Thursday, March 29, 2007

3 Big Questions Congregations Need to Ask

Today's post includes material from Chris, my UCC minister friend and colleague from New York. We both are participants in the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center "Clergy Clinic", a year long program that deals with healthy congregations and healthy leadership. With colleagues across the denominational spectrum, we've found lots of shared experiences and common issues in ministry. Here's what Chris had to share recently from an Alban Institute workshop:

"There are three big questions that all congregations need to think about and answer for themselves: Who are we? What has God called us to do? And, who is our neighbor? Although each of these questions can be answered quickly and glibly, in truth each calls for profound and prayerful discernment, over a significant period of time, not just by the pastor or the pastoral staff, but by the entire congregation.

Our three days together at the Alban seminar focused on congregational style and culture. Every congregation has a signature style—which we usually think of as being represented by certain key symbols. These styles and symbols can be greatly varied; often, they are evident in worship.

For example, three very different churches can all think of themselves as having “excellent music.” In one congregation this may mean Bach fugues, and piano-violin pieces by Mendolssohn. In another church, it may mean a contemporary service, complete with rock or rap music, and a monthly jazz vespers service. In a third congregation the emphasis could be on heartfelt African American spiritual music.

Our workshop presenter said something about the planning process that impressed me. There are three kinds of planning that churches typically do: problem-solving planning, which is quick, immediate, and addresses specific concerns (There’s no hot water in the kitchen. What do we do to fix it?); long-range or developmental planning which addresses the question, “What’s next?” (e.g., should we expand the sanctuary, or go to a second service to handle the large crowds?); and frame-bending planning, which is really strategic planning and asks those “Who-are-We, What-has-God-called-us-to-do, Who-is-our-neighbor” sorts of questions.

What I found interesting is that many of the problems facing churches today are complicated. They are triggered by external (e.g., environmental, economic, community) changes. They are systemic problems, and they require frame-bending planning. They require churches to ask those “Who-are-we, what-has-God-called-us-to-do, Who-is-our-neighbor questions.Yet many churches try to address such problems with problem-solving or developmental planning.

They apply linear solutions to systemic problems. But it doesn’t work. When the neighborhood changes, and giving, attendance and membership goes down, it may take more than a special program, or an invite-your-neighbor campaign to turn things around. Churches have to rethink who they are, what God has called them to do, and who their neighbor is. A simple but profound idea, this is. "

That's what Chris took away from a fine workshop with the Alban Institute. Getting beyond those quick-fix solutions and problem solving approaches is, nevertheless, quite a challenge. As Chris and I and others have been learning, there's often a deep-seated anxiety in many churches that narrows the kind of imaginative work that is needed to re-vision Christian discipleship and ministry in today's world.

Jesus spoke about these spiritual realities with keen insight in Mark 2: 21-22. "No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak; otherwise, the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins."

In this season of Lent, that Jesus view is worth deep pondering. Are we just trying to patch something together to last a little longer? Are we afraid of the fresh, invigorating life of the Spirit that Jesus offers? What do you think?

Monday, March 26, 2007

Tar Heel "Blue"

Yesterday's game between Carolina and Georgetown was hugely exciting the first half, with my Tar Heels showing what looked like dominance, but then the air came out of the ball for my team the second half. As Coach Roy Williams said in a press conference afterward, the highs in basketball competition are never as high as the lows are low! Did he ever get that right!

To say there was great gnashing of teeth at my house over the loss of a game it looked like we had won, is putting it mildly.

Over the years, since my childhood really in North Carolina, I've followed the Tar Heels with great enthusiasm.

A few years ago, when my two older sons were in high school, they got to attend Basketball Camp at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. My sister Beverly, at the time, gave me a book I've enjoyed titled "The 12 Leadership Principles of Dean Smith" by David Chadwick, a former player. Smith is the icon of coaching at Carolina and is the man who gave Roy Williams his chance to become an assistant coach and started him on his own great career.

Leadership principle #10 in Chadwick's study of Coach Dean Smith is called "Making Failure Your Friend." Chadwick recalls visiting Coach Smith to inform him of his plans to deal with this subject and I think to get the o.k.

As Chadwick visited with his former coach and mentor, Dean Smith recalled a particular day in practice when a player named Matt Wenstrom did something wrong, and then started to pout.
Coach Smith went over to him and asked, "How do you handle mistakes in life?"

Wenstrom quickly recited the thought for the day from the practice plan. "When faced with failure, recognize it, admit it, learn from it, forget it!"

Coach said to the players, "If you can learn any one thing in life, learn that! Learn from your mistakes and move on."

