Thursday, March 29, 2012

Celebrity Christianity

Despite having been written over three years ago my post was very angry with Chuck Smith from Calvary Chapel yesterday was the number one viewed page on my website last month.  Number two was my letter to Pastor Mark Driscoll, which is almost a year old.  Now granted, I haven't been writing much so that is part of the reason why they are at the top of my most viewed list, but the truth is, no matter what, they would have been in the top ten, and most likely the top five.

Why?  Because people google search these people.  They are big names, who have done big things, and people want to know more about them.  They are Christian celebrities. This is however not a new issue, its just a different mechanism.

Paul, sees this as a problem and addresses it in his letter to the Corinthians.  "One says he follows Paul, another Apollos, and another Cephas and another Christ".  And then he gets to the core of the matter... "Is Christ divided?  Did Paul die for you? Were you baptised in the name of Paul?"

Is Christ divided?

What is interesting to me is that Paul seeing the celebrity thing going on, addresses it in this way:

This causes division
I must put myself in the problem and address my part in it
I must be humble and point others away from me, and towards Christ
I must explain that no man is above another man

This does not seem to be the way with Christian celebrities these days.  It is usually some form of "well I am being blessed for not compromising the truth"  While the others compromise and are "being followed by people with itchy ears,  There is usually a subtle, sometimes a direct refutation of the other leaders.  And the statement "follow me while I follow Christ"

The question we must ask ourselves in a world that worships celebrity, is, how are we to respond? 

I think the church needs to stop building celebrities.  I think the ones that are there need to give serious thought to their ability to deflect that position, and work for unity within the body.  I think we who are not celebrities need to stand up and be who God called us to be, to hold even the big shots to the same accountability we submit to in our body. 

But what do I know, I don't even have a weekly podcast


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Question number 1.

1) Rev, a question that has come up a few times after the blog I posted, and after I put a documentary about you up on Facebook a while back, is what you mean when you say that as a Christian Anarchist you "submit your life to the teachings of Jesus, and not to anything else."  Aren't Christians taught to submit to the leaders of the Church?  Didn't the early church have Bishops, Apostles, Elders, and Councils?  

I am gonna give you the medium length answer on this one.  The short one is probably too short, and the long one is a book or two.

Let me clarify something at the start, if I said I do not submit to anything else then I misspoke.  I do in fact submit myself to others, and I think it is right and correct to do so, and in fact it is impossible to do otherwise.  What I believe is that we should submit ourselves to one another as a community of people.  This is clearly taught in scripture.  "Submit yourselves to one another".  I have found this very helpful in my life, as I realize that I am not always able to see my own weakness.  In addition, if we are all submitted to one another, than one person cannot become above others.  This keeps us all in loving service to each other.

Which works perfectly with the actual concept of anarchy.  Anarchy is not Chaos, nor is it disorder.  Anarchy means, literally, against the powers.  What I take that to mean in a Christian context is that we are to resist the "powers".  The structures that are oppressive and hierarchical.  The social, political and religious structures that keep certain people at the top and others at the bottom.  These structures are to be rejected.  This does not however mean that we cannot have laws, rules, and covenants with each other.  What it does mean is that we do not create a structure that empowers people to have power over others.

Does the church teach submission to the church leaders? Even the doctrines of past leaders? yes it does.  Is that the teachings of Christ or the bible? They say so, I am not so sure.  What we must remember is that what we see as the church now, is much much different than what we saw for the first few hundred years.  In my opinion we see a very significant change in the church with the "conversion" of Constantine, and the legitimizing of Christianity in the early 300's.  It was at that time that church became part of an unholy alliance of church and state.  Where leaders in Christian community became men of power, and riches.  Where the faith was codified and that codification was enforced.  We have adopted a system that has mimicked government ever since.  In this system, you obey in the chain of command, but this was not the early way.

The early church recognized people with giftings.  Some people were good at leading, some at teaching, some at starting up new faith communities and so on.  These individuals were sometimes but not often taken out of a "normal" life to be allowed to focus on these things.  But in the church their opinions were just counted with double honor.  They werent even "elected officials"  The church community was to submit to the church community, not bishops or elders.  But bishops and elders had a few more miles on their tires so their opinions held a bit more weight, which is all fair and good.  The church did not submit to the Bishops and elders, the bishops and elders submitted to the church.  Though like I said their opinion had extra weight, it was the community that was entrusted with power, not people.

