIntosh’s comments also refer to gender privilege, a crucial corollary the conversational direction I propose.

Musician Derek Webb sings about white privilege this way, from a song titled "I Repent":

i repent, i repent of my pursuit of america's dream
i repent, i repent of living like i deserve anything
of my house, my fence, my kids, my wife
in our suburb where we're safe and white
i am wrong and of these things i repent

i repent, i repent of parading my liberty
i repent. i repent of paying for what i get for free
and for the way i believe that i am living right
by trading sins for others that are easier to hide
i am wrong and of these things i repent

i repent judging by a law that even i can't keep
of wearing righteousness like a disguise
to see through the planks in my own eyes

i repent, i repent of trading truth for false unity
i repent, i repent of confusing peace and idolatry
by caring more of what they think than what i know of what we need
by domesticating you until you look just like me
i am wrong and of these things i repent
(from I See the Things Upside Down [INO Records])

And, in a bit of a different way, philosopher-turned-Afro-American-Studies-professor Robert Paul Wolff defines white privilege in a riveting memoir, Autobiography of an Ex-White Man (2005).

From the Preface: “Kierkegaard observes somewhere -- I think it is in the Concluding Unscientific Postscript – that just as it is harder to jump into the air and land exactly on the spot from which you took off, so it is more difficult to become a Christian when you have the misfortune to have been born a Christian [Wolff is a secular, seventy-year-old Jew]. I faced just such a problem with regard to the subject of race in America. Before I began my journey, I thought of myself as a sensitive, knowlegeable, politically committed advocate of racial justice. But as I took the first steps along the way, I began to realize that I understood little or nothing at all about that color line called by W.E.B. Du Bois the problem of the twentieth century. So, rather like the conventional Christian who seeks to become truly Christian, my task was to undergo a difficult process of reeducation and self-examination, in order to end up where I thought I was – as a committed advocate of racial justice. Perhaps I can take comfort from Socrates’ tecaching that the first step of the journey toward wisdom is the acknowledgment that one is ignorant” (xii).

Previous posts provide several angles from which we might discuss whiteness, white privilege, and race and forthcoming posts will explicate how I think all of this relates to the Emergent church.

Any thoughts?

The Color of White: Race and the Emergent Church, Part 2

While this post does not offer reflections on the Emergent church as such, it is the second of a series of posts in which I have and will address race (and the EC). Inching forward from the first post of this series, we now begin to define what I brought up in earlier comments: white privilege.

First, though, what is whiteness?

I offer the observation of labor historian David Roediger to contextualize the contents of today's post:

“[F]ew Americans have ever considered the idea that African-Americans are extremely knowledgeable about whites and whiteness. In the mainstream of American culture, and certainly in intellectual circles, a rough and unproductive division of labor exists where claiming expert knowledge and commonsense wisdom on race are concerned. White writers have long been positioned as the leading and most dispassionate investigators of the lives, values, and abilities of people of color. White writing about whiteness is rarer, with discussions of what it means to be human standing in for considerations of how racial identity influences white lives. Writers of color, and most notably African-American writers, are cast as providing insight, often presumed to be highly subjective, of what it is like to be “a minority.” Lost in this destructive shuffle is the fact that from folktales onward African Americans have been among the nation’s keenest students of white consciousness and white behavior” (from Black on White: Black Writers on What It Means to be White, p. 4).

So, taking Roediger’s comments seriously -- slowly, carefully, and thoughtfully consider the observations of:

1. Ralph Ellison, “What America Would Be Like Without Blacks” (1970)

“Materially, psychologically, and culturally, part of the nation’s heritage is Negro American, and whatever it becomes will be shaped in part by the Negro’s presence. Which is fortunate, for today it is the black American who puts pressure upon the nation to live up to its ideals. It is he who gives creative tension to our struggle for justice and for the elimination of those factors, social and psychological, which make for slums and shaky suburban communities. It is he who insists that we purify the American language by demanding that there be a close correlation between the meaning of words and reality, between ideal and conduct, our assertions and our actions. Without the black American, something irrepressibly hopeful and creative would go out of the American spirit, and the nation might well succumb to the moral slobbism that has ever threatened its existence from within” (from a selection in Black on White, p. 166).

2. bell hooks, Black Looks (1992)

“Although there has never been any official body of black people in the United States who have gathered as anthropologists and/or ethnographers to study whiteness, black folks have, from slavery on, shared in conversations with one another “special” knowledge of whiteness gleand from close scrutiny of white people....Even though legal racial apartheid no longer is a norm in the United States, the habits that uphold and maintain institutionalized white supremacy linger. Since most white people do not have to “see” black people (constatntly appearing on billboards, television, movies, in magazines, etc.) and they do not need to be ever on guard nor to observe black people to be safe, they can live as thought black people are invisible, and they can imagine that they are also invisible to blacks. Some white people may even imagine that there is no representation of whiteness in the black imagination, especially one that is based on concrete observation or mythic conjecture. They think they are seen by black folks only as they want to appear. Ideologically, the rhetoric of white supremacy supplies a fantasy of whitness.” (from a selection in Black on White, pp. 38, 42).

About Gayatri Spivak’s The Post-Colonial Critic, in which Spivak discusses hegemonic discourses and the process of dehegemonizing, hooks observes that “this process of repositioning has the power to deconstruct practices of racism and make possible the disassociation of whiteness with terror in the black imagination. As critical intervention it allows for the recognition that progressive white people who are anti-racist might be able to understand the way in which their cultural practice reinscribes white supremacy without promoting paralyzing guilt or denial” (Black on White, 53).

3. James Baldwin, “White Man’s Guilt” (1965)

“I have often wondered, and it is not a pleasant wonder, just what white Americans talk about with one another.

“I wonder this because they do not, after all, seem to find very much to say to me, and I concluded long ago that they found the color of my skin inhibiting....This is utterly futile, of course, since they do see what they see. And what they see is an appallingly oppressive and bloody history known all over the world. What they see is a disastrous, continuing, present condition which menaces them, and for which they bear an inescapable responsibility. But since in the main they seem to lack the energy to change this condition they would rather not be reminded of it. Does this mean that in their conversation with one another, they merely make reassuring sounds[?]. It scarcely seems possible, and yet, on the other hand, it seems all too likely. In any case, whatever they bring to one another, it is certainly not freedom from guilt. The guilt remains, more deeply rooted, more securely lodged, than the oldest of fears.

The record is there for all to read. It resounds all over the world. It might as well be written in the sky. One wishes that Americans – white Americans – would read, for their own sakes, this record and stop defending themselves against it. Only then will they be enabled to change their lives.

“The fact that they have not been able to do this – to face their history, to change their lives – hideously menaces this country. Indeed, it menaces the entire world.

“White [person], hear me! History, as nearly no one seems to know, is not merely something to be read....the great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it in many ways, and history is literally present in all that we do. It could scarcely be otherwise, since it is to history that we owe our frames of reference, our identities, and our aspirations. And it is with great pain and terror that one begins to realize this.

“My point of view certainly is formed by my history, and it is probably that only a creature despised by history finds history a questionable matter. On the other hand, people who imagine that history flatters them (as it does, indeed, since they wrote it) are impaled on their history like a butterfly on a pin and become incapable of seeing or changing themselves, or the world.

“This is the place in which it seems most white Americans find themselves. Impaled. They are dimly, or vividly, aware that the history they have fed themselves is mainly a lie, but they do not know how to release themselves from it, and they suffer enormously from the resulting personal incoherence. This incoherence is heard nowhere more plainly than in those stammering, terrified dialogues....The nature of this stammering can be reduced to a plea. ["]Do not blame me. I was not there. I did not do it. My history has nothing to do with Europe or the slave trade. Anyway it was your chiefs who sold you to me. I was not present in the middle passage. I am not responsible for...the cotton fields of Mississippi....I also despise the governors of southern states and the sheriffs of southern counties, and I also want your child to have a decent education and rise as high as capabilities will permit. I have nothing against you, nothing! What have you got against me? What do you want?["] But on the same day, in another gathering and in the most private chamber of his heart always, the white American remains proud of that history for which he does not wish to pay, and from which, materially, he has profited so much.