There's an old saying that "You don't drown by falling in the water. You drown by staying there!"

As David Chadwick remarks, Coach Smith's career was marked by many failures. But he continued to learn from them. He steadfastly refused to stay in the water and drown. Instead, he learned how to become a fantastic swimmer.

As I think back on this Sunday's game, it was a failure in many ways. Fans of Tar Heels basketball could be tempted to drown in our sorrows. But the reason I've long admired Carolina Basketball is because of the leadership and character of people like Dean Smith and his successor Roy Williams.

I still remember the story of Dean Smith's commitment to equality and racial justice. It was 1959 when Coach Smith and his pastor took an African-American seminary student and sat down in a Chapel Hill whites-only restaurant. It was the first step toward serious integration in Chapel Hill. When asked about it, Coach Smith simply said, "It was the right thing to do."

That's really what Tar Heel Blue means to me and many others. There will be other days to celebrate victory, but there's also something to be learned from "making friends with failure."

Compass Point #7 Being Like Jesus

Something about Jesus

by Barbara Brown Taylor
Most Christians are stubbornly fixed on being like Jesus. He is the gold standard for what it means to be fully human, in full union with the Divine. They tell me what it costs to love unconditionally, to forgive 70-times-seven, to show compassion for the poor—all essential hallmarks of Jesus' ministry. What I hear less about is what it costs to oppose the traditions of the elders, to upset pious expectations of what a child of God should say or do, to subvert religious certainty, and to make people responsible for their own lives. Yet all of these are present in his example too.

Jesus is an agitator, and Barbara Brown Taylor captures that agitation quite powerfully in the above comment. She goes on to say in this article, found in the current issue of Christian Century Magazine, that Christian discipleship might be less about being like Jesus and more along the lines of seeing ourselves in the human efforts of disciples like Peter, Mary, and John in following Jesus. If we're going to follow Jesus, then we have to follow behind him.
Like those first disciples we have a tendency to wander off by ourselves, until we hear the voice of Jesus calling us back.

Garry Wills in his wonderful recent book, What Jesus Meant, would seem to find common cause with Barbara Brown Taylor's reminder that we're not really much like Jesus. Wills does some tough agitating himself. As he observes, in certain religious circles the letters WWJD serve as a kind of pithy summary of what Christian discipleship is supposed to look like. "What Would Jesus Do?" assures us that doing the same thing is the goal of real Christians.

But here's the rub according to Wills. "Can we really aspire to do what Jesus did?" As Wills remarks, it would never have occurred to the first disciples to wear a WWJD bracelet. "Jesus ghosted in and out of people's lives, blessing and cursing, curing and condemning....The last thing he can be considered is a 'gentle Jesus meek and mild."

I recommend Garry Wills book What Jesus Meant highly as a corrective to the smooth assumption that we know what it means to be "like Jesus". Jesus the agitator and boundary breaker doesn't allow neat assumptions about "doing things like him". Here's just a short summary of Wills close reading of the gospels about Jesus:

"His very presence was subversive".

  • Jesus was called an agent of the devil, or the devil himself (Mk 3:32, Jn 7:20)
  • He was unclean (Lk. 11:38), a consorter with Samartians (Lk 17:16) and with loose women (Lk &:39)
  • He was a promoter of immorality (Mk 2:16), a glutton and a drunkard (Lk 7:34)
  • A mocker of the Jewish law (Mt. 12: 10; Jn 5:16(
  • A schismatic (Jn 8:48)

"He was never respectable"

  • Jesus, in fact, seemed to prefer the company of the less-than-respectable (Lk 6:35)
  • He was a friend of tax collectors and sinners Lk 15

Jesus challenged conventional thinking in many ways.

  • If your relatives came asking about why you weren't sufficiently committed to family values, would you answer like Jesus, that you have no relatives but those who do God's will? (Mk 3: 33-35)
  • If we could cast out devils, would we send them into a herd of pigs, destroying two thousand animals (Mk 5:13)? Christians who place a very high value on property rights might have a problem with that.

And so when I think about what it means to follow Jesus, I'm drawn to the conclusion that following him seems to be guaranteed to lead to some element of trouble. Usually, that's the last place we expect him to lead us.

What do you think?

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Get busy living, or get busy dying!

As a native Tar Heel, I watched with great anticipation the 60 minutes interview by Katie Couric of Presidential candidate John Edwards and his wife Elizabeth discussing her fight with cancer and their decision as a couple to continue the campaign. I was deeply moved by their comments. They spoke with courage while answering Couric's tough questioning. How can you go forward? Couric asked in several different ways. Here's the response by Elizabeth Edwards:

Anticipating the demands of the campaign trail, Elizabeth Edwards said her options were clear.
"Either you push forward with the things that you were doing yesterday or you start dying. That seems to be your only two choices," she said. "If I had given up everything that my life was about — first of all, I'd let cancer win before it needed to."