We see this played out very well in the first council.  There was a little controversy around circumcision.  Those that were not born in the Hebrew culture were being pressured to be circumcised. Understandably, they said, "um... I like this Jesus dude, and I want to follow in the way, but is cutting off a piece of my junk really necessary?"  Everyone got upset.  So all of the churches sent some representatives to the church as Jerusalem.  Why?  Because they were the most well established and had the most people that actually had walked with Jesus?  Nope, it was because the people causing the problems came from the churches in Jerusalem.  They talked and argued.  Now look at who was on the guest list?  Peter, the rock of the church, James the actual brother of Jesus, Paul the guy who started most of the churches around the world and wrote most of the new testament, as well as a number of other apostles, bishops, ect.  And what is the response?

"we the church at Jerusalem, (recognize that in this time the first mentioned person or group had more weight) and the apostles that are here with us want to clear this up.  Sorry that these people from here made things all messy.  But the church here would give you this advise" Now look at what we have, not hey we need to go to Jerusalem and appeal this all the way up to the supreme head honcho Peter the rock, work through the hierarchy and have an official proclamation that this is the Christian perspective on the matter! If you do not believe and practice this Peter declares you will not be going to heaven and are not "really" a Christian.  No, we all got together and talked, in the end our community would give this advise to your's.

to me this is a different way of life, not hierarchy, but relationship, and empowerment.  Not power over, power alongside.


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Bio part 2

So while all of this was happening I got married to the best woman in the world, Raquel, and we had two beautiful daughters.  The interesting thing is that we didn't pull away from our world, or our ministry to focus on our family.  We made sure our children were part of our lives, that we didn't neglect them, but we also wanted them to grow up knowing that the world is too big for it to revolve around them. Remember this is a summation so as blunt as that sounds it was lived out in the midst of caring, compassionate love.

Buddy Suitor at the leading of many people decided to move to another city and start a new church.  Raquel and I went with him and were his youth pastors.  Only there weren't many youth.  We would hang out, get sodas, and talk.  Slowly we wound up attracting a group of about thirty young people many if not most of whom did not have parents at the church.  We did normal church stuff, went on church camps, and learned to love each other.  This was very formative for us.  When we had thirty kids in our group 27 came from broken homes.  We were learning the healing power of community, and we were also learning what it meant to have an "open house". 

I began learning about "cell groups" and "house churches" and how they were important because they taught community, involved everyone, and were the best mechanism for growth.  (I will address this later, but at that time we still believed it was our call to convert everyone so they would not burn in hell forever, or the more pleasant way of looking at it was so they could go to heaven)  I also realized that the man up front talking, while everyone else sat and listened was not a very healthy model. 

Through much scheming we came up with a plan.  We would start a church service that had "cool worship music", had a Christian rock band play a set, and then I would teach a very short message that is applicable to anyone whether they were Christian or not.  The idea was to make a very fun night, where non Christian people would enjoy hanging out, and then through relationships with people in the group, not any altar call from the stage, people would be drawn into a relationship with Jesus and join our real church which was the small group.

It kinda worked.  It wasn't long before we had a church full of people.  Sometimes as many as 150 kids rocking out.  Thing was they were all Christian kids from other churches.  Took a lot of pain and soul searching before I realized that most Christian young people don't really want to hang out in church, why would someone who is not a Christian want to?  So we shut it down for good.

We then took our youth group and started a church with them.  It was a good thing, the church realized we were becoming something different, and they wanted a more traditional youth ministry.  They helped us and blessed us, it was not a church split at all.

It was around this time I started understanding a bit more about how this all worked, why community was important.  I began to understand that what Jesus was on about was more than just fire insurance, but teaching us a way of living that could change things in the here and now, not just later. 

There were two major influences in this way of thinking.  The first was the book "Anarchy and Christianity" by Jaques Ellul.  This book really resonated with what I had seen and lived.  It made sense, and seemed biblical to me as well.  The other book was by Jan Hettinga, I think its title was Follow Me.  This talked about the idea of the kingdom of God being the focus of Jesus message.  Now Jan might be a bit upset at where I took all of that... but seeing that Jesus was talking about the kingdom of God as a present reality not just a future destination that really got me on a radical path.

