the ramblings of an ecclesial dreamer

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"We must not be afraid to dream the seemingly impossible if we want the seemingly impossible to become a reality."
Vaclav Havel

Ecclesial Dreamer

My name is James Mills.

I am married to Janell and
we have three kids--Jarod, Matthew and Teryn. We live in Parker, Colorado.
In addition to this blog you can find out more about my ecclesial dream at Knowtown or Missio Dei.

If you would like to add your thoughts to a rambling,
click the "Talk Back" link at the end of each post.
If you would like to talk IM (MSN) me or send me an email at:

..::Favorite BLOGS::..
Andrew Hamilton
Andrew Jones
Doug Pagitt
Dry Bones Dance
Emergent Group Blog *NEW*
Dwight Scull
Fluid Faith
Jason Clark
Jason Smith
Karen Ward
Katy Raymond
Maggi Dawn
Michelle Bainbridge
Rudy Carrasco
Scott Holden
Scott Raymond
Tony Rodasta

My Personal World Clock
Ekklesia Project
The Holy Observer
The New Pantagruel
The Vine
Observing Differently
Open Source Theology

..::Previous Ramblings::..

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giving up Blogger for Lent...

I think I mentioned before that I was interested in participating more in the special days throughout the year in the liturgical calendar. With Lent right around the corner I was reminded of some Catholic friends I grew up with. They would spend a lot of time trying to think of things that they could give up for Lent that would really not be too difficult. As kids this is a lot harder than it sounds. Eventually they would come up with something that was not to signifiant and you would not hear any more about it for a year.

As a good, non-denominational protestant I thought I would get into my first celebration of Lent with baby steps. My plan was to give up blogger for lent. But, the truth of the matter is that I am not really giving up blogger for Lent. I am giving it up to try my hand at Movable Type. I am experimenting with a new blog which can be found at This is a work in progress but I am hoping I can work out bugs as I go along. From what I've seen Movable Type is an awesome blog package. I hope to see some of you on the new blog. I will need some constructive criticism and a lot of prayer if I am going to figure Movable type all out.
If I can't figure it out I may be back.

  posted by Ecclesial Dreamer @ 2/16/2004 07:25:00 PM

Monday, February 16, 2004  

Christianity Rediscovered...


I have been re-reading Vincent J. Donovan's great book Christianity Rediscovered. I liked it a lot the first time I read it and I like it even more when I was preaching through some of it at my last church but now I absolutely love it! This book is powerful in several ways. For me it was good to read a "missional" book written from a Catholic perspective. Anyone ecclesial dreamer who hopes to embody church in a new way in their own context needs to read this book. This simple, easy to read story has a ton of good theology hidden in it.

I will be sharing some thoughts from this book over the next few posts as it is one of the books that has had a profound influence on how I view the church, leadership, mission, etc.
I wanted to post a few quotes from the preface to get the ball rolling but the whole preface is so good it is hard to pull out just a few quotes. For example:

"A very interesting response to the book was been the observation that there is in it traces of a movement away from the theology of salvation to a new theological stance, a movement not so much articulated in the book as acted out—something like the melody of a new unwritten song that haunts you, with the notes and the words not yet in place. It is there just out of your reach and the melody haunts you because it is not yet complete, but you will recognize the song when it is complete: a new song that many are trying to sing today in Place of the ancient hymn of salvation."


"And whether in the mission field or on the home front one cannot rest one’s missionary eyes. Missionaries looking at the church in America would be worried by what they see. Because what they see is a bad missionary situation. Not just the sharp decline in active participation in church community and the draining away of the young, but a church life that is not much more relevant to the human life lived in the neighborhoods surrounding it than the mission compound was to the tribal life of the Africans. The parish church could very well be the mission compound of the American scene, a beleaguered, outpost colony in an alien world."


"When the gospel reaches a people where they are, their response to that gospel is the church in a new place, the song they will sing is that new song, that unwritten melody that haunts all of us. What we have to be involved in is not the revival of the church or the reform of the church. It has to be nothing less than what Paul and the Fathers of the Council of Jerusalem were involved in for their time—the refounding of the Catholic church for our age."

more to come...

  posted by Ecclesial Dreamer @ 2/15/2004 01:04:00 PM

Sunday, February 15, 2004  

Dumb and Dumber...

click on picture to purchase from

Quitters never win
Winners never quit
But those who never win and never quit are idiots.