Like many others, I've had close family members die because of cancer. And so I found Elizabeth Edwards' courage enormously inspiring. At the same time, the cynical element in American political discourse would seek to undermine the integrity of John and Elizabeth Edwards. What a sad commentary on the level of public discussion of such a deeply moving story.

I think that ultimately, the Edward's decision is a deeply spiritual choice. We are all going to die, as they pointed out. It's a matter of time and circumstance. But how we live in facing the ultimate challenge of death makes all the difference.

"Nothing in life or in death can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ," says the Apostle Paul in Romans 8.

I applaud John and Elizabeth Edwards for their courage and their faith.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

What does leadership look like? Some thoughts inspired by Peter Drucker

Recently I was browsing through Barnes & Noble Bookstore, when I came across a new book inspired by the noted management/leadership consultant Peter Drucker. It was titled The Daily Drucker: 366 Days of Insight and Motivation. What struck me was how the packaging of the book made it seem like a small bible, complete with red ribbon marker, as if one's daily spiritual reading were to be found inside.

Aside from the slick packaging of Drucker's new book, I have to say that I have benefited from this noted management guru in my efforts to become a more effective leader through the years.
Mention the name Drucker in business circles, and the response is akin to a modern day prophet whose works are often cited like scripture. I guess that accounts for the devotional quality of the aforementioned book "366 Days of Insight and Motivation".

One of Drucker's suggestions is that we move away from the question, "How can I achieve?" to a different sort of concern, "How can I contribute?" That second question is not far from a more spiritual question, "How can I serve?" The focus moves from a narrow, sometimes narcissistic concern with self to a healthier interest in our contributions to the welfare of others.

In a book I've found valuable, The Essential Drucker, some key insights about leadership and organizational vitality are helpfully summarized. These insights offer value to non-profits and church organizations as well.

First, according to Drucker, every organization needs performance in three areas:
  • direct results
  • building of values and their reaffirmation
  • building and developing people for tomorrow

As Drucker argues, there has to be something this organization stands for, or else it degenerates into disorganization, confusion, and paralysis.

As someone who is called to contribute to the church and its mission in the world, I find Drucker's pithy summary of organizational leadership quite challenging. Having been around church organizations most of my professional career, I can say that spelling out "what the church stands for" is often quite frustrating. Ask the average person what their church is about, and mostly you get the answer, "we're a friendly group of people". Rarely do you get the sense that people explaining their church are describing a people or community who are on a journey to learn a different way of life.

If we are talking about results, think how more satisfying it would be to talk about "faith as a verb", where church is a group of people called to put faith and love into action, to make them real, to make them come alive for people.

Or when it comes to Drucker's second emphasis on "building values and their reaffirmation" consider an example like Habitat for Humanity. Its stated goal is to make shelter a matter of conscience. Now that's a value that an organization like a church should be able to seize on. And many have!

Or take Drucker's third emphasis on "building people for tomorrow". How do we approach such a task? Quite often it feels like we in the church have a greater investment in the past than we do in the future. Some time ago, I said to a group of colleagues, "I don't care if I ever celebrate another church anniversary. I don't want to celebrate the past. I want to make some history and live for the future." A few of my colleagues nodded agreement, some lifted an eyebrow.

I like what noted religion scholar Huston Smith once suggested as a mission focus for a church:

"Committed to Making People Real"

As Smith observed, that's not a bad way to describe the religious project: the effort to transcend religious phoniness.

Peter Drucker held a deep appreciation for spiritual organizations and values. He held that the foundation of effective leadership is thinking through:

  • the organization's mission
  • defining it
  • and establishing it, clearly and visibly.

All of those tasks require sizeable energy. All too often, I see churches avoid the hard task of focusing on the tasks of leadership and the tough wrestling with purpose and goals out of fear of offending anyone. Far too many church mission statements are so generically vague that they are in no danger of inspiring anyone to great dreams or actions.

A t.v. commercial used to ask, "Where's the beef?"

For those of us who care about the church's mission, there's a pointed question as well:
"Where's the passion?"

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Compass Point #6 Celtic Spirituality Features of Celtic Christianity

At a meeting of our Presbytery today, I heard a man give thanks for his dear departed mother, who was an O'Toole he told us. Later in the day, he assured us, he would celebrate her life properly in the Irish fashion. I thought, to myself, now that's a fine way to give thanks for a saint!

