Wednesday, July 28, 2010

open source church...

read a really interesting blog posting on open source church by landon whitsitt (who happens to be vice moderator of PC(USA) ).

it sparked enthusiastic conversation over morning coffee with Joel... here's several thoughts that arose... it got so long (possibly even longer than his original post) that i decided to post  here rather than in the comments over at Landonville...

i'm gonna push back a little on the previous commenter on the idea of theological integrity.
i want to suggest that a belief system is always 'open source'. yet many forms of Christianity try to suggest otherwise. Christian doctrine and indeed systematic theology exist because a group of people with 'authority' decided on a canon of acceptable texts and then decided what would be the correct understanding of those texts, a right way of thinking about them. church then structures itself on the assumption that there are those who have authority and those that don't and the goal is to have everyone thinking the right thing and expressing it in the right way.

i would suggest a question needing to be asked is why are young people (or anyone else for that matter) evangelised to? is it so that the person will add to the numbers of the church without the church changing, (i.e. presence and assimilation) or, is it so that that the person will come into the church and bring their experience, whole personhood and creativity and help transform the church by their presence (i.e. relationship and authentic participation) ?

we find this in "seeker" services/programmes: often designed so that there is an opportunity for conversation and questions that suggests church is about relationship. that openness to authentic questions and conversation then disappears if/when they enter the church and are expected to assimilate into (and conform to) the regular service form and the 'correct' theology.
conformity to forms is matched typically with conformity to beliefs. a true commitment to mutual relationship, however, will always be the opposite of assimilation.

to ask who has authority is to ask who gets to be an author? does everyone get to be an 'authentic' self participating in a collective process? open source challenges the very notion of authority as power and privilege of the few in favour of the authority of a participatory collective process.
for it is 'process' that makes open source distinctive - it assumes a certain way of being or doing (the means) is what produces the best possible ends. which are never really an end because the creative process is endless.

as ikon explored awhiles back in a gathering called Satisfaction, we might liken that to a painter, who having finally put the final mark on a canvas, picks up the brush and starts on a new canvas. because there is something that wasn't expressed...something needing to be painted that wasn't painted before. it is our DISatisfaction that pushes us to create, not our satisfaction that we did it right and want to repeat it... and for the creative process to be authentic, the painter must in the moment before the brush hits the blank canvas trust and leap, willing to let what happens happen. in a belief system, in faith, in church, there is no one painter. it is a collective process. and as when 5 people get around the same canvas, the creative rules are the same and a conversation develops on it. but now each of us leap and trust in the process while also trusting in each others willingness to be honest and authentic. let it happen and what results will be bigger than the sum of us. it is that openness to process that brings about integrity. and it requires a letting go of power over, of privilege and ego.

by having an open source process there is not only a trust in the value of letting everyone or anyone participate but neither *can* there be a fixed end or completion point. ie. no point at which we can say, "we're done, it's finished, no change needed, nothing new to be learned here". whether in creative process of religious expression or in the very theology it is expressing, provisionality is what allows for constant, unending transformation. believing there is a "right answer" that needs protecting (as opposed to a "creative tradition" that needs to nurtured and critiqued) closes down the possibility for revelation. it places finite boundaries on that which is Infinite.

Ekhart's 'God, rid me of God' might be described as a pretty open source kind of prayer.

i would want to question whether youth worship is more creative only in so much as the 'adult' church actually thinks it has the right answer and young people don't have anything to tell us grown ups theologically. that youth worship is perhaps looser in terms of form only insofar as it remains theologically correct and reinforcing the relevance of a fixed message. that questioning arises from the assumption that creativity is employed to make it understood as 'relevant'.
a truly open source approach would presumably define youth worship as that in which the "youth" authentically express the relevancy as 'they' experience it. or indeed how they don't.

to favor mutuality of conversation over the delivering of a message. true open source church would have to start as it means to go on, even with young children. where i've seen that done, the authentic revelation children can bring is frequently shocking in its fresh insight, unencumbered by the weight of keeping to a systemised theology or form of expression.

this of course can be extended to anyone of any age, especially those we class as an 'outsider' or 'other'. there's nothing quite like having someone from another tradition or belief system not only critique our own, but also express what they value in it, to show us what we believe or practice with fresh eyes. to invite disruption of hearing voices to which the church traditionally denies authority of interpretation is not only to be open to critique but to be open to the good news that comes when we are present to the reality of our own lives and the lives of others, in all its pain and all its joy. and then to love that immediate reality we are in and let revelation approach and transform us together. (edited to add: there's obviously resonance here with another ikon theme - allowing ourselves to be the ones being evangelised to, rather than us doing the evangelism)

i'm not saying that some expressions aren't more nuanced, or inclusive or fuller than others. but in order to get it even close to right you have to be willing to have it wrong. faith is something to be lived in process out loud, not kept silent 'til it's word perfect.

humility and truth with integrity will always be found in authentic wild abandon before its found in conformity. because wild abandon requires you let go of ego, to be vulnerable - whether its on the dance floor or silently staring at a blank wall in meditation or when free associating in therapy or speaking from one's heart.

there's a reason why i resisted my brother emptying the box of Lego on the floor and making up his own models and preferred instead to follow the instructions to make what was on the front of the box. it was safer. go his way and anything might get created. and, crucially, it might be wrong. truth is, i was always jealous of that creative freedom in which there was no wrong. it's a delightful coincidence that as i typed that iTunes hit upon a remix Ewan made a few years back - dozens of other tracks spliced up into tiny pieces and reconstructed as something entirely new.

in the spirit of open source and remixing i'll leave our provisional guesses as they are  - open for critique, editing, and remixing with abandon by anyone who so wishes...

right, really need to get down to some school work.



  1. Very nice.

    A couple of thoughts:

    One interesting thing about open source is the reality that nothing is ever finished (as you put it). Wikipedia has it as one of their Five Pillars that if anyone gets to participate then we should assume that work we have done *will be* edited and perhaps removed. That's the nature of the beast. when we create in an open source environment we do not own the creation.

    Second: "i would want to question whether youth worship is more creative only in so much as the 'adult' church actually thinks it has the right answer and young people don't have anything to tell us grown ups theologically." Very good point, and I think spot on in many cases.

    thanks for helping me make these thoughts better.

  2. First, there always has to be some sort of authority, if only to maintain organization and keep chaos at bay. I have no problem with people finding their own theological ground, but why throw out the centuries of theological study and start from the beginning. I would not find it acceptable for people to build their own theology based on nothing and I would find it frustrating to seek out a faith system and be told I can just figure it out for myself. I am all for questioning and change, but I think there needs to be some sort of structure to build on. Thus, I believe there must be some theological integrity.
    But then, I am pretty old and it is hard for me to give up everything I know. Perhaps if I were 40 I would see the virtues. Thanks for the stimulating discussion. I look forward to the next chapter of Landon's book. Shalom

  3. hey landon, hey rosella

    nice to hear from you both.
    landon, that comment re: you *will* be edited struck me as having a lot of resonance with kenneth burke's the "drama of history" and Christianity as an ongoing conversation. see Borg's the heart of Christianity p.18-21.

    i think that also speaks, at least somewhat, to Rosella's concerns.