Last night as I struggled to sleep I was troubled with thoughts about Missio Dei. Others in our group may have a different view on what I am about to say as I can only speak for myself. Lately it has been very difficult for me to pick up our pulse. It is hard to figure out why this group is not coming together as I hoped it would. My hunch has been that we are all asking similar ecclesial questions we are unable to find consensus on an answer. While that alone would not be an insurmountable obstacle, the fact that we cannot seem to communicate our answers to each other has us, for the moment, at a standstill. I have this nagging suspicion that our group is about to change in a profound way. I am afraid to predict what the results of that will look like. This is troubling me at some very deep levels in ways that I don't think I can articulate just yet. We'll all know soon enough if we keep faithfully following the path we are on.

For the past several years I have been chasing an elusive ecclesial dream. For I while I thought perhaps I was being too idealistic--Dreams are called dreams for a reason, right? But a few years ago it was so close I could see, hear, feel, smell, and taste it. The only thing I couldn't do was hold on to it. It came undone faster than Janet Jackson's outfit at the super bowl halftime show. But being that close has me believing that the dream of a different kind of Christian community is possible. The problem is getting all of the right ingredients (core leaders, shared vision, common context...) into the same bowl at the same time.

I am beginning to wonder if you only ever get one good shot at this. Maybe I already had my chance at my last church and the combination of my inability to communicate and ineptitude in "leadership" that helped ruin that opportunity is destined to spoil every attempt I make. Maybe this poster has it right. Or maybe if you keep dreaming seemingly impossible dreams long enough the seemingly impossible can become a reality. I think I am just stupid enough to keep dreaming boldly.

  posted by Ecclesial Dreamer @ 2/13/2004 09:18:00 AM

Friday, February 13, 2004  

Good stuff in strange places...

My friend let me borrow his copy of the Us Army Survival Manual a couple of years ago. I still have it. If he reads this post I am busted.

Anyway, while I was at my former church I used portions from this book as illustrations in a sermon. Something reminded me of this the other day and I pulled it out and read it again. Now that I find myself once again in this strange place of trying to plant something new with some fellow missiologist I find these quotes to be relevant reminders to me. They come from the first chapter which is titled the will to survive:

"You should learn how to maintain your health, how to avoid environmental hazzards, and how to doctor yourself.

Most important, you should learn that rest can be more valuable than speed. Whether you are struggling through jungle undergrowth, facing a dwindling water supply in the desert, or making you rway across arctic ice, you should plan and make your way carefully; do not dash on blindly.

You should learn about the natives in the area(s) where you expect to go. This knowledge and common sense will enable you to make contact with them. If you reach an area where the natives are not aligned with the enemy, you will have little to fear and much to gain by thoughtful contact with them. By knowing their customs in advance and by being courteous by their standards, you may be able to get their help.

...Two of the gravest general dangers to survival are the desire for comfort and a passive outlook. You must recognize that these dangers represent attitudes--attitudes that follow lines of least resistance, that overrule your effort or desire to cope with stress, that make your primary concern the immediate situation rather than the overall problem of survival."

Most of this is just common sense but I think its interesting that if you change one or two words in this you could turn the Us Army Survival Manual into a Church Planters Survival Guide. Maybe church planters should go to "boot camp" after all.

  posted by Ecclesial Dreamer @ 2/11/2004 08:16:00 PM

Wednesday, February 11, 2004  


Special thanks toJonny Baker who always shares great stuff. He is pointing folks to this great post from Jonathan Finely. I hope everyone who reads my blog reads his post. Read it twice!! It's that good.

  posted by Ecclesial Dreamer @ 2/11/2004 07:22:00 PM

Play that funky music...

Tonight while watching TV with Janell I heard the Wild Cherry song, Play That Funky Music, being played over and over again on the computer. When I went to check it out I discovered my daughter at the desk working on little crafts and singing the song as loud as she could. I loved it. That little girl knows how to wrap her dad around her finger. Play that funky music indeed.

  posted by Ecclesial Dreamer @ 2/08/2004 09:22:00 PM

Sunday, February 08, 2004  

Last thoughts on Volf...

I finished Volf's book towards the end of last week and have been sitting with the thoughts all weekend. This book was really, really good. I am still amazed that people like this are not being heard by more people and I can't believe this is the first book of his I have read. I will definitely read more of his books.

He ends the book well talking about the "catholicity" of the church. This ending was powerful, especially following the view of the church as image of the trinity he lays out so well in the book. This book raised some powerful questions for me as I am really trying to figure out what it means to participate in "the church". I am begining to understand just a little bit about what that means for me and to be perfectly honest it is making me a little uncomfortable. I am beginning to see that I need things that I thought I already had. I am learning that my faith has very little to do with me as an individual and a lot to do with me as a person before God in relationships with other persons before God.