Not to feel left out, I'm grateful that I was invited to celebrate St. Patrick's Day later in the evening, in another venue with some good friends. Come with an Irish blessing, I was told!

In some of my reading in recent years, I've been drawn to features of Celtic spirituality that offer strong appeal for many today, and not just the Irish.

One observer of Celtic Spirituality ("spiritualities" to be more accurate), Richard J. Woods in his book The Spirituality of the Celtic Saints, writes that spirituality is best traced to the biblical view of "spirit" in ancient Hebrew culture as the "breath of life" which is a direct gift of God - spirit is "ruach" in Hebrew. "Spirit" is that virtue by which a person is open to and transmits the life of God. We breath out and we breath in and in so doing, the very breath of God is in us. It is the capacity to respond to God and the gift of life in all its dimensions.

Richard Woods believes that spirituality is best understood as "the story of our life as a whole as we have directed it toward the realization of our deepest longings and highest aspirations."
But all life is most authentically shared in community. We all share the same air on earth; the same life-giving oxygen circulates and re-circulates in us all. A private spirituality would be no spirituality at all, as it would mean closing ourselves off from the "Spirit" of God who animates all living things.

And so, I give thanks for the following elements of Celtic spirituality, which are not exclusive to that tradition, but seem to have received deep emphasis in this tradition of faith and spirit:

Ø Shared faith and life are not just one aspect of faith, but the chief feature of this understanding of the Christian journey


Ø Life is seen as a journey.
Ø Certain places are very significant; they are “thin” places, where we feel the closeness of God in a deep way.
Ø Just as Jesus was drawn to mountain and deserts; these thin places
become landmarks in life; a place of new beginnings; or of fresh resolve

Soul Friends:

Ø If life is a journey, it can be a lonely one
Ø We all need friends along the way.
Ø We all need a mature, experienced Christian; who will walk the road
With us, modeling the life of Jesus.
Ø The Celts referred to such a person as a soul friend
Ø They help us develop a more Christ-like life, and help us with the many choices along life’s way.
Ø Their aim is a more general means of support, to encourage us to wholeness of life and faith

Rhythms of life and faith:
Ø The Celtic Christians lived closer to nature, and saw and experienced the change of seasons in life.
Ø They felt closer to God in the experience of nature and of God’s presence in the whole of the world and life.
Ø Celebrated rites of passage

Ø Took seriously the scripture to “pray without ceasing”
Ø Prayed for all experiences: getting up, going to bed, prayers for the house, for work and leisure music, starting fires, Prayers of protection: they knew they lived in a dangerous world

So, on this St. Patrick's Day, I wish you god-speed as you explore further these elements of the
spirit that bring life and sometimes a "second breath".


Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Compass Point #5 St.Patrick, Following Jesus, and being a Disciple Today

With St. Patrick's Day quickly approaching; visions of green beer, corned beef and cabbage and shamrocks fill the imagination and stoke the appetite. At my church's Lenten Study on "Learning/Living Jesus" tonight, we'll share in some great corned beef and cabbage by one of the church's premier cooks. Did you get stuck with that job? she was asked. "No", she replied, "I want to do it!" This wonderful woman considers her gift of cooking for others to be a way she shares in the church's life of hospitality. And I can't wait to benefit !

As a centering prayer tonight, we'll pray the prayer of St. Patrick. I love this prayer like many others do, particularly for its earthiness and concrete imagery of the Trinity. So often our prayers seem so light that they float in a pool of warm maple syrup, not grounded in the tough, sinewy realties of life. Our prayers sometimes feel like "chicken soup for the soul", minus all the chicken and rice and vegetables. Just a thin watery stuff.

That's why St. Patrick's so appealing in his life and prayer. The opening section of the famous St. Patrick prayer starts with a bold affirmation: "I bind unto myself today." That binding action signifies an almost physical action to claim, hold, and hang on for dear life to the presence of God in all circumstances. There's none of that tepid, Christ in "my heart" kind of spirituality, that reduces Jesus to a kind of warm, fuzzy feeling that wouldn't say boo to a danger threatening close at hand, or to a bold adventure in living faith out in the world. Here's how St. Patrick prays:

"I bind unto myself today
the power of God to hold and lead,
God's eye to watch, God's might to stay,
God's ear to hearken to my need,
the wisdom of my God to teach,
God's hand to guide, God's shield to ward,
the word of God to give me speech,
God's heavenly host to be my guard."

Now a God like that can be counted on to face dangers, and wild animals, and lurking enemies.
A God like that is worth trusting and following into the wild world, like the missionaries trained by St. Patrick to face all manner of threats in service of Christ to the world.