We began to take steps in this direction.  We tried to have less hierarchy.  Less issues of power.  We tried to see Jesus in community, in our neighborhood.  It was a wonderful experience.  Our first church plant was called the Belonging, and the name has set the tone for our whole life.  We should be a community that allows people to belong.

I then began reading more and more Christian anarchist stuff, writings of Dorothy Day of the Catholic Worker, Tolstoy's the kingdom of God is within, and most influential to me was Dave Andrew's books "Christianarchy" and "Not Religion but Love".  These latter two took all of the theory, and showed us how to live it out... well atleast how to fail gloriously trying to live it out :) 

During this whole period of time we also were continually confronted with the fact that Jesus seemed to base his time on earth among the dispossessed, the poor, the marginalized.  He talked about a down is up way of living.  We began to see that a call to follow Jesus is a call towards downward mobility.  Living sustainably on less, in an economy of enough.  An economy that says there is enough for our need but not our greed.

Two more big influences on my life happened while we were in Australia.  The first was a young man named Jarrod McKenna, who took me down the road of non-violence.  I added to his voice the voices of Dorothy Day, Shane Claiborne, and Fr John Dear, as well as the crazy revolutionary activist Ciaron O'Reilly  To love your enemies, and do good to those that do bad to you takes away the possibility of violent reaction.

The other was the works of Walter Wink in Engaging the Powers that speak much about non violence, but also the idea of spiritual warfare as seeing the spiritual behind the physical.  This is very powerful because we begin to really see the corrupting influences of things like consumerism, individualism and nationalism. 

Now we are living in Long Beach California, trying to sow all of these fragments together.  How can we be an authentic community following Jesus, by entering into the plight of the oppressed, living simply, and non violently as we stand against a world system that is bent on destruction.  Ched Myers is currently my mentor, and he seems perfectly suited for tying this all together, and we are so thankful for Ched and his wonderful wife Elaine Enns.

Things learned in part two:

the importance of community to growth as a human being

we weren't supposed to call people into the church, but live out the church in our neighborhoods

That just as Christ prioritized the marginalized, we should be found with them, standing for justice.  Not reaching down to help, but climbing into solidarity.

That we are called not to have power over others, but to empower others

That we are called to be non violent resisters

that the kingdom of God is now and not yet, and we must be the change we want to see in the world as Gandhi put it

And that there are powerful forces in the world that shape policy, and even our own thoughts, and that these must be seen, and resisted.

Anyways, that was abrupt as could be, please feel free to ask any questions


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

My bio part 1

Here is the bio portion part 1,

John and Raquel and a couple of kids

Decided the make this in two parts, and to make it fairly brief.  If anyone has any questions, please feel free to ask them.  The truth is, the 27 year journey from born again, Pentecostal evangelical, conservative to post evangelical, house church, pacifist, Christian anarchist, is hard to "sum up".  But I will do my best.

I was raised as a Easter and Christmas Catholic.  We really didn't have that much to do with the church, but we did the minimum.  Both of my parents were concerned that I got a good education however, so I went to Catholic Jr. and Sr. High School.  Net effect on my spirituality?  Not a whole lot, I learned a lot about church history, both the good and the bad, I learned the bible pretty well as we were tested on this, but as to how it effected how we lived our lives... well it didn't really.  Even in our morality class the practical application was pretty void.

While I was in high school my mother started going to a pretty conservative, but a bit out there church.  Every once and a while, to get in her good graces I would go, but again, not much impact.  Then one Thursday night a gal from the "sister" church in Pasadena came out.  I thought this girl was not hard on the eyes, and my mom saw a golden opportunity.  She hosted a few "young adult" meetings at our house, and I asked this girl out.  She said yes, and on our second date something very different happened.

It was a New Years Eve party, there were thirty to forty people there, and I was just amazed at the way they seemed to genuinely love and care for each other.  And not only that, but they seemed to love and care for me as well.  I liked that.  Then at midnight they sat in a circle and talked about how they had seen God work in their lives the previous year.  This was sometimes joyous, sometimes painful, and always honest.  I was blown away.  This actually was spiritual, it was real, it had practical implication, and I felt a "tugging" at my heart.  By the time it was my turn to share, I had decided whatever they were into I wanted in on it.  And that was my "conversion" story.