As I have been thinking through this book I am troubled about where I am right now. At the moment I feel very disconnected from the "Catholic" church and I am not sure how to get reconnected. I feel like it is time for me to begin doing something different than what I have been doing but I cannot quite put my finger on what that is. It feels like a lot of relationships that make up my faith support structures are unraveling and it is making me feel more alone than I have felt in a very long time. This sense of loneliness was made more accute by reading Volf's book. It feels like my advent season is going to be a lot longer than I anticipated and I am still waiting. And when you don't know exactly what it is you are waiting for it is a lot harder. But I have it on good authority that those who wait upon the Lord will renew their strength. Time will tell.

  posted by Ecclesial Dreamer @ 2/08/2004 09:17:00 PM

Web hosting...

Does anyone out there have any recommendations for a web host provider? Leave a comment or shoot me an email.

  posted by Ecclesial Dreamer @ 2/05/2004 05:13:00 PM

Thursday, February 05, 2004  

The Un-Church Phenomenon...

Thanks to my fellow ecclesial Dreamer, Tre Cates for bringing this article to my attention. As I continue trying to find my way through these confusing times I found the lexicon alone worth the read.

  posted by Ecclesial Dreamer @ 2/04/2004 12:33:00 PM

Wednesday, February 04, 2004  

More Volf...

I realize I have not commented on Volf's book in a while. I have been trying to finish it so I can give it back to Scott. I have covered too much ground in the book since the last post on it to comment fully. I can say that this book just continues to get better the further you get into it. It is getting slightly more technical as well, but I think it is still pretty readable for those who are used to reading theology. He introduced me to a new word, "Perichoretic" (which refers to the reciprocal interiority of the trinitarian person), and is bringing some depth to many scriptures that I had not seen in a full trinitarian sense before. One of the things that hits me about this topic is how truly generous the orthodox Christian faith can be. There are several views of how the trinitarian persons relate to each other that get into some pretty deep philosophical/theological waters. Some of these views are stronger than others but there is room for all of them with in the "generous orthodoxy" of our faith. So one might ask, "why bother trying to articulate a holistic doctrine on this?" Ultimately, Volf is showing how connected all of our various branches of theology (soteriology and ecclesialogy, in particular) are rooted in how we understand the trinity and the relationships that make it up by exploring hard questions. How is salvation mediated to human persons? How are we to relate to individuals, our community of faith and God? What does it mean to have ecclesial unity?

I witnessed this first hand on Sunday while I was at my former church (sitting in for their missing bass player) and the sermon just so happened to be on the trinity. After reading most of Volf's book I was able to make connections with the pastors understanding of the trinity and why that church is structured the way it is. It is a very interesting observation when you are conciously aware of it. At any rate it also has made me accutely aware of just how hard it will be to participate in a community of faith that has a "perichoretic" understanding of the trinity. It will require a new understanding of ecclesial leadership and structure (to which Volf will turn in the next chapter). Pastoring a trinitarian church in this model will prove to be very difficult if it is not communicated clearly and held to by the community. Here is a short quote from the last chapter I read, titled, Trinity and Church:

"If one starts form the trinitarian model I have suggested, then the structure of ecclesial unity cannot be conceived by way of one, be it the Pope, the patriarch, or the bishop. Every ecclesial unity held together by a mon-archy, by a 'one-[man!]-rule', is monistic and thus also un-trinitarian."

More to come...

  posted by Ecclesial Dreamer @ 2/04/2004 10:40:00 AM

The Propaganda of the Christ...

I have been looking forward to Mel Gibson's film, The Passion of the Christ ever since I heard about it many months ago. I know many people who have already seen it and say it is a very powerful work of art. I have heard many say that it is so honest in its portrayal that it makes them uncomfortable. I have heard others say it is very important not to take young children due to the graphic nature of the execution. (I guess the flannel board version of the wholesome, family-friendly crucifixion is not as accurate as it could be???) I have followed the news of the controversies, the trouble in finding a distributor due to the questions of language and subtitles. I would guess based on the trailers I have seen and the things I have heard that watching this film is going to be a very powerful experience.

But what I did not know was that this is not just a film about the last 12 hours of Christ's life made by many gifted actors, actresses, writers, producers, editors and director all exercising their talents to produce a work of art. It is in fact becoming propaganda for evangelicals who do not know enough about the story the film is based on to embody it in their own life. Apparently we have forgotten that our job as the church was to be a witness to this Christ to the entire world. We should all be thankful to Mr. Gibson for giving us a way out of our responsibility to be the body of Christ. According to The Passion Outreach Project mailer I got today, this film is, "Perhaps the best outreach opportunity in 2000 years". And if you purchase the direct mailers, banners, door hangers, invitations, church bulletins (and more!) you could participate in an unprecedented youth outreach opportunity". Prices for a "neighborhood bundle" start at just $1395.00!

