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.


Monday, July 26, 2010

three from Sully

This is a quick stop-by to bookmark three great and very different posts from Andrew Sullivan today.

i read them in reverse order and that's how i present them here...

in the first, Poz Face, he reflects on his experience of living for many years now as HIV+. i found his words powerful and deeply moving. for as much as he can madden me, for as much as his political standpoint differs from mine on some issues, he remains a must-read. he blogs in a way few others achieve. and anytime i walk away, i find myself coming back. this kind of defiant truthfulness is why.

Today's Mental Health Break. i can't say i really know anything about Jewel or her music, but for feel-goodness and the best side of people shining through - this video did the job. (btw, at the very end there's a tiny moment of language probably NSFW or kids, even if it is delivered in a delightful way.)

And finally, The Language of Faith. i'm having difficulty getting the embedded video to play through, even on youtube, but regardless, I found what Sullivan had to say to be noteworthy,

"Sometimes, I think of faith as like looking at an old and famous painting for so long that it becomes impossible to see it any more. By see it, I mean see it with eyes fresh to its core meaning, open to its ambiguities and associations, and prepared to be shocked by its audacity."                      continues here.

hope this finds you well wherever you are and getting what you need.

i have a big amount of school work to complete and not much time. But Joel returns Monday from Berlin for a couple more weeks. still, makes for precious times to treasure together despite the looming deadlines. i can't wait to have him back home.


Sunday, July 25, 2010

music is real

fascinating interview with Kristin Hersh, including a video, over at the Guardian today. quite remarkable reading...i can't recommend this artist's back catalogue enough... she haunts me in a way few do... i find i have to listen to her in small doses. she's a little like Kozelek in that way. i have to ration it...

i've probably shared this before but no matter... a very dear friend included this in a pair of mix tapes after my marriage broke down. he offered this track below as one of the companions for the journey. i can't begin to convey what this song came to represent for me. for the images that i connected with. but there's something so sacred about that space that exists between what an artist offers and the experiences the listener brings... of the things that are born out of that space...even when you share it, something new is birthed between the other listener and a song... my friend knew that... and this song was a real gift...

i've been thinking about the idea of tracing back things that carry significance, those moments you can trace back that give the stuff that matters most its persistence and weight and makes it the stuff that deserves to be called what matters most in one's life... and it's been occuring to me that walking back down the path and picking up the breadcrumbs goes back beyond as far as one can remember... this track definitely has a place on the path that i want to remember...


Thursday, July 22, 2010

hidden institutions

yesterday a comment i posted on gladys glaniel's blog was turned (by her with my permission) into a guest post.

if anyone read my (more personal) recent post, Kirk, you'll likely see a connection, as i try and work out what it means for me to be desiring to return to church (which i assumes i left, and i'm not sure about that)... i'm not much interested in theory, much more in making sense of lived experience...i think the margins of religious experience and expression, away from the brittle stability of certainty, is an arguably more blurred and fluid space...

those margins aren't only experienced by being outside the church in a physical sense. the margins are a name for an internal experience... and i am finding deep resonance with people inside the church walls who are internally out on the margins... location only tells you so much... there's a heap of thoughts burgeoning on that disruption of in/out.  i don't really care what 'emerging church' means. in some ways, the word is a distraction... and i'm certainly not concerned with needing a theory to answer it all. but i do have questions and cautions about determining for others what their lived experience means to them... 

i read thoughts on the emerging church and I can't but think of L'Arche.  i think of Jean Vanier's words...

'Nouwen and others have testified to the way L'Arche communities transform caregivers as much as those who are cared for. As Jean Vanier sees it, they become practical expressions of the most basic, paradoxical teachings of Christianity, notions about power in humility, strength in weakness, and light in the darkness of human existence.
Mr. Vanier: 'You see, the big thing for me is to love reality and not live in the imagination, not live in what could have been or what should have been or what can be, and somewhere, to love reality and then discover that God is present." ' (more here)
I kind of what to put those words into every conversation I hear about emerging theology.
But any thoughts on that will have to wait for a while. anyways, i decided to share my thoughts with gladys because much of the reading i've done of late on this theme leaves me wanting for more nuance... fwiw, here's a link to my half baked thoughts and wonderings.