This is actually very important, as at a foundational point in my spiritual life it was not a traditional gathering, or ritual, but a group of people, meeting in a home, being honest about their lives, that made me take notice.

It wasn't long til I was listening to seven sermons a day on radio, reading countless books, and the bible from cover to cover.  I wanted to be a preacher, and I was gonna be ready no matter what.

For some complicated reasons I wont get into here I wound up going to another church that was a bit more traditional in its structure, but not its ideology.  The pastors there took me under their wing, and started mentoring me.  Butch Pluimer and Buddy Suitor changed my life, they took me in like a son. This was another thing that was very formative.  I was not sent away to bible college, but I was apprenticed.  It was, lets just do it together, until you can do it alone. 

At this church I really learned a lot.  I learned some great stuff.  I learned some not so great stuff.  I learned about church politics, and what happens when people have "spiritual" power.  I noticed it, but didn't understand it.

Then I met another great man.  Dave Everritt was this very quiet humble man who came to me for prayer for his neighborhood.  He lived in a ghetto that served as a war zone between two Latino gangs and three Cambodian gangs.  The gang kids were starting to come to his bible studies and the church kids didn't like it, and he said he didn't know what to do but if he had to choose he was choosing the gang kids.  I liked this guy and asked if I could come and see, and boy did I see.  He had been a commodities broker with a porsche and a high priced condo, and when he became a Christian he sold it all, which caused his wife to leave him.  Now years later he lived in this slum with his new wife trying to care for those most people were afraid of.  He asked me if I wanted him to be my mentor.  I said yes please.

So far in the story I have experienced a few things that are of note:

I experienced a practical, real, spirituality not part of a ritual, but part of community in a home.

I learned that apprenticeship and mentoring were of immense value.

I learned that people actually did take the call to get rid of it all and follow Jesus seriously.

I learned that social outreach need to go in and stay, not try to work from outside.

Part two will be tomorrow, and then we get into some of my more radical ideas :)


Monday, March 19, 2012

I am back with a vengence :)

So a good friend asked me if I could answer some questions on his blog, I figured I could do that, and I could do it here as well since I am writing:

I am going to put up the whole email, but take only a portion at a time, probably once a week.

I thought for the blog I'd give a brief intro about you, for people who don't know, and then ask if you could tell a little bit about how your journey led you to the kind of community you're a part of now.  Here are the other questions I had, stuff people have been bringing up and discussing with me as I've shared you're blogs and other things.  I've had long back and forth discussions with a couple Pastor friends about the first one, and after our meeting this Friday, I spent a lot of time discussing what the Kingdom means with people who were worried I was basically setting them up, or trying to work on them with an agenda to convert them.  

1) Rev, a question that has come up a few times after the blog I posted, and after I put a documentary about you up on Facebook a while back, is what you mean when you say that as a Christian Anarchist you "submit your life to the teachings of Jesus, and not to anything else."  Aren't Christians taught to submit to the leaders of the Church?  Didn't the early church have Bishops, Apostles, Elders, and Councils?  

2) Another question people have asked, and that maybe ties in, is the idea that Anarchy means chaos, lawlessness, and rebellion against the established order.  A few people have asked me how that can be compatible with the kind of communities you've been a part of, which seem to be about loving and serving those who have been marginalized by society.  

3) Another thing that's come up recently is what the Kingdom of God means.  I used that phrase a few times in my blog, and didn't realize that others might hear it very differently than I do.  What does the Kingdom mean for non-believers?  How do people who are trying to set it up here on earth share the Kingdom, or even the Kingdom work, with those who don't believe in God?  Should the goal of Christians be to convert them so that they can be saved, and share in this Kingdom?

4) Finally, I wanted to ask what it means to live this stuff out.  Are there different approaches for Kingdom living?  How do we work on becoming a part of God's Kingdom?  Any thoughts or advice you have would be great.  

so, I will start with a post about the story of mr and mrs rev and how we got to where we are now.  I will post this tomorrow.  And then I will get into those questions.  Hope you will join in, and ask questions of your own as we go.