Now I have no problem with using all of our means to creatively tell the story of Christ. I am only troubled that we have reduced this work of artistic filmmaking and reduced it to a form of propaganda that diminishes both the message and the medium. It is hard for me to swallow quotes like:

"This movie gives us an incredible opportunity to transform youth culture. If we seize this moment, a phenomenal awakening will be unleashed on this nation and the world. We cannot let this opportunity pass us by." (Ron Luce, from the Passion Outreach website)

"I believeThe Passion of The Christ may well be one of the most powerful evangelistic tools of the last 100 years, because you have never seen the story of Jesus portrayed this vividly before." (Greg Laurie, from the packet I received in the mail today)

If our commission as the church is to embody this story--to BE Christ's witnesses--than how can we be proud to say that we have never seen the story of Jesus portrayed this vividly before? And why does it take a film to give us an incredible opportunity to transform youth culture, this nation and the world? And why do we act as if the story is only one of antiquity that we must recapture in our day? Don't we have amazing opportunities every day to be ambassadors of reconciliation? Is it that we have no poor people or widows today that need good news so we have to keep talking about the ones who lived 2000 years ago? Maybe if we took the story more seriously and played our part in it more faithfully we would not need to steal every piece of art that does a better job than we do and use it for a distorted purpose. Maybe we know that being the church is hard and we would rather just leave it to someone else.

Christy convicted me with a great post on an unrelated topic containing this extremely relevant quote (which I am taking out of context and using as propaganda for my own post):
"...I've found that jumping into the fray of hot button issues generally isn't healthy for me, as such discussions tend to generate a lot of talking and not much listening. I'd rather talk about the stuff that doesn't get much mainstream press, like pain and the church's racism and people doing great stuff as they work for social justice.

Today, maybe I'm tempted by my rock star aspirations to jump in and add my thoughts. (I find it interesting that my post on dating tips got more hits than any other post by a WIDE margin. For some reason, writing about pain and brokenness and social justice and racial equality doesn't seem to bring in the crowds. Hmmm....what's that say about what we think is important? I'll leave it to you to interpret.)"

Maybe instead of paying $1395.00 for a "neighborhood bundle" to spread propaganda, we could find those in our neighborhoods who are working with the poor or the homeless and help them continue telling a powerful story of our own.

(Thanks to Robbymac for kindly pointing out I was missing a link. I have included it above as well.)

  posted by Ecclesial Dreamer @ 2/02/2004 07:32:00 PM

Monday, February 02, 2004  

Dennis Miller on CNBC...

Dennis Miller has a new show weeknights on CNBC. I was a huge fan of his old show on HBO but not sure yet about this new one. Seems to me like he is half-stepping but I have only seen it 2 times so far. Anyone have any opinions on the new show?

  posted by Ecclesial Dreamer @ 2/01/2004 07:52:00 PM

Sunday, February 01, 2004  

Emergent Group Blog...

There is a fairly new Emergent Group Blog initiated by Jason Clark. Fellow ecclesial dreamer Jason Smith gets the ball rolling...

  posted by Ecclesial Dreamer @ 1/30/2004 10:45:00 PM

Friday, January 30, 2004  

Pony Express, Y2K4...

My twin sister was able to get me an older used laptop for one of the Backyard Missionaries who needed one. It was nothing fancy but it worked and the price was right. I shipped it off at the end of October via USPS. Being that it was an older laptop it would have cost more to ship it to Oz via FedEx than the laptop is probably worth so I though I would save a few bucks. I sent it the cheapest parcel post available and was told it would be 4 weeks. I thought that would be acceptable and he would have it maybe by thanksgiving. Well, turns out it just turned up last week! I thought the Pony Express was put to pasture with the emergence of the automobile but it appears they may still be in use if you send things cheap parcel post through the USPS. That poor pony was probably very tired by the time he swam down under.

Moral of the story: Use Fed Ex. You get what you pay for.

  posted by Ecclesial Dreamer @ 1/29/2004 09:36:00 PM

Thursday, January 29, 2004  

Faith, Person, and Church...

that is the title of the last chapter I read in Volf's book. He is continuing his argument that the church is an image of the Trinity and exploring how we relate to the church and each other and how our ecclesiology effects our soteriology, etc. He begins this chapter like this:

"As is well knownm Friedrich Schleiermacher distinguished between two opposing forms of Christian communion. Protestantism, he maintained, 'makes the individual's relation to the Church dependent on his relation to Christ', while Catholicism 'makes the individual's relation to Christ dependent on his relation to the Church.' Similar to the social models customarily called 'individualism' and 'holism' (or 'colectivism'), these two basic ecclesial models seem to be imcompatible. One comes either by way of Christ to the church, or by way of the church to Christ. Yet appearances are misleading here. Only a simplistic theory contains the alternative 'person-Christ-church' or ' person-church-Christ'. In the compex ecclesial reality of all churches, the relation of individuals to the church depends on their relation to Christ, just as their relation to Christ depends on their relation to the church; the two relations are mutually determinative."