“[T]he history of white people has led them to a fearful baffling place where they have begun to lose touch with reality – to lose touch, that is, with themselves – and where they certainly are not truly happy for they know they are not truly safe. They do not know how this came about. On the one hand they can scarcely dare to open a dialogue which must, if it is honest, become a personal confession, a cry for help and healing which is, really, I think, the basis of all dialogues and, on the other hand, the black man can scarcely dare to open a dialogue which must, if it is honest, become a personal confession which fatally contains an accusation. And yet if neither of us cannot do this each of us will perish in those traps in which we have been struggling for so long.

“The American curtain is color. Color. White men have used this word, this concept to justify unspeakable crimes and not only in the past, but in the present. One can measure very neatly the white American’s distance from his conscience – from himself – by observing the distance between white America and black America. One has only to ask oneself who established this distance, who is the distance designed to protect, and from what is this distance designed to protect?” (from a selection in Black on White, pp. 320-323).

How is whiteness defined, explained, theorized, dispayed, and perpetuated -- in subtle ways? Have you -- do you think about these things?

Monday, December 19, 2005

She's Here!

Madeline Grace
7 lb.
13 oz.


Dreaming of a "White" Christmas?: Race and the Emergent Church

Here at year’s end, I’m in a bit of a reflective mood.

It has been a year of changes and transitions and new experiences for me personally. I went to Africa (Morocco) for the first time in June, gave a boatload of conference papers about subjects I find really interesting and worthy of historical reflection, made some great friends both in blogosphere and in person, finished my Ph.D. coursework (in history), received attention for my writing, and my wife and I had our third child – a daughter! – in the wee hours of December 17. Both mother and daughter are home resting peacefully, and little Madeline's two big brothers love their sister!

Much of my recent research, reading, and writing on the wider world of twentieth/twenty-first century evangelicalism involves the Emerging/Emergent church. Not only does this topic interest me on an academic plane, but the movement resonates with me personally as well. Thus, here at year’s end, many of my reflections have to do with many things going on/in the Emerging/Emergent conversation and I comment both as an academic and as a practitioner.

One of the Emerging/Emergent streams of discussion in 2005, among many, many others, has been about race and ethnicity. Here I have in mind the series of posts by DJ Chaung on becoming a multiracial church, Scot McKnight's thoughts on (anti)racism and diversity, Anthony Smith's musings on the postmodern black church (and here and here), Jamie Arpin-Ricci's posts on diversity and gender, JazzTheologian's notes on spirituality and jazz, Rudy Carrasco's reflections on ethnicity, and the initiatives of Jay Voorhees and Aaron Flores. I'd also recommend reading Cracked Pots, Latina Liz, and Emergent Latino. And there are many others.

I applaud all of these contributions (have I left anyone out?) and have learned a great deal from all of these probing and cogent reflections.

I see real “promise” in the Emerging/Emergent movement for a willingness to think, act, pray, and live in spiritually holistic ways, for engagement with and adoption of aspects of all that encompasses Christian Traditions, and for an embrace of the global (Emerging) aspects of the movement; and for a real concern for and willingness to enact what James calls true religion. The Emergent-US statement of “Order,” as I read it, embraces all of these objectives.

Yet, there is more.

One of the glaring omissions in the conversation (though Anthony broaches the topic and I relate a personal story) is the reality that for all of the laudable discourse about inclusion and diversity, and for all of the crucial multicultural initiatives taking place, there must be a sustained, rigorous, honest, and open discussion about and interrogation of white privilege. Put another way, the road forward for the Emergent church and the diversity/multicultural conversation must begin with a discussion of white privilege.

Perhaps this is implicit in the words and thoughts of those who’ve reflected on race/ethnicity and the Emergent church, but I suggest that owning up to white privilege and discussing it slowly, thoroughly, and thoughtfully is one of the most important dimensions of this part of the Emerging/Emergent conversation. I write of an initiative that will take time, care, and much grace.

Further posts: what is white privilege and why does it matter for the Emergent church?

Friday, December 09, 2005

Back to Africa: Darfur/Sudan

Here's an interesting article on Darfur that appeared originally in First Things.

Speaking of Darfur, a fellow graduate student colleague from Rice University and I are in the process of putting together a public information forum on Sudan and Darfur. It will take place the week of February 13, 2006 on the campus of Rice University. So far speakers include Jerry Fowler and Mark Bixler. I'll post more information as it becomes available.

Please try to make it if you're in the area.

Scot McKnight and BaldBlogger on the Emerging/Emergent Church

Over at Jesus Creed, Scot McKnight offers keen advice to frame discourse in Emerging/Emergent disscussions. He suggests a kind of scholarly precision when referring to "Emerging" or "Emergent" and really asks those who choose to publicly comment on these matters to do their homework and read up on the movement. The literature is expansive and growing, and tracking the conversation/movement in the blogosphere is a must.

I would also suggest that one consider attending a church/community that embraces the "label" Emergent/Emerging in order to enhance one's participation in the discussion and get a sense of how these communities enact the Christian faith. Aaron Flores's fine M.A. thesis on the Emerging church has a long list of these communities.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

BaldBlogging on the Emerging Church, Part 9 (Lent 2005)

As stated in previous posts, these observations come from my journey through Lent 2005 with the faithful of Ecclesia Houston. I should note that the church no longer meets in the physical church space I describe (West End Baptist Church), but in Taft Street Coffee House. I also want to publicly thank Pastor Chris Seay for permission to “observe” and write about Ecclesia.

Several things strike observers of Ecclesia. To the right of the three-door entrance to the sanctuary there is a large banner tied to a locked black iron gate that reads, “ECCLESIA.” This red banner contrasts nicely with the black iron, red brick, and white doors, yet I do not recall many churches with a banner draped around the entrance.

In the foyer of the church there is a small book table with an assortment of books – copies of The Tao of Enron as well as hardcover copies of The Message. I peruse the books for a few moments and then notice that to the left of the book table sits an icon of Christ Pantocrator, an icon displayed in most Eastern Orthodox churches. This striking icon – with the eyes of Christ fixing a piercing gaze – sits on top of a box draped with tan wool and surrounded by ten candles. Hanging on the wall (nearly above the icon) is an old painting of a decidedly Anglo Jesus. This painting has obviously been a fixture here for some time. Here, at the entrance of Ecclesia, is a meeting of the ancient and the modern, in essence an aesthetic tension between the ancient past and postmodern present, a tension this Emergent church is willing to feel, to embody, and to investigate. I proceed forward.

As I enter the sanctuary on this pre-Lenten Sunday evening, I notice the stage flanked by two large paintings – to my left is a large mural of a what appears to be an African-American boy with a white dove resting on his shoulder; he displays a look of quiet determination and his head, like many Byzantine icons I have seen, is encircled with a golden ring. The painting to my right is harder to make out; the image seems intentionally fuzzy – an Anglo man whose features are distorted but whose head rests in front of the sun. Perhaps, I think, this is some kind of metaphorical painting to demonstrate the way Light can bring healing. I then notice that five large stained glass portraits frame either side of the sanctuary; the portraits feature scenes from gospel stories. In the far right corner of the sanctuary there sits a wooden triptych, though I cannot see what scriptural moments are carved and whittled into its three parts. Sitting in a wooden pew, I take in the entire setting: a “traditional” church stage with candles burning, a short, whitish statue of Jesus with arms open facing the congregation, the stage framed by murals painted by local artists and stained glass that features gospel moments. Like the foyer, I notice a kind of aesthetic tension between ancient past and postmodern present. Developing a feel for the place, I then begin to observe the people who surround me.

