Monday, September 23, 2019

Intentionality beyond a "General" God

I was thinking this week that we in the Episcopal Church are struggling against a secular culture inhabited by a general distant God and many lesser gods who are present. The culture has begun to reinvent the cult of the hero, mystery, and magic. Why? Because of the disenchanted world in which we live is difficult for spiritual beings inside of physical bodies. are a few thoughts from my first book Unabashedly Episcopalian to make us think a bit about intentionality.

You can purchase the book here. 

Choosing to walk the Pilgrim Way

Do you wish to be baptized? I do.

As sociologists and other observers of culture note, there are many religious trends occurring simultaneously throughout the American culture.  I have listened to the leaders of the Episcopal Church think seriously about these trends within our missionary context in the United States.  One of the important books influencing our thoughts as leaders is a book entitled:   Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers.  It was originally published in 2005. The book’s premise is based upon some 3,000 interviewers with teenagers; and highlights commonalities emerging in this new generation of spiritual pilgrims.  Perhaps it is because I have not been a teenager in a long time, or perhaps because the thinking explored in the book is so different than my own, I have found the reading of the book and the discussions fascinating.    
The authors claim that there are five concepts that make up this generation’s faith foundation. These are concepts or ideas communicated throughout the 3,000 interviews.  They are ideas that are assumed in large part by the group interviewed, and they go largely unchallenged in their circles of friends.  The authors of the book have chosen to call this set of beliefs moralistic therapeutic deism.
These young people do believe that a God exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life and earth. They believe that God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.  They believe that the central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.  They think that God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve problems.  They also believe that good people go to heaven when they die.
            These are not a bad set of beliefs to live by. In fact, if the whole world lived by these basic beliefs the world might actually be a better place.  As fascinating as this unchallenged “rule of life” is, I would say that we as Episcopalians have a different way of seeing the world and our place in it.  When we are asked if we wish to be baptized, or when we reaffirm our baptism, we step forward and say to the world that we believe differently.  There are some things we hold in common with all religious belief. There are some things we hold in common with other Christian believers.  When we rise up and step forward and affirm the faith of the Church and reaffirm our own faith, we challenge ourselves by claiming to be particular and unique people in our community.
            The baptismal covenant which we make with God says we believe in a God who created and ordered the world but ordered it for a particular purpose which is for beauty and relationship.  We believe in a God who watches over human life and a God who interacts with all life on earth with a particular interaction with the human community.  We believe in a God who desires that people to be good, nice, and fair to each other and a God who says we have a responsibility to take care of those who are poor, hungry, alone or in need.  We believe that Jesus Christ is the living resurrected example of how humanity is to treat one another and that we are to set as our goal the living of life which is most like Jesus’ own.  We believe it is a good thing to be happy and to feel good about one’s self but we do not believe that this is the central goal in life.  Our faith teaches us that God asks us to sacrifice for others.  We believe our God invites us not to seek our own desires as primary and central attitudes of living our life but to make the center of our life the God we believe in and those who God most identifies himself – the weak and poor.  We believe that living lives as consumers can create disordered lives that are out of proportion with the wider needs of the world around us.  We believe in a God who is with us in our problems and with us when things are going well. We believe in a God who is a “friend” (John 15:15) and a God who is a companion along the way (Luke 24).  The God we proclaim is present with us in all our doings.  We do believe in the kingdom of heaven, but we believe that we are to be about bringing into reality the kingdom of God today.  Episcopalians do not spend a lot of time concerned with heaven; we spend most of our time working to make heaven real in this world.  We remind ourselves that Jesus’ work was teaching and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God and curing every disease and every sickness among the people, and that he said,” Follow me.” (Luke 4:12-23)
            When we as Episcopalians step forward and choose to make our confession of faith, we remove ourselves from a general belief in a general God who participates generally in our life.  We choose specifically to walk the pilgrim way with God and to live out a particular revelation found uniquely in the Episcopal Church.

The Commendable Dishonest Steward

Sermon for 20c preached at Epiphany Houston. Really liked the exegesis by Robert Farrar Capon.

Check out this episode!

Thursday, September 19, 2019

A Dissipative Moment for the Church

Leadership for the moment is bound to context and culture. This is a bit of leadership thinking that I think remains relevant.