He works this out in great detail in the rest of the chapter. I like what he is saying here because I think it is very important. We not only form churches by confessing together our faith in Christ, but the church forms us as well. I think we (at least I know I am guilty of this) sometimes forget that the church is designed to be a formative assembly--it ought to shape us, change us and mature us in deep and tangible ways. As I read through this chapter I wondered how much of my ecclesial dreaming is an attempt to deny this? I wonder if "emergent" dreamers are so focused on what the church is becoming in this post-modern, post-Christian society that we forget to look at the fact that the church also needs to be changing us. Maybe if we would shift our focus we would make more progress. Maybe we need to assemble, confess our faith before each other and the world and focus on how God wants each of us as persons to emerge to be more like Christ and THEN we will see the church emerge in a wonderful new way. I don't know if I said that right because I'm still thinking this through.

  posted by Ecclesial Dreamer @ 1/29/2004 07:45:00 PM

Volf continued...

Did I say already that this book is incredible! I hesitate to post too many comments about this book because I will not do it justice. This should be required reading for all ecclesial dreamers. I should also state clearly that this book is designed to be a complete argument. It is probably not appropriate for me to pull out small portions of it because you really need to read the work in totality to appreciate it. Having said that, I am going to post more on it anyway because 1.) its really really good, and 2.)I know many of you will not be able to get it. Just remember that these reflections are only my warped observations of a much larger and well articulated argument.

Volf had some interesting insights into the church as "bride" or "body" of Christ and how that relates to the "one-flesh" of the marriage relationship. It would be a mistake to say that Christ is the church just like it would be a mistake to say that the husband is the wife. It is possible to keep your identity as a person and be "one-flesh". He suggests that we need to have this non-organic understanding of "body of Christ" if we are to understand our relationships to the church, each other and the world. Also, he has some great thoughts (that I do not have time/space to get into here) about gathering "in the Name" of Christ and the name of Christ being Immanuel, God with us. Fascinating! He does a great job of showing the difference between merely "preaching" and the act of "proclamation":

"Every genuinely Christian speech act is, at least formally and implicitly, an act of confession. Thus, for example, a preacher can proclaim Christ as Lord only if the activity of proclamation is accompanied at least formally by the activity of confessing faith in him. Without this confession accompanying and supporting the proclamation, there is no proclamation. By confessing faith in Christ through celebration of the sacraments, sermons, prayer, hymns, witnessing, and daily life, those gathered in the name of Christ speak the word of God both to each other and to the world. this public confession of faith in Christ through the pluriform speaking of the word is the central constitutive mark of the church. It is through this that the church lives as church and manifests itself externally as church. Although such confession is admittedly always a result or effect of the 'word', just as faith, too, is a result of effect of the 'word' (see Rom 10:8-10), the 'word' is proclaimed in no other way than in this pluriform confessing. The confession of faith of one person leads to that of others, thereby constituting the church."

This has HUGE implications for the "leadership" questions that keep cropping up in the protestant traditions. Volf explains that he is going to speak about ordination in more detail later in the book so this thought is a little incomplete but I loved this quote:

"If one takes the communal confession of faith as the basis of ecclesiality, what, then, is the significance of office and of the sacraments for the being of the church? Since the only necessary intraecclesial condition of the constitutive presence of Christ for the church consists in people gathering in the name of Christ to profess faith in Christ before one another and before the world, the presence of Christ does not enter the church through the 'narrow portals' of ordained office, but rather through the dynamic life of the entire church. The presence of Christ in not attested merely by the institution of office, but rather through the multidimensional confession of the entire assembly. In whatever way 'office' may indeed be desirable for church life, either in apostolic succession or not, it is not necessary for ecclesiality."

Last two thoughts for this post as it is too long already: First, Volf has some great thoughts on the need for local churches to be "open" to other local churches (and even further to the world). There may be differences of opinions but we must come to a place where we see each other as confessing the same Christ. Without this openness, Volf says we will be "a private religious club and not a church of God". Secondly, Volf states that while we can speak for a plurality we can never speak for all. This is important within churches and between churches. We can have A voice but we cannot have THE voice for the Church. As he puts it, "on this side of the eschatological gathering of the whole people of God, there can be no church in the singular."