By this time the service has started, and the band begins to play. The members of this band, known as the Robbie Seay band, are professionals with several CDs to their credit. They are polished yet worshipful; authentic without musical cults of personality. Songs like “Glorious” and “Hallelujah God is Near” beat from the drums, scream from the guitars, and float from the microphones. I cast my gaze across the congregation and try to notice the various ways in which individuals worship: as those in attendance follow the words displayed on a large screen behind the stage, some clap to the rhythm, others jump up and down as if at a concert, others have hands raised in what is an obvious moment of authentic worship, and another sits to write and reflect in a journal. The moment possesses something of a concert feel and the songs authentically sung are the hymns of a new generation.

The music then gives way to a few moments of tithe collection; plates are passed around the sanctuary and I follow several up and down the rows in front of me. Corporate prayers and confession follow the tithing. The corporate prayers and confession came from the pen (or keyboard) of one of Ecclesia’s members; there is no Apostles’ or Nicene Creed tonight. I listen intently as I hear, among other things, the congregation corporately asking God for strength, ability, and wisdom to serve and love the homeless of Houston and to visit with mercy those suffering brutal inhumanity in Darfur, Sudan. This corporate prayer is displayed on the screen behind the stage, with thematic pictures accompanying the stanzas of prayer. Again, the ancient past – the corporate “chant” of the prayer – mixes with the image- and text-saturated postmodern present as the congregation confesses sin and prays for strength to pursue holiness in strikingly intentional and thoughtfully relational ways. Prayer for local matters meets with supplication for global concerns. It is time for the sermon.

Tonight, the week before Lent begins, Christian author Donald Miller guest preaches and delivers a sermon on John 21 where several disciples dine with Christ on the beach. The theme of fish is everywhere present, Miller points out, and poses the question Christ asked of Peter – “Do you love me more than these?” – to those in attendance. Miller argues that Christ’s question is not about the fish which figure prominently in this passage, but about the things Christians “own” today: reputations, jobs, possessions, etc. The upshot of Miller’s message, he says, is about passion; are followers of Christ today passionate about service and serious about holiness, he asks, or is Christian living merely about meeting a behavioral code? Miller then suggests that Peter’s request for upside down crucifixion did not come about because Peter wanted to “do the right thing,” but because he was passionately “in love” with Christ. Miller ends with an admonition to be “revolutionaries” for Christ in the North American context.

I stay for the communion service. The mood is somber, as this is the last holy meal before the long fast through the Lenten season. As the music plays members and attendees make their way in two rows up to the front of the sanctuary for the Communion elements. I make my way to the front and encounter three individuals – one hold’s the bread, another holds a chalice with wine, and another a chalice with grape juice. I take a small piece of bread and a woman says, “The body of Christ, broken for you.” Like those before me, I dip my bread in the chalice of wine and a man says, “The blood of Christ, shed for you, brother.” Both before and during the communion service, the Robbie Seay band plays; the words of one song describe the moment: “I’m tasting forgiveness/Drinking the mercy/Feasting on redemption/tasting forgiveness.”

As is the custom for many of Ecclesia’s members and attendees, I travel after the service to Taft Street Coffee House, home to an art gallery and bookstore (and now Ecclesia’s worship space). The mood is festive and the fellowship, it appears, flourishes. The walls of the book store radiate with an assortment of colors, displays a large assortment of pictures and paintings and the furniture uniquely defines the communicative spaces of the large coffee-serving room; couches and tables invite those present to sit, read, and pursue conversation. The books rest on an assortment of bookshelves, divided into sections on art, poetry, theology, history, biography, philosophy, and spiritual formation, among other subjects. I even notice a display of books for a number of member-led reading groups (the books and topics rotate every several months). I settle into a comfortable couch with a cup of coffee and I have a number of conversations with people I recognize and also meet several other members of Ecclesia for the first time.

As I sit back and begin to reflect on my initial experience at Taft Street Coffee House, several things are emblematic of the Emerging/Emergent church: an intentional, (often) artistic, non-threatening place for face-to-face and electronic dialogue and conversation (the coffee house is wifi). The wide array of subjects and books serve as a metaphor for the ranges of conversation and diversity of topics welcomed in the Emerging/Emergent movement and the space to display art and host concerts and speakers demonstrates the movement’s commitment to field a variety of artistic mediums and expressions.

Next post: Ash Wednesday.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Feminist and Christian (and Emergent/Emerging)

My good friend and graduate-student-in-history colleague Lauran, who is also into musing, recently began a series on "Why I'm a Feminist." She's also done some important writing on women and the Emergent/Emerging Church/Movement.

You should visit her blog. Often.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

BaldBlogging on the Emerging Church, Part 8

While previous posts address history, artistic expression, and worship, today’s post examines Emerging/Emergent cultural engagement. I briefly addressed “missionality” in a previous post, but will reframe the subject with today’s thoughts by offering specific, contextual examples of what it means to be missional.

Those in Emerging/Emergent communities often describe cultural engagement, what some call evangelism, as a “missional” activity. In fact, in the literature of the Emergent church one is less likely to come across references to evangelistic strategies or schemes; rather, one more often reads about missional trajectories of cultural interaction, and carefully defined statements about living within postmodern culture.

Emergent leader Spencer Burke, in Making Sense of the Church (2003), explains that “the warrior metaphor has permeated the Christian subculture, particularly our approach to evangelism.”1 According to Burke, in a culture given to obsession with violence, the warrior metaphor often defines the way evangelical Christians define relationships with those outside of the Christian fold. Burke lists organizations like Campus Crusade for Christ, recalls singing military oriented songs about evangelism as a youth, and participating in Bible “sword drills” in Sunday school. There are, no doubt, images of war in the Bible, Burke avers, but offers the gardener metaphor as an alternative way to imagine evangelism. Burke writes: "While warriors press on no matter what the elements, gardeners step back on occasion. They know that working the soil incessantly leads to burnout. They understand the importance of rest – of allowing a field to lie fallow for a year in order to regenerate itself. At the same time, however, they’re also keenly aware of the mystery of spiritual growth. Spiritual gardening is not an exact science. While gardeners faithfully do their part, they experience peace knowing that God is ultimately responsible for the crop."2 Here Burke replaces an evangelistic concept that many find offensive and ineffective (though images of war and spiritual warfare dot the Bible) with another picture from the Bible that allows discussion of a kind of organic evangelism.

Another striking example of missional relations with culture comes from Christian writer Donald Miller. In Blue Like Jazz (2003), Miller relates a story from college where he and several friends (all Christians) constructed a confessional booth in a high-traffic area of campus many students milled about after wild college parties. The group affixed a sign to the front of the structure that read “Confess your sins.” Miller then recalls what a friend said about the confessional: "We are not actually going to accept confessions…[w]e are going to confess to them [the party-goers]. We are going to confess that, as followers of Jesus, we have not been very loving; we have been bitter, and for that we are sorry. We will apologize for the Crusades, we will apologize for televangelists, we will apologize for neglecting the poor and the lonely, we will ask them to forgive us, and we will tell them that in our selfishness, we have misrepresented Jesus on this campus. We will tell people who come into the booth that Jesus loves them."3 Miller’s story captures the ways in which Emerging/Emergent engagement with culture creates constructive spaces for dialogue and conversation and invites healing and wholeness in decidedly non-confrontational ways.