A Dissipative Moment
Some say the church is dying, but I am unconvinced. Rather, we are living and ministering in a dissipative moment. Ilya Prigogine, a Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, helps me with this idea. He won recognition for his understanding of a new concept he called “dissipative structures.”[i] In nature there is a contradictory reality, and that is that disorder can be the source for new order. Margaret Wheatley explains: “Prigogine discovered that the dissipative activity of loss was necessary to create new order. Dissipation didn’t lead to the death of a system. It was part of the process by which the system let go of its present form so that it could reorganize a form better suited to the demands of its changed environment.”[ii]
Our problem is that we in the Church are formed by a perspective that is rooted in Western science. We believe that entropy is the rule and that if we do not constantly work harder and harder to keep pumping energy and resources into the system, then the system suffers from entropy—it loses steam and dies. Yet even now life is flourishing and new life is being born. Of course, you immediately can see that this is a biblical understanding, but as Episcopalians, sometimes it is easier to see it through the eyes of science.
Prigogine offers that in a dissipative organization those things that interrupt and interfere are essential to the health of the system. The system receives the communication and decides if it is to respond, change, or ignore it. Change happens either way. If the disruption grows so that the organization can’t ignore it, then transformation and rebirth are possible. Wheatley says, “Disorder can be a source of new order, and that growth appears from disequilibrium, not balance. The things we fear most in organizations—disruptions, confusion, and chaos—need not be interpreted as signs that we are about to be destroyed. Instead, these conditions are necessary to awaken creativity. . . . This is order through fluctuation.”[iii]
We are in a dissipative moment. We cannot ignore the flotsam and jetsam of the future that is even now washing upon the shores of the Episcopal Church. We can see partly what will only become clearer in time. We have for too long suffered the sin of trying to get it right, and the shame of coming up short. But in a dissipative era we must have a greater sense of process and participation and experimentation.[iv] If we are to move outside of our centralized structures and old exoskeletons, we must shed our skins and put on new ones. Jesus says, “No one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed” (Luke 5:33ff).
A new urban and suburban world is emerging. We will continue to see people move toward the cities of the future. What we are experiencing across the Episcopal Church is globally true. People are entering city life by the millions and will continue to do so for a long time to come. The shape of our cities and the multiple possibilities for Christian community are before us. We have an opportunity. The question for us as we stand in this dissipative moment is, will we shrink from the challenge or face it?
It is important for us to see clearly the changes that are already affecting our congregations and communities in order for us to see the future that is before us. It is time we step into the future and begin to plant these new communities. What will they look like and how will they make their way into the new missionary age? The Christian in the new millennium will bring new challenges and opportunities. For us to be successful, we will need leaders who are digital natives and who can act within this new world. We need different kinds of leaders, and we need to rethink ways of forming and training leaders. This particular task will require that we revisit how we raise different vocations within the community. It has been given to this generation to undertake the dissipative moment and to answer these questions. We are a living church with a vital and necessary mission in the world.

[i] Margaret Wheatley, Leadership and the New Science (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 2006), 20.
[ii] Ibid.
[iii] Ibid., 21. Wheatley is getting her information from the landmark paper by Prigogine and Stengers, published in 1984.
[iv] Ibid., 4.


  • "Christianity is not a theory or speculation, but a life; not a philosophy of life, but a life and a living process." Samuel Taylor Coleridge
  • "Most people are willing to take the Sermon on the Mount as a flag to sail under, but few will use it as a rudder by which to steer." Oliver Wendell Holmes
  • "Perfection, in a Christian sense, means becoming mature enough to give ourselves to others." Kathleen Norris
  • "Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can." John Wesley
  • "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried." G. K. Chesterton
  • "One of our great allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans." C. S. Lewis
  • "When we say, 'I love Jesus, but I hate the Church,' we end up losing not only the Church but Jesus too. The challenge is to forgive the Church. This challenge is especially great because the church seldom asks us for forgiveness." Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey
  • "Christians are hard to tolerate; I don't know how Jesus does it." Bono
  • "It's too easy to get caught in our little church subcultures, and the result is that the only younger people we might know are Christians who are already inside the church." Dan Kimball