Is it just me or is this good stuff?

  posted by Ecclesial Dreamer @ 1/28/2004 02:25:00 PM

Wednesday, January 28, 2004  

Don’t quit your day job…

for an ecclesial dreamer that is good advice. If things go well for Dryject® of Colorado I may have a new day job in the near future. Too early to tell but this could be a good thing for me. At any rate, with the many changes going on at the Denver Department of Human Services it will be an interesting year vocationally for me.

  posted by Ecclesial Dreamer @ 1/28/2004 12:07:00 PM

More reflections from Volf...

I am continuing to get a lot of great stuff from Volf's book, After Our Likeness: The Church As the Image of the Trinity

I have finished the overviews of Ratzinger and Zizioulas' thoughts and am starting the beginning of Volf's argument. Remember, this book is about the Church as the image of the trinity and is dealing with relationships persons have with the church and each other (especially the role of "leaders" to laity, which is a hot topic right now among the many the blogs I read). Volf begins his arguments with a simple and profound question:

"Exploring the question of ecclesiality means exploring what makes the church the church. On the one hand, this represents a restricted point of inquiry, since it overlooks much of the rich life and multifaceted mission of the church; our interest is directed not toward how the church ought to live in the world according to God's will nor how it can live successfully in the power of the Spirit, but rather toward the sine qua non of what it means for the church to call itself a church in the first place. On the other hand, we simultaneously find that the question of ecclesiality directs our interest toward that which is decisive in the strict sense, toward that which supports and shapes the entire life and mission of the church. The preeminent ecclesiological significance of this question comes fully into view when one considers that its answer must in its own turn involve a consideration of the most important soteriological, anthropological and Trinitarian issues."

What hits me is how fragmented we really are and as a result we have so many disconnected pieces of ideas and theologies that we assume when we say things like "church". Volf is pushing me to be more reflective about this so that I truly understand what I am talking about. Our ecclesiologies assume certain theologies, soteriologies and anthropologies that may be inconsistent with each other. This is important because we often overlook these assumptions and as a result we don't ever get anywhere. For example, the issue of women as pastoral leaders is cropping up all over the blogosphere. But we have to remember that we are not talking about women leaders in a vacuum, we are placing this in the context of women leaders in the church. This means that we need to first answer Volf's foundational question, "what makes a church a church?" The same is true when we talk about things like "church planting", "mission", etc.

I think the reason so many of our conversations about emerging ecclesiology digress into (unhealthy) conflict is because many of us are too lazy to do the work that ties all of our fragments together into a holistic theology. We have inhereted, adopted, assimilated or perverted the theology of past ecclesial dreamers and created an ecclesiology that looks more like Frankenstien's monster than the body of Christ. Does it really make sense to have goals of "planting churches" when we are not even able to answer what makes a church a church? Can we really paraphrase the great commission as "planting churches that plant churches" when there are dwindling and dying churches that need us? Are we to value our individual needs in a church community above the need to participate fully in the universal church by exercising our gifts? Can we resolve the issues of ecclesial stewardship when we have no understanding of how "leaders" relate to "non-leaders" regardless of their gender? How are we to understand the "preisthood of all believers"? Should we see this, as my friend Tre Cates says, as a bunch of sub-priests (laity) in submission to the High Priest (pastoral leaders)? Until we get around to wrestling with these foundational questions of the faith in our moment of history I doubt we will ever "emerge" from or into anything. We will simply be putting new clothes on the monster.

What excites me about all of this is it is forcing me to do what many emerging ecclesial dreamers have been talking about for a while now and that is rethinking theology, soteriology, ecclesiology... We are not trying to figure out how to put the same message in a new, more contemporary container. We are looking at changing the message itself. I think this is good because the issues of gender, social action, distributive justice and every other one will not be fully addressed until we have a theology that allows us to really deal with them. It is not enough to recognize that women can and should lead. We have to dismantle the structures that pay pastors $100k a year while the single mom who runs the childrens ministry makes $700-1000 a month. When churches budget in this way it will not matter if more women are involved at higher levels because the structure itself is broken. I am looking forward to getting further into Volf's argument as I sense he is about to rock my world.

  posted by Ecclesial Dreamer @ 1/28/2004 10:39:00 AM


We got a surprise snowstorm yesterday so I am off to shovel some walks. Can't wait for spring to come.

  posted by Ecclesial Dreamer @ 1/26/2004 09:36:00 AM

Monday, January 26, 2004  

After Our Likeness...