Right, back down to work...


a breadcrumb trail; or, speaking of faith

I'm about to dive into a big chunk of writing for school but had to pause to just marvel at the way things unfold... of the moments that end up having so much more significance than one could foresee...
this is me tracing a path to find it scattered with breadcrumbs... to delight in the sheer audacity of truth's persistance...of the constancy of what matters most...

Because this morning with Joel still in Berlin, as we chatted over the miles he reminded me of a conversation we had by a fire...

Because earlier this morning, at the very moment i was drafting a mail to Joel about Speaking of Faith, he forwarded me an email exchange we shared from this very day one year ago. the exchange was what we came to call 're-enacting the future'. in those days before we confessed the full complimentarity, mutuality and particularity of 'us', it was an expression of everything we had been, everything we were becoming, everything we are and are still becoming now...
the title of the mail he forwarded was 'the latest SoF'...

Because a few moments before that on my twitter feed came this from Speaking of Faith's softweets.... and i laughed with delight...

(click image to enlarge)

Because last night my nephew-to-be Patrick, wrote:

Sometimes truth doesn't need doctoring to be its own art

Because yesterday on SoF's blog, Pádraig shared this beautiful reflection on the stories of division and reconciliation being told and needing to be told in Northern Ireland...

Because in October 2008 i shared where i was in my life with a room in Vanderbilt, filled with friends and strangers... i shared an essay and a piece of performance poetry accompanied by Steve and Charlie (text)... (podcast version here)
I remixed Krista Tippett and John O'D with Lester Bangs, Wendell Berry with Buechner, Bloc Party and Tunng...folded together the inspiration of Pádraig and Colm Mac Con Iomaire...and unfolded myself in a confession of what it meant for me to be broken and resurrected...

That night as I spilled out my words, my arm was still healing...

Because a couple of days earlier I sat in the fall air on Belmont Boulevard and crafted words of hope out of my fragility to share with others... and then i stopped. i got up and walked over to the tattoo palour across the street and got some new ink... as a reminder that even though i was on my knees and trying to pick up the pieces of myself, i was being held together by the shelter of love... truth indelible, so i wouldn't forget... would not lose faith.

Because a few days before that, Joel and I sat by a bonfire... getting to reconnect in person for the first time in four years.

Because an hour before that on that same night by that fire was when David told me Julie was going to be out of town and asked would I come to Vanderbilt in her place and share some thoughts on music and the truthfulness of being broken... what Sarah and I called the art of collapse... and I knew that if I was going to write about being in pieces, and I would also write about that which mattered most...

Because on 25 December, 2007 in Belfast, Pádraig and I shared Christmas together. as we sat by the fire and exchanged gifts I opened up a card he'd made... brown paper with a little star and a line of writing in Irish...

"What's this?" I asked. He translated.
"That's gonna be a tattoo", we unisoned in mirth.


Pád has been a true embodiment of shelter in my life. I am so glad that so many others get to be blessed by his capacity for wisdom and poetry. I cannot imagine the shelter of the community that has blessed and continues to bless my life without him in it. I would not have these words for it, if it were not for him...

But it's not the words. It's the truth they represent. And the ever-present reminder of not only him, but of Joel and all these people who bless me with their embodiment of that truth. For them, I am so very grateful...

Whatever comes, today, on this path, looking back at this unfolding future that was being re-enacted without us even knowing it, for all brokenness that has brought me to here, I cannot but say -- I have been deeply blessed by the persistance of Love I can only hope I will learn to embody half as well...

:: ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine ::


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

the neighbo(u)rhood

37212 -- the zipcode where I'll be living (touch wood) come fall/early winter. For over a decade I've always said this is the area of urban Nashville where I'd want to live. It's got a very relaxed feel, somehow laid back but also buzzing at the same time & unlike much of the city which is very car-oriented, this area is amazing for getting about on foot, with leafy streets and beautiful campus grounds to cut through.
No less pedestrian than I, Joel's lived for almost the same amount of time right here -- in Edgehill (a historic mixed income residential neighbourhood), that's tucked in beside Music Row, Vanderbilt and Hillsboro/Belmont. Which means everything you see in this video (created for prospective Vandy students) is within in easy walking (or even easier cycling) distance, as is the new urban development called The Gulch and Downtown, which lie to our north. And which is why we have no plans to move anytime soon.
Anyways, for those who don't know Nashville, just thought I'd share a foretaste of the streets I'll be treading once the red tape's all been dealt with. I couldn't be happier that this is the neighborhood I'll be getting to call my own.