Emerging pastor Steve Taylor offers the vision of “spiritual tourism” to explain the missional possibilities of postmodern Christianity. In The Out of Bounds Church?: Learning to Create a Community of Faith in a Culture of Change (2004), Taylor explains that some tourists are recreational in nature, those whose travels bring rest and respite, others experiential, always seeking a thrill, while others are more existentially inclined and internalize traveling experiences. “Christian formation,” Taylor writes, “involves the move from experiential and experimental seeker to existential relocation to a new place of being and understanding. It is in essence a call to tour, to journey spiritually with God. It is a move away from recreation and diversion toward an inward relocation of heart and mind.” While Taylor admits that such a description sounds like consumer spirituality, he adamantly states that within the context of creating community and attempting to bridge conversations with culture, “the church is cooperating with the way our contemporary culture accesses information and experience and reflects on them. The church allows tourists to navigate their way through the rich resources of the Christian tradition….[t]he church is a participator with the unseen wind of the Spirit of God.”4

Another Emergent writer, Mark Driscoll, suggests that the Apostle Paul modeled postmodern ways of engaging postmodern culture. Commenting on the account of Paul on Mars Hill from Acts 17, Driscoll contrasts Paul’s preaching methodology at the Jewish synagogues with his disputation with the philosophers of Athens. Paul’s listeners at synagogues were familiar with the Old Testament, and thus his sermons began with a common point of reference, categories that both preacher and audience understood. In Athens, on the other hand, Driscoll points out, Paul first referenced Greek culture to attain common ground with his listeners before moving on to “biblical” categories of thought and reason. Paul noted the spiritual posture of the Athenians, for example, quoted a number of Greek poets, and later took these concepts and brought them into a Christian framework. “In our day,” Driscoll remarks, “this would be akin to unearthing partial truths about God from a culture’s film, music, comedy, sports, literature, theater, philosophy, economics, medicine, or politics and working from those truths to the truth of Jesus as the ultimate answer to all human questions and cultural problems.”5

Previous posts attempt to locate the Emerging/Emerging church through a discussion of its relation to postmodernism, explores its understanding of Christian history, examines the ways in which Emerging/Emergent thinkers and leaders formulate preaching, frame worship services, pursue spiritual formation, and conduct cultural engagement. While the foregoing captures major trends of the movement and outlines some of its important contours, a clearer understanding can only come from participation in the life of an Emerging/Emergent community. I spent Lent 2005 with an Emergent community in Houston, Ecclesia, and forthcoming posts will narrate my experiences there.

1Spencer Burke, Making Sense of the Church, 144.

2Ibid, 145.

3Donald Miller, Blue Like Jazz, 117-119.

4 Steve Taylor, The Out of Bounds Church?, 81-97, quotes from 83-84, 87-88.

5 Mark Driscoll, The Radical Reformission: Reaching Out Without Selling Out, 118-122, quote from 121.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Electronic Panoply of the Emerging/Emergent Church

Andrew Jones has a fine post on a number of articles, blogs, and discussions related to the Emerging/Emergent church. Whether an insider, outsider, friendly observer, or uninformed critic, these links are well worth a look.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

BaldBlogging on the Emerging Church, Part 7

Today’s theme: Preaching

Pastors in the Emergent/Emerging church respect and believe in the historical authenticity of the Bible and therefore aim to faithfully interpret and creatively apply biblical texts. In Emergent contexts pastors often engage in a theological and practical conversation about a biblical text or theme, and the application of the text often comes when members of a community offer their own experiences as they relate to the text. The sermon thus appears more like a discussion as opposed to a theological lecture, and on occasion takes the form of a parable, a contemporary story with biblical resonance, meaning, and application.

Emerging leader Dan Kimball (The Emerging Church [2003]) explains how preaching in an Emerging setting remains faithful to the Bible’s message while interpreting and applying that message in contemporary contexts. Kimball urges pastors to imagine themselves as storytellers, as heralds of God sent to proclaim a message of grace and forgiveness. Such storytelling speaks a religious language that both insiders and outsiders can understand. Communication is critical in Kimball’s opinion, and as such ministers should not neglect the public proclamation, in various forms, of the Bible. “The emerging church needs to elevate public reading, preaching, and teaching,” Kimball writes, “[i]n a culture devoid of truth and lacking understanding of the scriptural story, we need to proclaim, herald, and preach all the more. But the way we do this needs to change because the audience has changed.”1

According to Kimball, much like Paul’s address to the philosophers of Athens as told in Acts 17, tending to the needs of today’s listeners allows for a variety of approaches to presenting the stories of Christianity. Even with the freedom to experiment with delivery styles (discussed below), Kimball contends that preaching to today’s listeners demands that Christ remain the central focus of the message, that the Trinitarian equation animate all discussion, that the physicality of being human frame spiritual pondering (especially issues surrounding sexuality), that the scriptures remain in an authoritative position, that hell and perdition frequent conversations, and that ministers acknowledge that the Christian spiritual journey is one of highs and lows, a life of “messy spirituality” and constant striving for obedience and holiness.2

With respect to modes of communicating the message, Kimball believes that ultimately the Holy Spirit brings conviction and guides consciences to faith; it is the pastor’s role to consider “how [to] present truth to the people we hope to see transformed.” This consideration leads Kimball to posit that “experience” far outweighs the “facts” of a presentation. “We need to approach Scripture in a holistic way,” Kimball argues, “thinking through how the sermon fits within the worship experience. We need to blend our propositions of truth with experiences of truth.” On this point Kimball suggests the incorporation of more visual elements into worship experiences, from images of stained glass, to icons, to contemporary art infused with biblical texts. Kimball believes this better engages today’s listeners, highlights the importance of the biblical narrative, and encourages communal participation in services with corporate reading or private meditation, and attempts to remove the pastoral cult of personality that inhabits many Protestant churches today. Kimball also asserts that this approach to worship creates an environment that embraces dialogue and allows a genuine “struggle” with scriptures, much like the Hebrew Midrash. “To a modern mindset this might sound dangerous,” Kimball admits, “but I believe this is healthy and sharpens our thinking. It also admits that we may not have all the answers about God neatly packaged.”3

While Kimball describes the role of a preacher as storyteller, Emerging leader Spencer Burke, in Making Sense of the Church: Eavesdropping on Emerging Conversations about God, Community, and Culture (2003), prefers to imagine preachers as facilitators because facilitators do not merely “impart information, [they] create opportunities for learning.” Burke suggests that most sermons are “thinly disguised university lecture[s],” and that many modern Christians idolize knowledge above praxis. This approach, in Burke’s estimation, often obscures a community’s focus “on the Word become flesh,” a kind of focus that creates space for more displays of Christian symbolism in the form of things like icons. Burke’s approach, from preacher as facilitator to a more thoroughgoing use of symbols and signs above all sets Christian worship in an egalitarian and in his view a more biblical mode. “For years,” Burkes writes, “we have elevated teaching to the exclusion of other gifts. Paul described the church in terms of a body. Whether we realize it or not, we’re walking around with a body that’s grossly out of proportion to our head. Our obsession with teaching has made us a caricature of what God intended.”4 Both Burke and Kimball agree that delivery styles might undergo experiment or improvisation, and invite those who communicate messages to reformulate pastoral identity.

If Kimball and Burke offer a kind of theoretical framework for preaching, teaching, and application in an Emerging setting, Doug Pagitt describes what this looks like in an Emerging church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In Reimagining Spiritual Formation: A Week in the Life of an Experimental Church, Pagitt discusses the sacred spaces in which the Solomon’s Porch community worships and the ways these spaces frame discussion and dialogue. Intentionally eschewing the festive feel of megachurches, the worship experience at Solomon’s Porch aims to be more “interactive and participatory.” This means that stages and other architectural displays of power give way to meeting “in the round” where couches enclose and encapsulate the community, and all in attendance are invited to speak and share at various times during the service. This structure also translates into a worship experience where the music comes from the lips and instruments of “local” musicians, where Psalm readings (only by female members of the community) become weekly expressions of “the poetry of [the Christian] faith,” where communion exists as the weekly meal of spiritual sustenance, where communal and individual prayer becomes a collective utterance of community, and where the sermon becomes a “story” framed by a Biblical passage and interpreted to fit with a contemporary settings.5

This series continues with another look at the Emerging/Emergent churches and missionality and with forthcoming posts about my travel through Lent 2005 with the faithful at Ecclesia Houston.

1 Dan Kimball, The Emerging Church: Vintage Christianity for New Generations (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 171-173.

2 Ibid., 174-183.

3 Ibid., 185-194, quoting 187, 188, 193.

4 Spencer Burke, Making Sense of Church: Eavesdropping on Emerging Conversations about God, Community, and Culture (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 51-66, quoting 52-54, 65.

5 Doug Pagitt, Reimagining Spiritual Formation: A Week in the Life of an Experimental Church (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 49-64, 113-124.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Emerging Church, circa 1970s

In recent months both Andrew Jones and Dan Kimball have noted books from the 1970s with "emerging" titles.