The Anapapist let me borrow Miroslav Volf's book, After Our Likeness: The Church As the Image of the Trinity and it is great. As the title indicates, Volf is exploring how the Church is an image of the trinity. Throughout the book he is interacting with a Catholic theologian (Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger) and an Orthodox Theologian (John D Zizioulas) as he explores the relationships of the church to our triune God and persons to the community of faith. EXCELLLENT!! So far the book has been surprisingly readable even with the deep theological themes. Here is a quote from the introduction to the American edition that hit me as I read it because it speak to issues that have been on my mind a lot lately:

"Put most broadly, my topic is the relation between persons and community in Christian theology. The focus is the community of grace, the Christian church. The point of departure is the thought of the first Baptist, John Smyth, and the notion of church as 'gathered community' that he shared with Radical Reformers. The purpose of this book is to counter the tendencies toward individualism in Protestant ecclesiology and to suggest a viable understanding of the church in which both person and community are given their proper due. The ultimate goal is to spell out a vision of the church as an image of the triune God. The road that I have taken is that of a sustained critical ecumenical dialogue with Catholic and Orthodox ecclesiology in the persons of their more or less official representatives.

Though feminist theology is complex and multifaceted, the major thrust of
feminist ecclesiology can be fairly summarized by naming titles by two of feminist theology's most prominent proponents, Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza's Discipleship Of Equals and Letty M. Russell's Church In The Round. In Russell's terminology, the main task of feminist ecclesiology is to dismantle the model of the church as a 'household ruled by a patriarch' and replace it with the model of 'a household where everyone gathers around the common table to break bread and share the table talk and hospitality.'

A major strand of my argument stands in close affinity with this egalitarian agenda of feminist ecclesiology. I argue that the presence of Christ, which constitutes the church, is mediated not simply through the ordained ministers but through the whole congregation, that the whole congregation functions as
matter ecclesia to the children engendered by the Holy Spirit, and the whole congregation is called to engage in ministry and make decisions about leadership roles. I do not specifically address the ordination of women; I simply assume it. Everything in my ecclesiology speaks in its favor, and I find none of the biblical, anthropological, Christological, and theological arguments against it persuasive--neither those propounded by fundamentalist Protestant groups nor those offered by the teaching office of the Roman Catholic Church."

Obviously I agree with his take on ordination of women and his articulation on the participation of the whole community is intriguing (gets much better as the book goes on, by the way) but that is not what really hit me. The big idea for me was the way he frames "gathered community" as being in opposition to "a community of grace". I think there are a lot of ecclesial dreamers who think that their gathered communities are communities of grace but Volf is setting these ideas up in opposition to one another. This makes a lot of sense. The concept of gathering seems to assume that those who gather believe the same way, where as a community of grace allows for real, genuine and intimate relationships to form even between people who may not agree with one another. There is no grace needed to share a table with someone who thinks, believes and acts like you do. Grace is only required when you did in the cup with someone who is not like you. This is a BIG idea and one I think we need to wrestle with. Perhaps the reason the "emerging" church is getting identified as primarily white and male is that we have not realized the opposition between "gathered communities" and "communities of grace".

I vote that we become more intentional about becoming "communities of grace" knowing full well that to say that means that my voice cannot be the voice of the community of faith I am part of. This means things may not turn out like I want them to. When everyone around the table has a voice I may have to eat new foods with flavors I am not used to. Do I have the courage to go there? I hope so.

  posted by Ecclesial Dreamer @ 1/26/2004 09:32:00 AM

More Radical Orthodoxy...

I commented before on the book, Radical Orthodoxy: A New Theology. One of the best (definitely the most difficult) books I read last year. Now there is a good group blog going on. Check it out.

  posted by Ecclesial Dreamer @ 1/26/2004 12:26:00 AM

Man on a mission...

I am hooked on NASA TV. I watched the coverage of the landing of Opportunity and it left me speechless. I can't help but think there are a thousand analogies full of spiritual meaning in this historic event but I can't get my pea-brain around it. I think of things like context. If I built a robot that took pictures and examined rocks it would be no big deal but if you launch it into space and hit a moving target millions of miles away and can still control it with the equivalent of a 56k modem it as astonishing. And watching the celebration and news conferences I am impressed with the concept of "team". This was truly a group effort. I like the relationships that are in play and the way the questions determine who will answer. Questions about the rovers are answered by someone different than questions about entering the Martian atmosphere. I sense there is something really cool being demonstrated in this but I can't quite put my finger on it.