Saturday, July 17, 2010

standing up...

and calling it like it is.


first, a family story from yesterday that left me beaming when Ewan recounted it...

so my 3 and a 1/2 year old neice Sequoia's in the park with her mother Miriam and her younger brother Lochlann yesterday...

as is her usual style, she walks up to a kid she doesn't know (a 7 year old boy in this case) and says "hello! do you want to play with me?"

Ewan says had the boy said no she would have been fine. she never really gets upset if a kid says no and says hello to everyone they meet on the street. but the boy does say yes. and so they start playing.

the boy's older brother and some friends (all about 9 years old) approach. they start mocking him: "what are you playing with HER for? she's a BABY! you must be a BABY too!"

then to Sequoia, "you're a baby! you must wear diapers!"

and so they jeer and taunt them, "you're both babies!!!! you. are. BA-BIES!!"

Ewan says Sequoia is very good at ignoring another kid who is mean when playing together and Mir decided not to intervene unless necessary. but
this was the first time significantly older and bigger kids (and a groups of boys she didn't know at that) had so openly been mean. so she was concerned. she knew Sequoia's new friend might turn on her too as a defense against his brother's taunts. but Mir held back. and she was astounded at what happened next:

Sequoia looks straight up at the boys, puts her hands on her hips and shouts back,

"well YOU'RE being BULLIES! ner ner ner ner!! YOU. ARE. BULL-IES!!"

well it seems that shut them up good and proper, and with that she went straight back to playing with her new friend, who despite the taunts proceeded to carry on playing with her.

we are all, as you might well imagine, rather impressed and proud. she stood up for herself and her friend, and we look forward to seeing her learn how to stand up for others, even when she is not the direct target of the bullies calling names.


And then, there's this. Much more serious issues: a blistering reponse from Ta-Nehisi Coates to the virulent racism of Tea Party Movement Spokesperson Mark Williams'. Williams, (angry that the NAACP passed a resolution stating that the Tea Party movement needs to expunge racism from its ranks) wrote on his blog what he describes as 'satire' - a fictional letter from the NAACP to "Mr Lincoln". it's inexcusable vile. nothing less. and his excuses (see the comments here) only compound the racism.

Today, following the letter and after numerous discussions about the story this week, on his blog at The Atlantic, Coates paused to reflect on his own measured approach this week and his uncertainty as to whether the NAAPC had made the right move with their resolution. He wrote:

"I have, in my writing, a tendency to become theoretically cute, and overly enamored with my own fair-mindedness. Such vanity has lately been manifested in the form of phrases like "it's worth saying"  and "it strikes me that..." or "respectfully..."

When engaging your adversaries, that approach has its place. But it's worth saying that there are other approaches and other places. Among them--respectfully administering the occasional reminder as to the precise nature of the motherfuckers you are dealing with."
                                                                               - Ta-Nehisi Coates
the complete piece is worth reading. 


Say nothing, whatever one's approach... by not calling out the 'precise nature' of those shouting taunts, then the social and political discourse just keeps descending unchecked into further vacuous content-free and substantive policy-free soundbites based on fear, into hatred, racism, xenophobia, religious intolerance. And civility, humanity, welcome, social justice, compassion - all are undermined by the disregard and bullying persecution of minorities and the vulnerable by those with power who willfully seek to manipulate people who are ignorant to their own privileges and who are encouraged to live under the delusion that it is they who are under threat.

"We live in a society that suffers from historical amnesia."
                                                        - Cornel West


Monday, July 12, 2010

down on the farm with SoF

SoF are looking for stories about listeners' relationship to the land & the deeper meanings in that relationship...

as inspiration they've shared a link to a series of videos from the Maine Farmland Trust.
the eight short films are really worth watching...

i found them genuinely inspiring. you might too...