I'd like to add another title to the discussion: Sergio Torres and Virginia Fabella, editors, The Emergent Gospel: Theology from the Underside of History (Orbis, 1978).

This is a collection of essays from the 1976 Ecumenical Dialogue of Third World Theologians held at Dar es Salaam (Tanzania). Interestingly, the voices here present interrogate the hegemony of Western theological trends (see below); these words remain true today.

One hopes, as I did in a recent paper, that Emergent (US) voices continue to adopt global postures.

From the Final Statement of the Ecumenical Dialogue of Third World Theologians (1976):

"The theologies from Europe and North America are dominant today in our churches and represent one form of cultural domination. They must be understood to have arisen out of situations related to those countires, and therefore must not be uncritically adopted without our raising the question of their relavance in the context of our countries....We reject as irrelevant an academic type of theology that is divorced from action. We are prepared for a radical break in epistemology which makes commitment the first act of theology and engages critical reflection on praxis of the reality of the Third World" (from the Introduction, p. x).

Any thoughts?

Friends in the Blogosphere

Glad to see my friend Keelan Downton in this branch of the blogosphere. I look foward to his reflections; he has some important things to say with respect to ecumenical concerns as well as interfaith dialogue.

BaldBlogging on the Emerging Church, Part 6

As previous posts indicate, notable numbers of Emerging/Emergent faithful engage postmodernism and work to translate this intellectual posture into practical settings. For many in the movement a number of trajectories (i.e., worship and artistic expression) define cultural engagement at the practical level and transmit this engagement in postmodern ways. Hence the topic of today’s post: worship.

Postmodern worship, in the words of Emerging leader Dan Kimball (The Emerging Church [2003]), while making possible the employment of creativity and improvisation must stay keen to “attribute worth to God [and] to kiss toward him in reverence and lay prostrate.” This attribution, Kimball contends, examines how scriptures describe worship and also takes a serious glance at worship in the early church. Prayer, sacraments, teaching, and community characterized the early church, and because of Christ’s Incarnation, Kimball maintains, Christians today can and should create “multisensory” worship gatherings – meetings of faith and devotion that involve all of the senses. In this view faithful devotion is not merely intellectual assent to a catalogue of doctrines or propositions; faithful devotion involves careful reflection on the aesthetics of worship, the sacred spaces and experiences to which Emerging leaders attend. Emerging gatherings, therefore, aim at holistic worship – worship that involves visual stimuli like icons (but also for religious instruction) or computer technology, physical motion like clapping or kneeling, smelling incense, “tasting” the Eucharistic meal, and “hearing” the voice of God through dialogical conversation. Ideally, holistic worship also includes the participation of all in attendance – both men and women, both old and young. Not only does Kimball advocate the creation of an environment where the postmodern generation might encounter God in various ways, he also advocates the use of silence as a way to connect to others and as a way to teach patience and devotion.1

Another aspect of worship that receives significant attention among Emergent/Emerging pastors, thinkers, and practitioners is the use of art in worship, or simply the use of art as an expression of faith. Both the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions have historically used artistic expression in liturgies and devotions, from icons of saints to statues of the Virgin Mary, for example. Yet many in the Emerging/Emergent movement, who are conscious of what we might call the art history of Christianity, maintain spaces for more improvisational and individual expressions of faith. “Visualcy,” Andy Crouch writes, captures the essence of today’s visual culture and suggests that evangelicals must acquire a new kind of literacy for the postmodern age. Crouch is hopeful that a kind of artistic discourse of images will equip evangelicals to thoughtfully engage today’s world: “visual technologies are restoring human beings to our God-given role as communal cultural communicators.”2

Similarly, in an essay titled “Digital Media as Cultural Metaphor,” communications theorist Robert S. Fortner calls for deeper reflection on the “metaphysics of this digital age,” a time during which the growth of digital culture injects a kind of communicative democratization into electronic discourse. For Christians, according to Fortner, this new age demands careful analysis and appropriation of digital technology to the life of faith. “[T]his is the new culture now under construction,” Fortner concludes, “one that – through its metaphorical definition of reality – will reconfigure the symbolic world of humankind and the methodology for recognizing truth. Yet it is this new symbolic world that Scripture and those who believe it must address if we are to make the Word of God relevant to mankind. It is a new Babel.”3 Many in the Emergent/Emerging church recognize this reality, and seek to apply it.

In “Musings on Art and the Relationship to Worship in the 21st Century,” musician and consultant Cathy Townley eschews practical suggestions for how to feature art in worship services in order to display why art is godly and how artists can display godliness. According to Townley, art can uniquely convey the “truth,” which is not always beautiful, and in the end produce a kind of spiritual and ontological transformation. “Art brings the inside outside,” Townley writes, “[and] [a]rt makes you internalize what you perceive. Art begins conversation, and dialogue….Art is the language of the soul.” Townley suggests that visual discourse includes all of humanity in the conversation of God’s perpetual creation(s), and as such “[t]he artist in a human being is sacred space.” In this sense, Townley observes, the human quest for wholeness, healing, and community often comes through artistic mediums, and it is in this dimension of life that true spiritual healing might come. “In a sense,” Townley concludes, “the artist is not only one who has a talent, but is also a metaphor for one who endures the pain of life.”4 Thus, for Townely, the Emerging environment creates the possibility to observe humanity fleshed out, to witness visible healing displayed in the context of a worshiping community.

Moving from theoretical to practical displays of faith, what the authors call “praxis,” Jonny Baker, Doug Gay, and Jenny Brown offer a collection of options in Alternative Worship: Resources From and For the Emerging Church (2004). To enhance and transform worship the authors suggest that Emerging churches might shape services by the inclusion of historical liturgies, the application of communications theories, and displays of artistic expression. Furthermore, devotional and sacramental living might result from these transformative worship settings, whether musically enhanced or artistically ensconced. The authors also suggest that “alternative” worship settings sometimes encourage political engagement framed by theologies of liberation, whether political or gender-based. Even though the authors rightly define their worship as “alternative,” they frame their liturgically innovative suggestions around the “traditional” church calendar so that the church years open with Advent and ends with Pentecost. To demonstrate what the authors mean by “alternative worship,” I will describe enhanced liturgical suggestions from the season of Pentecost.

The authors open the chapter on Pentecost by framing contemporary celebrations of this liturgical season with the recent global explosion of Pentecostalism itself. Large numbers of global Christians practice more pentecostal or charismatic expressions of faith, the authors point out, so it follows that the Emerging church should reflect these trends. The authors also note that much of contemporary theological reflection possesses a renewed focus on pneumatology and its connection to individual spiritual and communal expressions of Spirit-led Christian unity that cross cultural and ethnic boundaries. To accomplish this, the authors offer a number of corporate reader-response prayers and confessions, and also suggest practical ways to display Pentecost. For example, a corporate prayer titled “Opening Doors” reads: “Eternal God, fling open the doors of our hearts to the weather of your Spirit. Lead us out beneath the dancing sky and wind across the stumbling ground of our reality to where the sound of worship never ceases and the view that stretches further than the human eye can see. Through Christ the faithful witness, Amen.” Here geographical and climatological terms suggest the global movement of the Spirit where physical displays of faithful devotion seem to come from liminal impulses. In a section that details ritual practices, the authors suggest that those gathered for worship might anoint one another’s foreheads with oil, bring in electric fans to demonstrate the wind of the Holy Spirit and flash images of the effects of wind on television screens, or even end the service with those gathered by lighting sparklers and playing a song called “Firestarter” to stage the fresh and energetic fire of the Spirit from Pentecost.5 For many Emerging churches, such a radical display of faith and devotion draws on unique gifts within the worshiping community while at the same time honoring long standing traditions of the Christian faith.