But in all of this exciting stuff one man has really impressed me so far. Steve Squyers seems pretty cool. He is definitely a man on a mission. When he speaks he does it with passion that is captivating. He can talk about rocks and minerals for 10 minutes and have the audience hanging on every word. I actually look forward to these press conferences. Anyone else watching the events of Spirit and Opportunity? I would love to hear what your thoughts are.

  posted by Ecclesial Dreamer @ 1/25/2004 11:47:00 PM

Sunday, January 25, 2004  

New blogs...

I am linking to two new blogs that I have really been enjoying lately. First is Maggi Dawn. This is a great blog from an ecclesial dreamer who thinks with a refreshing perspective. Has got me thinking about a lot of things in new ways. Next is Fluid Faith. Jimmy is writting some very good autobiographical ecclesial dreaming stuff right now. I am resonating with his blog right now because it sounds like a situation I was recently in at my past church. His honesty and courage is inspiring.

  posted by Ecclesial Dreamer @ 1/25/2004 11:12:00 PM

Facts are facts...

Here is one. Miroslav Volf is awesome!!

I'm reading him for the first time and love it. More later...

  posted by Ecclesial Dreamer @ 1/23/2004 03:10:00 PM

Friday, January 23, 2004  

Same as it ever was…

And you may ask yourself
What is that beautiful house?
And you may ask yourself
Where does that highway go?
And you may ask yourself
Am I right?...Am I wrong?
And you may tell yourself
(courtesy, Talking Heads, Once in a lifetime)

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the beginning of The Corps of Discovery’s great adventure. Ever since reading Stephen Ambrose’s great book Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis Thomas Jefferson and the Opening of the American West I have believed strongly that the Lewis and Clark expedition is a beautiful analogy for the emerging church. The story of a group of men and one woman (who may have been the most important person in the Corps but is severely marginalized because of her gender) joining together in a quest to find the new has many touch points with emerging ecclesial dreamers. Like them we are standing with our backs to the known world and facing a horizon of unknown, unpredictable situations. Like them we are given a charge that will require undaunted courage. And like them, many of us are looking for something that doesn’t really exist.

Lewis and Clark were looking for an all water route across the North American continent that hypothetically was there. It looked good on paper. Unfortunately, the headwaters of the Missouri River ended with the Bitterroot Mountain range. Along the way, they ran into Indian tribes and political systems that they did not expect and had no idea were coming. In almost every case, the information they had about what they would find on the journey was wrong. And even though the trip never accomplished what it initially set out to do, those of us in America still celebrate this expedition as one of America’s greatest exploration success stories (rivaling the other successful failure of Apollo 13). Why? The Corps never let the geography of theory trump the geography of reality. They faithfully followed the road (in this case, the river) that was before them. They did not find what they were looking for but they learned to appreciate and value the actual things they discovered around them every day. What can we learn form this?

I have this tendency to look for things that don’t really exist. I dream and scheme about what “church” can look like as we move forward in history. I stand with my back to the known and engage in the conversation with other dreamers who are imagining new ways of practicing the faith. And a lot of the theories floating around are very, very good. But I tend to start putting to much faith in the geography of theory and it alters my course away from the river. Fortunately, Janell is every bit as competent a guide as Sacagawea was and exposes this flaw in me before it’s too late. She is bringing me back to the ability to “see” and appreciate the things that are in my reality. Over the past year I could tell you many theories about how to minister to younger people and get them into “church” but I have failed over and over again to engage with my own children. I could tell you all the reasons why I believe it is important that women be allowed freely to serve as pastoral leaders but have failed to listen to my own wife. I could articulate my dream of being involved in a community of faith that was made up people from all walks and stages of life not realizing that I already have that in the context of neighbors, workmates and friends.

I was reading through Ephesians last night for the millionth time and am amazed at how well Paul speaks to the geography of ecclesial reality and how little he mentions the things I look for as “church”. In this epistle the only building mentioned is the one Christ is building out of us. No “worship leader” but we are all instructed to speak to each other in songs, psalms and spiritual songs. No “senior pastor” but we are all called to do works of service that are prepared for us. No word on how to create children/youth ministries, but called to parent our children well. He touches on spouse relationships, labor relationships and even instructs us to lovingly include our neighbors. In the end, Paul discovered a beautiful church in the faithful of Ephesus because he was not looking for something that didn’t exist. Instead, as a radical ambassador of reconciliation he was redeeming everything that crossed his path.

I am beginning to realize that because I am a follower of Christ who happens to have a spouse, children, neighbors, friends and workmates I have everything I need in the geography of reality to be part of a community of people from all walks and stages of life. I do not need to keep “looking” for something that may or may not exist. I just need to stay on course and continue following Christ with undaunted courage.

Thanks, Janell. You are a great traveling companion.

  posted by Ecclesial Dreamer @ 1/23/2004 10:52:00 AM

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