Sunday, July 11, 2010

the kirk

I've spent much of the past week following the proceedings of the PC(USA) General Assembly which was going on in Minneapolis. Given that once in Nashville I will more than likely be attending Downtown Presbyterian Church (DPC) with Joel I felt invested in finding a bit more out about the denomination. With live online streaming of the plenary sessions and twitterfeeds devoted to it, it turned out to be pretty compelling. I may be lapsed in PCI* but hey, you know what they say: you can take the gal out of Presbyterianism...

*Full disclosure for the record: despite my decision several years back to no longer attend PCI, I was back at my original home church of my teens in Dun Laoghaire this very morning to hear an old friend preach. Was nice to reconnect.

LGBTQ equality was a big issue at GA219 and given Joel and I hope to be married by the church before the year is out (visa permitting) the marriage debate was of significance. I was really hoping for signs of hope-filled and just progress in the denomination. Although motions on ordination and benefits equality were passed, it was disappointing that the marriage debate was avoided. There's a good roundup of LGBTQ news from the GA here.

Despite feeling sad about the delay on the marriage debate and my fears that many Presbyteries won't engage on this issue in any meaningful reflective way between now and the next GA in 2012, I have had to admit that even if the result to send the issue back out to be 'studied' by churches had been just a couple of % in the other direction, the ultimate result of debate might not have been very different. It is evident that this is a matter that is really dividing the denomination - for some it is an 'issue', while for others it is their identity and their lives under debate. But, it was encouraging to see the diversity and solidarity at the assembly and I saw signs of hope that progress will be made without the church needing to split in two.
And the outgoing and incoming moderators and vice-mods seem like pretty cool folks. (I can't believe i just typed that.) I keep thinking how strange it'd be to be in a denomination where you need more than two hands to count the progressive clergy. And no, that's not hyperbole.

I know some folks have issue with church polity and procedures, but I realised this week that this is the tradition I grew up in since I was a child in the URC, and I'd likely always take it over excessive hierarchical authority or "whatever that charismatic guy up the front says goes" style leadership of non-denominational churches. Church polity can delay things and often does, but there's a process one can access if one wants to to influence change if one is willing to be patient and determined.

Presbyterians like disciplined order and unity over chaos and schism. The path to full equality may be a long one (almost 40 years in PC(USA)'s case), but there are progressive voices on a whole range of important causes in PC(USA) and strong voices at that. People who are not only calling for the church to catch up with the radical love of G-D but who are also willing to do so with grace and kindness rather than in anger, despite their pain. And there are a lot of them. The LGBTQA and emergent voices at GA219 were loud and clear. They gave me hope.

As does DPC. It's an artistic and progressive church in a progressive city in a very conservative state. They are doing some considerable work for those in deep need on their doorstep and that, along their commitment to the arts, really inspires me. Plus it's a place that when i have spent time there has been so open to conversations that are filled with questions and I have never felt like my thoughts on theology have had to bend or be apologised for in order for me to be welcome there.

I quite like the thought of being part of all of that. I read a blog post by Jonny Baker the other day that said the margins of the church are both inside and out its walls. And after several years of being on the outside, I'm thinking a lot about seeing if there's a chance I might find a sense of home back in the church so to speak, with all the imperfections and frustrations that come with the enrichment when working with others for others.


Monday, July 05, 2010

one tired pony and a naked pastor

things that be floating my boat...

feminine feminist noted this site recently and i too am enjoying the
cartooning with a spiritual twist from the nakedpastor blog, virtual home and store of artist david hayward...

follow on twitter at tiredpony and nakedpastor


rigid theology..?

i never much enjoyed sitting in traditional wooden pews:

How What We Touch Changes How We Feel

Friday, July 02, 2010

What Would Jesus Say?

from Tea Party Jesus, where the words of Christians (read: GOP politicians and conservative pundits) are put in the mouth of Christ. while there, you can click on the images to see the contextual source material - context which typically makes them more troubling. offensive language abounds. and i don't just mean the quoted four letter words...

you can follow at:

H/T: the daily dish (Why Christianism is Not Christianity)