Moving from corporate worship to private devotion, Tony Jones’s The Sacred Way: Spiritual Practices for Everyday Life (2005) offers a Protestant embrace of Christian spirituality that spans history and traverses denominational and ecclesial borders. Sacred Way describes measures of spiritual contemplation and explains physical, or “bodily,” ways Christians might express devotion. For Jones, the sacred aspects of devotion include silence, the Jesus Prayer of the Eastern Orthodox tradition, icons, and meditation; physical exercises of faith Jones recommends include fasting, pilgrimage, spiritual labyrinth, walking the Stations of the Cross and making the sign of the Cross. Jones explains that he tired of guilt-induced Protestant devotional practices and upon consultation with an ecumenical array of spiritual and mystical practitioners he began to value the long history of (ancient) Christian devotion. “For me,” Jones writes, “there is incredible richness in the spiritual practices of ancient and modern Christian communities from around the world. Incorporating new ways of praying, meditating, reading the Bible, and so on have fueled my faith and my passion for spirituality….[S]piritual discipline is liberation, for it’s within the time set aside to be disciplined that we are changed and shaped by God.6 Jones visits the history of Christian spiritual formation in order to offer a spirituality that addresses authentically those in today’s world.

1Kimball, The Emerging Church, 114, 127-131, 158, 160.

2Andy Crouch, “Visualcy,” Christianity Today 49/6 (June 2005): 62.

3Robert S. Fortner, “Digital Media as Cultural Metaphor,” in Robert M. Fowler, Edith Blumhofer, and Fernando F. Segovia, eds., New Paradigms for Bible Study: The Bible in the Third Millennium (New York: T & T Clark International, 2004), 21-47, quote from 45.

4Cathy Townley, “Musings on Art and the Relationship to Worship in the 21st Century,” Next-Wave (April 2000), (accessed July 2005).

5Jonny Baker, Doug Gay, and Jenny Brown, Alternative Worship: Resources From and For the Emerging Church (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), 131-146, quote from 133. This resource also comes with a CD-ROM full of songs and other creative suggestions for Christian worship.

For a social scientific analysis of many of the trends and practices recommended by Baker, Gay, and Brown, see William J.F. Keenan, “Twenty-First-Century Monasticism and the Religious Life: Just Another New Millennium,” Religion 32 (2002): 13-26; Mark W. MacWilliams, “Virtual Pilgrimages on the Internet,” Religion 32 (2002): 315-335; Patrick Maxwell, “Virtual Religion in Context,” Religion 32 (2002): 343-354; and Christopher Helland, “Surfing for Salvation,” Religion 32 (2002): 293-302.

6Tony Jones, The Sacred Way: Spiritual Practices for Everyday Life (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 17, 198.

Teaching World Christianity

On Thursday morning I'm driving to Waco/Baylor University (a 3-hour drive) for the Pruit Symposium on Global Christianity with a good friend and fellow scholar. I'm giving a paper on teaching world Christianity Thursday afternoon and am looking forward to all of the sessions, meetings, and conversations. When it's ready I'll post my paper here.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

BaldBlogging on the Emerging Church, Part 5

Moving from the Emerging/Emergent church’s posture toward postmodernism, in this post (and several following) I want to explore themes in the Emergent movement: today the theme is history.

The Emerging movement is historically conscious in that there is a genuine interest in the history of Christianity and a desire to appropriate elements of the church’s past. This view of Christian history does not essentialize the past by harkening back to a mythical pristine chapter in church history, but seeks to appropriate elements of the church’s past drawn from many Christian traditions.

In Generous Orthodoxy (2004), for example, Emergent church pastor and leader Brian McLaren comments on the benefits of using ancient church creeds. In a chapter titled “Why I am catholic,” McLaren comments on the Nicene Creed and its potential to shape conversations about Christian unity and describes what he has learned and applied from [Roman] Catholic Christianity. About the phrase, “We believe in one holy, catholic, and apostolic church,” McLaren writes:

“We believe in one . . . church,” the creed says, and that’s no easy-to- swallow statement because we’re surrounded by denominations, divisions, arguments, grand polemics, and petty squabbles. That’s where the “we believe” part comes in: you can only know the unity of the church by believing it, not by seeing it. When you believe it you see through the surface dirt and cracks to the beauty and unity shining beneath. Generous orthodoxy presumes that the divisions, though tragic, are superficial compared to Christianity’s deep, though often unappreciated, unity. Perhaps the more we believe in and practice that unity, the easier it will be to grow beyond the disunity.1

Here McLaren attempts to address historic fractures within Protestantism and urges contemporary Christians to embrace the ancient message of unity in diversity found in the Nicene Creed.

In a similar vein, McLaren also describes what he finds most attractive about Roman Catholic Christianity and suggests that evangelical renewal might come from embracing some of the ancient elements of the Christian faith. McLaren embraces the sacramental aspects of Roman Catholicism that purport to see God’s handiwork in its multiform manifestations of the sacred; argues that liturgy can enhance the sometimes simplistic and thoughtless aspects of evangelical worship; highlights the practicality of respecting tradition; urges evangelicals to adopt a healthy posture of veneration for Mary; celebrates the incarnational focus of Catholic theology and life; and praises the spirit of forgiveness and healing in some Roman Catholic circles. Interestingly, McLaren situates his comments about tradition as a critique of the Protestant Reformation. “The Protestant Reformation separated two brothers,” McLaren observes, “Scripture and tradition. The older brother tells the story that leads up to and through Christ, and the younger brother remembers what has happened since. These brothers aren’t the same, but neither should they be enemies.”2 There is much for evangelicals to digest in McLaren’s chapter on catholicity and ecumenism, and these comments reflect the historically conscious nature of the Emerging/Emergent church and demonstrate the interest in and application of ancient elements of the Christian faith.3

1Brian McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 222

2Ibid. 225-230, quote from 227.

3My comments on the historical consciousness of the Emerging/Emergent church are adopted from my “Embracing the Early Church: Reflections on Evangelicals, Patristics, Ecclesiology, and Ecumenism,” Reformation & Revival Journal 13/4 (Fall 2004): 13-43.

Friday, October 21, 2005

BaldBlogging on the Emerging Church, Part 4

Leonard Sweet offers an extend discussion about engagement with postmodern culture in Postmodern Pilgrims: First Century Passion for the 21st Century (2000). Sweet advocates what he calls an “EPIC” approach to postmodern culture and argues that Christian leaders must create worship that is “[e]xperiential, [p]articipatory, [i]mage-driven, [and] [c]onnected.” This approach to the postmodern moment in which Christians live, Sweet argues, creates space to contemplate “creativity” and display “imagination.” In other words, some Christians part of a postmodern context, or even those interested in spiritual things for whose worldviews postmodernism forms the structure, often seek to visually participate in a communal experience with something transcendent. According to Sweet, a visual religious experience augmented by oral communication and participation, serves as something of an entrĂ©e, even a metaphor, for a deeper relationship with God and a more authentic connection to community. To contextualize the EPIC approach, Sweet marshals scores of examples from popular culture, from corporate and business literature, from politics, from music, from art, from communications theory, and from economics. Resident in every imaginable corner of today’s culture, Sweet contends that in order to have an acknowledged voice Christian churches must study and engage postmodern culture or risk atrophy or irrelevance. Put another way, Sweet asserts that Christian communities must learn to “do church” in ways that are “biblically absolute but culturally relative.”1

In a similar vein, Robert Webber’s Ancient-Future Faith: Rethinking Evangelicalism in a Postmodern World (1999) crafts an “ancient-future” lens through which Christians might see the postmodern world. The phrase “ancient-future,” according to Webber, attempts “to find points of contact between classical Christianity and postmodern thought.” Webber chronicles and defines the differences between modern and postmodern conceptions of Christ, the church, spirituality, and missions. Webber contends that the cultural context of “classical” (ancient) Christianity has some parallels with the postmodern world and thus intends to “interface historic Christian truths into the dawning of a new era.” This is done, Webber insists, by seeing Christ as the ultimate victor over sin and evil and the church as the incarnational extension of Christ into the world. Furthermore, Webber contends, the incarnational embodiment of Christians is best fostered in a church that is consciously holy, catholic, and apostolic. The worship in such a historically conscious church, Webber argues, revolutionizes “experience” such that communication, ritual, and spiritual discipline become “the vehicle through which the story of the work of Christ is proclaimed and enacted” as well as “the rehearsal of the Christ event through which one’s experience with God is established, maintained, and repaired.” Thus, for Webber, like Sweet, the interplay of present and past defines the ancient-future thrust of evangelical faith in a postmodern context.2

