Thursday, April 24, 2008

Everything is connected...

For centuries, scholars have viewed the world as a machine… a series of interlocking parts that can be disassembled and reassembled without changing the nature of the whole. But with the advent of quantum physics, scientists and philosophers are beginning to see that all things are actually quite deeply connected. On the surface, separate entities may seem unrelated, but upon a deeper examination, it becomes apparent that they exist only in relationship to each other. Like the parts of a body, no part can exist without the rest.

So what does this have to do with social justice? Just this: everything you do has some connection to the rest of humanity. While that may seem like new-age nonsense, I believe it to be true. Even though we may never come in direct contact with the poor, marginalized and destitute of this world, our day to day lives touch theirs all the time.

For example, imagine taking a trip to the grocery store. You get into your car and drive there, emitting exhaust that is contributing (albeit minutely) to the destruction of the ozone layer, which is, in turn, contributing to more severe weather patterns in sub-Saharan Africa. With drought setting in, families in those regions are having a harder and harder time finding food.

So you get to the grocery store and buy a pound of coffee. Now, unless the label says “Fair Trade,” you have no guarantee that the workers who picked the coffee were treated well or even paid enough to survive. You may have inadvertently supported a company that makes a profit by oppressing its workers.

Next, you pick up a few bananas. But did you know that the huge demand for bananas in America is leading to vast deforestation and pollution (twice as much waste is left behind for every banana produced)? Or that buying bananas out of season requires transportation that pumps greenhouse gases into our atmosphere? Again, the poorest of the poor are the ones that pay the price.

Finally, you pick up a bottle of water on the way to the register. There’s nothing inherently harmful in that, except that a single bottle of water takes more than 6 liters of water to produce. In a world with rapidly disappearing fresh water supplies and where 1.1 billion people lack access to safe drinking water, that’s quite an indulgence, don’t you think?

Now, this isn’t intended to make you feel guilty. I only want you to be more aware. To think as you go about your day about how your life is connected with the lives of people all over the world. Awareness is the first step in living your life differently. Sure, changing your lifestyle may not end world hunger or fix the environment… but it’s a start.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Is Grace Community Church "emerging"???

Note: This is completely my own perspective, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of the Grace Community Church congregation, staff or leadership...

So… The Emerging Church. Some people believe it to be the last hope of Christianity. Many others consider it to be the heretical movement that will usher in the apocalypse. Ironically, we probably have both within the walls of this church! So where does Grace stand as a whole? Good question.

Now, before I go on, I’d like to make a quick clarification. Two labels thrown around a lot are “Emerging” and “Emergent.” Emergent refers to the Emergent Village, a network of emerging churches ( The emerging church refers more to a broad movement in Evangelical Christianity that seeks to ask questions about how the Church is to look in an increasingly post-modern world.

So, is Grace Community Church Emergent? No. We are not associated with the Emergent Village. Are we Emerging? Now that is the real question.

To answer, I’d like to use the “Five Streams of the Emerging church” found in Scott McKnight’s outstanding article found here. McKnight does a great job of summarizing what this movement is all about. The five “streams” are Prophetic, Post-Modern, Praxis-oriented, Post-evangelical, and Political.

Prophetic: The emerging church is characterized by progressive and often provocative rhetoric used as a means of challenging the status-quo.

Does Grace do this? I would contend that yes, we do. For years our pastors have challenged the congregation to live beyond the prosperity gospel found so often in Evangelical mega-churches. We are encouraged to spend our lives caring for the poor and marginalized, to move towards a financially sacrificial lifestyle and to embrace and acknowledge (rather than cover up) our brokenness. Those are all rather surprising and prophetic ideas, especially in a suburban Christian context.

Post-modern: The emerging church is characterized by an increasing identification with a post-modern epistemology.

Obviously, post-modernism is a very hot-button issue in the church today, so I will choose my words carefully. If post-modernism is defined as wild relativism, in which truth is denied and the Bible thrown out the window, then no, Grace Church is absolutely not post-modern. However, if post-modern Christianity is an acknowledgement of the limits of theological systems, a movement towards a more tolerant (not pluralistic!) stance toward other faith traditions, and a recognition that the truth of God cannot be fully captured in human language, then perhaps Grace is becoming more post-modern. (Here is a very helpful article explaining some of the different definitions of post-modernism)

Praxis-oriented: The emerging church is focused more on how one lives than what one believes.