While thinkers like Sweet and Webber aim to situate and equip evangelical faith and worship in a postmodern setting, Carl Raschke’s The Next Reformation: Why Evangelicals Must Embrace Postmodernity (2004) seeks to orient evangelicals to postmodern culture through the lens of philosophy. Raschke carefully details the roots of postmodern philosophy, which he dates to “deconstruction” championed in the 1960s and 1970s by the late French philosopher Jacques Derrida (1930-2004), and explains the dynamics of postmodern philosophy as it appeared and continues to appear in philosophical, literary, artistic, historical, and religious studies circles. 3 Most important for the current discussion, Raschke sets his argument for the compatibility of postmodernism and evangelicalism against the postmodern critique of many evangelical scholars. “The postmodernism preoccupation with popular culture, which many evangelical theologians disdain,” Raschke points out, “[is] but a form of cultural sensitivity and intellectual humility that ultimately offers an evangelical opportunity that hard-core Christian rationalists overlook.”4

So, how do postmodernism and evangelicalism actually comport and how will they usher in what he calls a “new reformation”? First, Raschke argues that three dimensions of postmodernism create the possibility for this new reformation: its egalitarian nature; its animus of interconnectivity (both electronic and physical); and its dynamism and pliability. In Raschke’s view, these dimensions of postmodernism will merge with evangelicalism to create a new reformation that prizes relational Christianity, displays a winsome revival spirit that embraces radical, often ascetic living, and in turn allows a kind of Charismatic, even Pentecostal worship experience. “Postmodernity is the exposure of the flux that engulf us,” Raschke describes, “but it is also the realization that this vast panorama of fragmentation, instability, and discontinuity can be an opening to redemption.”5 For Raschke, then, a relational, Pentecostal evangelicalism most accurately reflects the postmodern sensibilities of the contemporary world and ultimately makes possible a new reformation.6

Many in the Emergent church acknowledge the postmodern moment of which humanity is a part, accept the challenges of its major claims, and seek to articulate a faith that is biblically rooted yet culturally sensitive. And while scholars like Leonard Sweet, Robert Webber, and Carl Raschke offer a kind of theoretical framework for Emergent engagement with postmodernism, practitioners and pastors demonstrate how, in such a cultural context, the Emergent church might think about history, tradition, preaching, worship, spiritual formation, artistic expression, and cultural engagement (i.e., evangelism).

These are the topics I will address in subsequent posts.

1Leonard Sweet, Postmodern Pilgrims: First Century Passion for the 21st Century (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2000), xxi. Sweet further describes the EPIC approach as a “double ring” or what John Stott calls “double listening” (xvi). Sweet’s double ring “ ‘reaches out’ for a back-to-the-future methodology of movement that is simultaneously backward and forward,” while Stott’s double listening, though very similar, has “one ear listening to God’s Word and the other to God’s World” (xvi). In starkly philosophical terms, Sweet contends that “[a]n E-P-I-C epistemology does not negate objectivism with subjectivism in another recurring dualism. Rather, it encompasses both in a wider enfoldment that bring together organism and environment. In an E-P-I-C epistemology rationality is expanded to include experience. The E-P-I-C perspective moves beyond objective and subjective “groundings” to an experiential accounting of truth where presence and participation play literally a “critical” role in history” (156).

2 Robert E. Webber, Ancient-Future Faith: Rethinking Evangelicalism for a Postmodern World (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999), 7, 14, 104-06 (italics his). This section on Webber is adopted from my article “Embracing the Early Church.” Such a short summary does not do justice to the breadth or depth of Webber’s analysis of contemporary culture in light of the church’s ancient past. As such, readers might consult Webber’s application of his ancient-future paradigm in Ancient-Future Evangelism: Making Your Church a Faith-Forming Community (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003) and Ancient-Future Time: Forming Spirituality Through the Christian Year (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004). Also relevant is Webber’s sociological analysis of today’s postmodern evangelicals often interested in (ancient) spiritual things, The Younger Evangelicals: Facing the Challenges of the New World (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002). Also important on this score is Colleen Carroll’s study of postmodern Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox believers, The New Faithful: Why Young Adults are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy (Chicago: Loyola, 2002).

3 Carl Raschke, The Next Reformation: Why Evangelicals Must Embrace Postmodernity (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004). For an accessible, understandable introduction to deconstruction, see John D. Caputo, ed., Deconstruction in a Nutshell: A Conversation with Jacques Derrida (New York: Fordham University Press, 1997).

4 Ibid., 20.

5 Ibid., 145-205, quote from 174.

6 In a book that is both highly philosophical and transparently personal, not only does The Next Reformation detail Raschke’s devotion to and penchant for postmodernism, but it reveals that relational, communal, and a highly experiential (Pentecostal) Christianity grounds this philosophical devotion. Referencing his important contribution to the field of theology – “the end of theology” – Raschke remarks: “The end of theology is say an adieu to theology in the most literal sense of the word. To say adieu to theology is to “say it like it is” (in French) – literally, to God. It is the power of God liberating evangelical, if not the whole of Christian thought and theology from its long captivity in the Egypt of metaphysics and the Babylon of modernism and drawing it back “to God,” of “letting God be God,” in the face-to-face relationship of faith and worship. After theology we must all get on our faces” (215).

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Expressing an Ancient-Future Faith

In something of a sidebar to my present series on the Emerging church, I'd like to pursue another line of discussion.

A fellow bow tie wearer, Jonathon Norman (here's one of my bow ties), recently offered a series of posts that explored various facets of Robert Webber's conception of an "ancient-future" faith embodied by what he calls the "younger evangelicals."

So, with a nod to Jonathon as I finish tying my bow tie, and before I post my own commentary on Webber's work, I'd like to pose this question: how do you define "ancient-future" faith? What is it? What does it look like? In your opinion, are there really large numbers of younger people (say, high school youth groups up to 35-40ish) embracing an ancient-future faith? (Webber, of course, marshals data to demonstrate this; I'm looking for more anecdotal types of observations.)

Alternatively, might ancient-future be synonymous with the phrase (small "c") "catholic evangelical," as found in one of my recent papers and in several parts of Kennth Collins's book The Evangelical Moment? (It might be interesting here to remember that Roman Catholic theologians William Shea , Bill Portier, (and here), and Robert Barron discuss the term "evangelical Catholic.")

Monday, October 17, 2005

BaldBlogging on the Emerging Church, Part 3

Both insiders and critics of the Emergent church note the movement’s relationship to postmodernism. 1 Admittedly, postmodernism is a hefty term that has been subject to trenchant debate within evangelical circles. As I discuss below, many in the Emergent movement readily acknowledge that Christians must critically engage, and in many cases adopt, postures of postmodernism; faithful articulation of the Christian gospel, they argue, demands intimate interaction with and analysis of contemporary culture. The culturally creative element within the Emerging movement adopts and appropriates familiar cultural signs, symbols, and other elements and uses these as a way to engage conversation. Generally this does not result in a mere “Christianization” of “secular” cultural elements, but a rigorous (i.e., theoretical) use of culture as a bridge to friendship and conversation through visual, personal, and relational (i.e., practical) ways. For more on these points, visit the current book blog A New Kind of Conversation.

In what follows I will address the issue of postmodernism and its relation to the Emergent movement and then describe the practical ways Emergent churches engage, adopt, and appropriate aspects of postmodernism.

Postmodernism is a contemporary frame of reference for many in the West, the current context in which individuals create meaning and self understanding, though as Sherman Kuek brilliantly explains in a six-part series from August 2005, postcolonialism is of more significance for the global South. Postmodernism, the ideas of which receive attention in academic disciplines like art, history, literature, philosophy, sociology, economics, theology, linguistics, technology, and even architecture, interrogates received structural notions of human knowledge and meaning. The aim of postmodernism, therefore, is to question or subvert structural modes of knowledge and discover the ways in which meaning exists and is created in these institutional structures. Thus interrogated and dismantled, local and contextual knowledge replaces institutional modes of knowing; meaning emerges at an individualized level and through a multiplicity of refractions.

For some time now many in the evangelical world have defined postmodernism, outlined its parameters, sketched its implications, and assessed the ways in which postmodernism compares and contrasts to Christian knowledge found in the scriptures. Some commentators are critically dismissive, some skeptically reserved, and others discriminatingly welcoming. 2 And while it is beyond the scope of these posts to offer full coverage of evangelical interaction with postmodernism, it is important to point out that Emergent church leaders and those sympathetic to Emergent perspectives acknowledge this cultural climate and seek to interact and engage. Several examples demonstrate this posture of critical engagement.

The next post will show how the work of Leonard Sweet, Robert Webber, and Carl Raschke thoughtfully, though not uncritically, interacts with postmodernism.

1 For insider accounts and opinions, see Chris Seay and others in Leadership Journal.Net and Christianity Today. For trenchant criticism, see especially the work of Albert Mohler, D.A. Carson, the EmergentNo Blog, and the essayists in Millard J. Erickson, Paul Kjoss Helseth, Justin Taylor, eds., Reclaiming the Center: Confronting Evangelical Accommodation in Postmodern Times (Wheaton: Crossway, 2005).

2 See, among many others, Gene Edward Veith, Postmodern Times: A Christian Guide to Contemporary Thought and Culture (Wheaton: Crossway, 1994); Timothy R. Phillips and Dennis L. Okholm, eds., Christian Apologetics in the Postmodern World (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1995); Stanley J. Grenz, A Primer on Postmodernism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996); D.A. Carson, The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996); Jerry L. Summers, “Teaching History, the Gospel, and the Postmodern Self,” in Ronald A. Wells, ed., History and the Christian Historian (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996); Merold Westphal, ed., Postmodern Philosophy and Christian Thought (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999); Richard B. Davis, “Can There Be an “Orthodox” Postmodern Theology?,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 45/1 (March 2002): 111-123; Brad J. Kallenberg, Live to Tell: Evangelism for a Postmodern Age (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2002); J.P. Moreland, “Truth, Contemporary Philosophy, and the Postmodern Turn,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 48/1 (March 2005): 77-88; Millard J. Erickson, Paul Kjoss Helseth, Justin Taylor, eds., Reclaiming the Center: Confronting Evangelical Accommodation in Postmodern Times (Wheaton: Crossway, 2005); Myron B. Penner, ed., Christianity and the Postmodern Turn: Six Views (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2005).

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

BaldBlogging on the Emerging Church, Part 2

While diverse in local expression, the Emergent church in the United States (and larger Emerging church) comprises transdenominational communities of Christ followers who aim to be historically conscious, biblically sound, culturally creative, artistically expressive, doctrinally responsible, and faithfully missional. Collectively, the movement embraces history (in large measures from the early church or medieval church); teaches the scriptures (often dialogically or through stories; not necessarily in an expositional way); supports creativity and even improvisational kinds of worship (displayed through art or other creative expressions); and attempts to speak to a generation engaged in various kinds of pilgrimage, spiritual or otherwise (in missional ways).

The transdenominational nature of Emergent communities means that members of many of these churches within the United States come from a variety of evangelical and mainline backgrounds, or even Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox backgrounds (I would presume), and even those unaffiliated with any church whatever. This also means that Emergent churches are by and large independent churches, communities of faith not part of any formal denominational structure or body. Many Emergent pastors, leaders, and practitioners, however, meet annually at meetings and conventions (such as this week's Emergent Gathering; anyone blogging about this?), while others in the movement host local meetings, known formally as "cohorts." These modes of meeting and contexts for conversation, often initiated and/or announced electronically through web sites and blogs, indicate a desire for authentic community (identified and articulated beautifully in Aaron Flores's recent Master's thesis from Vanguard University), and conversations sometimes include discussion with those outside of the Emergent movement.1

Now some thoughts about what I take to be one of the most important trajectories of the Emerging/Emergent movement.

Those in the Emergent community often describe cultural engagement, what some call evangelism, as a "missional" activity. In fact, in the literature of the Emergent church one is less likely to come across references to evangelistic strategies or schemes; rather, one more often reads about missional modes of cultural interaction, and carefully defined statements about living within postmodern culture. Several theologians and thinkers illustrate the Emergent understanding(s) of missional.

In a recent essay, "The Church as a Missional Community," theologian Darrell Guder argues that the term missional avoids direct reference to words like "missionary," a controversial word with imperialistic overtones. "The term missional," Guder explains, "is an attempt to move the discussion beyond too narrow definitions of mission as merely one among the various programs of the church, and to find ways to think about the church's calling and practice today in light of the fact of the multicultural global church."2

Similarly, in A Generous Orthodoxy (2004) Emergent leader Brian McLaren suggests that the term missional "probably reflects a kind of postcolonial embarrassment about the term missionary, which has too often been associated with a colonial version of Christianity that inadvertently (one hopes) exported (and imposed) Euro-American culture right along with the gospel of gets us beyond the us-them thinking...that lead [sic] to prejudice, exclusion, and ultimately religious wars."3

Jesus historian Scot McKnight echoes Guder and McLaren and describes the global implications of a missional outlook. The missional church "breaks down the barrier between secular and sacred," writes McKnight, "between the spiritual and the secular, and between the holy and the profane. If the former conceptualization of the gospel was in the terms of "come out from among them" or "be not of this world," the missional Christians are asking how to be among them and of this world in order to participate in what God is doing."4 Describing Jesus's "missional discourse" from Matthew 9-11, McKnight explains that missional work "incarnates" Christ as Christians extend grace into their contexts and settings. By so doing, McKnight describes, "the missional person finds herself or himself on the border, in liminality, and that means being forced to make decisions never made before. Forced to do things never done before. Forced to engage in situations never engage before. Force[d] to try new things and see new things and say new things - and it is not easy to know what is right sometimes."5

To be missional, then, according to Guder, McLaren, and McKnight, is to possess a global outlook attuned to the diverse work of the Spirit, and to frame cultural engagement in more organic or relational ways, prizing dialogue above confrontation, and creativity over programmatic engagement. In my estimation, the missional posture of the Emergent church, its global-consciousness-in-liminality, offers a way for the movement to dialogue with Christianity in global terms and on a global scale - something about which I will write several posts down the road.

The next post will reflect on the Emergent engagement with postmodernism.

1For a list of meetings and links to local cohorts, visit Emergent Village. The Emergent-US group, along with other sponsors, will host theologian Miroslav Volf in February 2006 in the "2006 Theological Conversation." One hopes that future conversations/consultations will also include formal exchanges with theologians and/or practitioners from Latin America, Africa, or Asia.

2Darrell L. Guder, "The Church as Missional Community," in eds. Mark Husbands and Daniel J. Treier, The Community of the Word: Toward an Evangelical Ecclesiology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 116. Guder places the concept of being missional in the context of ecclesiology and illuminates much of the discussion about missional within the Emerging church: "Our ecclesiologies of institutional maintanence and the tending of savedness are not adequate to the task that faces us now. We cannot evangelize under the assumption that most of what it means to be a practicing Christian is already handled by one's being born and raised in so-called Christian North America - so that all one needs to do is accept Jesus, join an church and perhaps start tithing. Nor can we evangelize under the assumption that our culture prepares people for Christ, so that we merely need to recognize the "felt needs" that people bring to church with them" (121).

3Brian McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 106, 109.

4Scot McKnight, "Pro Missional," weblog post , July 13, 2005, (accessed July 2005).

5Scot McKnight, "Jesus on Being Missional 1, 7," weblog posts, August 28 and September 3, 2005, (accessed September 2005).