A quick glance at church history will show that the pendulum has swung back and forth on this issue many times. At this point, the emerging church is reacting to the “modern” position that the only important thing is what you believe (which is itself a reaction to pre-modern practices). Obviously, Grace does not ignore the importance of orthodoxy (right belief), but there is a definite trend toward emphasizing orthopraxy. We are always looking for ways to jump into what God is doing with our lives, rather than simply talking about theological concepts. (For a great example of this, listen to Dave Rodriguez’s recent sermon “Less talk, More action” by downloading it here.)

Post-evangelical: The emerging church is attempting to move beyond systematic theology and the rampant in-grouping and out-grouping so common in the Evangelical church.

Emerging churches tend to have “conversations” about theology and are open to rethinking long-held beliefs. Also, there is much less talk about who is and who isn’t a Christian, because it seems that such judgments are increasingly irrelevant in today’s world. Is Grace post-evangelical? I would say a qualified yes. We spend little time bickering over theology and rarely talk about who is “in” or “out.” However, we don’t take it as far as some churches that completely devalue theological statements and cease evangelism for fear of judging another’s spiritual status.

Political: The emerging church is involved in politics, but tends to focus less on specific issues and more on broader social reform.

Across the emerging church, there is an upsurge of interest in broad political issues such as poverty, environmentalism and social justice. Because these issues are more often associated with the political ‘left,’ many Evangelicals see the emerging church as liberal. However, I would contend that this new focus is less an association with a political party, and more a sweeping identification with the radical society-shaking teaching of Jesus. Is Grace political? Yes, in that we care very much about how our government treats the poor and marginalized. Are we associated with a specific party or political candidate? No. You will find both liberals and conservatives within the walls of our church.

So, with all that in mind, is Grace Community Church emerging? Well, according to the definitions put forward by Scott McKnight, it would seem that we are at least moving in that direction. However, do we fit into all the molds and stereotypes usually associated with the emerging church? No. Do we buy into everything the emerging movement has to say? No. Do we even refer to ourselves as “emerging”? Again, no.

We are simply Grace Community Church. A group of broken Christ-followers trying to bring the Kingdom of God into our world. A group of activists trying to shake up the status-quo and bring social justice to our hurting neighbors. A group of theologians trying to re-discover the teachings of God through scripture. We are simple Christ-followers in an ever changing world.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

If you love Jesus, read more Sci-Fi

I remember vividly the first time I read Aldus Huxley’s Brave New World. I sat on my bed, mouth agape, reading a startlingly accurate portrayal of 21st century America. Our materialistic addiction to pleasure, our constant obsession with self-preservation, our yearning for social significance… it’s all there. For the tenth time since starting the book, I flipped to the front just to make sure. Yes. Brave New World was written in 1932.

However, Huxley is not the only one writing prescient interpretations of humanity. He is only one of thousands of science fiction authors who have asked the hard questions about life, morality and the human condition in ways that no non-fiction book ever can.

But what’s the point in reading sci-fi books? Go to any Christian bookstore and you will find row upon row of books claiming to capture the essence of today’s world. Isn’t that enough? Of course not. Most of these books end up obsolete and laughable within ten years. Why is it that non-Christian sci-fi has a longevity and relevancy far greater than the “spiritual” fluff with which we constantly immerse ourselves?

The answer? We don’t know what we’re missing.

Now, I am not ignorant of the reputation sci-fi has garnered as a hangout for nerds, geeks and losers. Many of these socially awkward people are attracted to technology, science and shiny objects that can blow up planets. But that should be no excuse for Christians to ignore the vast reservoirs of truth that can be found within the pages of a good sci-fi novel.

Most sci-fi books are about normal humans in abnormal situations. They ask the question, “what would life be like if…” They give the reader a chance to question his or her own world by stretching the boundaries of reality.

For example, Dune by Frank Herbert explores the consequences of a prophetic view of the future. The Road by Cormac McCarthy delves into the essence of patriarchal love in a post-apocalyptic world. Cyteen by C.J. Cherryh describes what humanity would look like if cloning and genetic manipulation were commonplace. The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson depicts a world without Christianity. The list goes on and on.

Now, you are probably thinking “Ok, ok! I get the point! But what does this have to do with being a Christian?”


Science fiction books will challenge your worldview, expand your mind and occasionally disturb you. They will take you out of your comfort zone into a broader and more meaningful understanding of the world. The result of all this? A stronger faith, a less ignorant approach to other cultures, and a creativity that will blossom beyond what you ever thought possible.

Sci-Fi will make you a better Christ-follower.

Of course, you could continue to be safely tucked into your theological bed by a bunch of Christian authors who see the world exactly the way you do, believe all the things you believe, and care only about preserving their fading point of view, but tell me… what’s the fun in that?