Glenn McDonald trenchantly observes what we've done to earthy spirituality and discipleship in his book The Disciplemaking Church:

"The earliest Christian heresies were Gnostic in flavor- that is, the mind was excessively valued above the body. Physicality was assumed to be a secondary arena for God's work, if indeed God cared at all for "that awful thing", my body. The church's first theological giants joined to state the case that embodiment is the gift of God, who created the earth and our own bodies and pronounced them "good".

"The spirit of our times alive with Gnostic sensibilities. "True spirituality" concerns my inner life, not how I do the laundry. Progress in my life with God is attitudinal, emotional, ecstatic, or cerebral- not whether I happen to help my neighbor clean out his garage.

"Contemporary spirituality, in other words, is assumed to be an invisible, personal, and
internal experience."

"A number of Christians have falsely concluded that, if we give our intellectual assent to Jesus then what we do "on our own time"-- commercially, physically, socially- is entirely up to us."

St. Patrick's prayer grabs hold of our whole lives and being:
"Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger"

This kind of Christ leads us out into the world.

Glenn McDonald catches the spirit of earthy spirituality in ways that St. Patrick would gladly say yes to:

"We can invite Jesus to take a walk with us, asking him to come alongside us during our routine visits to all our routine places.

Invite Jesus to look through your stock porfolio. Are your investments consistent with a kingdom perspective?

Ride with Jesus to your office. What does he think about your strategies to pull ahead of business competitors?

Walk with him through your neighborhood, asking Jesus to let you see the people on your street through his eyes. What relationships need to be repaired? What acts of kindness have been deferred?"

Tonight, I'll pray St. Patrick's prayer. I'll eat some wonderful corned beef and cabbage, and thank God (minus the green beer!) for a saint who took Jesus with him into the world, and all the time discovered "Christ beside him....Christ beneath him...Christ in danger...Christ in mouth of friend and stranger."

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Healthy Congregations and Servant Leadership

"I believe it is possible for us to get better in chaos, suffering, and difficulty, rather than getting worse." (International Journal of Servant Leadership, 2005 vol.)

How is the above remark a healing thought for you?

I've been giving the above comment some reflective thought as I've been engaged in some consulting work with local congregations and our presbytery recently. These are anxious times in our culture as well, and that anxiety is certainly present in many churches.

A congregation struggles with a merger, or a down-sizing of staff, a church experiences loss or gains in membership, perhaps a church envisions a whole new opportunity to grow in concert with a strategic building expansion, or a regional church governing body faces conflict with a particular church and its attitudes toward the entire denomination in light of theological disagreements. The examples of change and organizational transition could be endlessly multiplied. How do leaders cope? "Being calm and courageous no matter what" can be a call to deeper servant leadership and organizational health.

Three questions keep surfacing for me as I try to grow in my own leadership capacities:

1) What is a healthy organization?
My ongoing work with Edwin Friedman's work in "Generation to Generation" and training with the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center in its clergy clinic for healthy leadership has brought this question into much sharper focus for me.

2) What would it take for our organization (or church) to fulfill their mission and reach their vision while developing healthy members who share their gifts and talents with greater joy?

3) What kind of leadership could make this happen?
This is an exciting and challenging question in all organizations today.

For many years I have been drawn to the work of Robert Greenleaf, author of "Servant Leadership" and mentor to a generation of business, non-profit, government, education and religious organizations. As I move deeper into my own growth as a healthy, self-differentiated leader, I find the following definition of leadership compelling:

"Servant-leadership is....
an understanding and practice of leadership
that places the good of those led
over the self-interest of the leader.

Servant-leadership promotes the valuing and developing of people,
the building of community,
the practice of authenticity,
the providing of leadership for the good of those led,
and the sharing of power and status
for the common good of each individual,
the total organization,
and those served by the organization."

It's an inspiring definition, but as the "International Journal of Servant Leadership" reports,
most organizations that view themselves as servant organizations may be, in fact, simply positive versions of a paternalistic organization. In such an organization, the leader functions as a parent figure who treats others as children. Sadly, too many churches willingly adopt that view of leadership and remain in a dependent relationship with a leader- figure they hope will provide all the vision and answers for their needs. "What will you do for us?" is generally the tacit or openly expressed question, instead of, "How can you help us transform to become the kind of people we need to become?"

What is a healthy organization? A dependent group of people, who are not being developed as strong people runs counter to healthy leadership, and ultimately weakens relationships and effective achievement of vision.

Six levels of organizational health and vitality have been posited, which I will only briefly summarize:
Levels 1-2: Org#1 and Org#1 Exhibit poor organizational health according to the vision of
of Servant-leadership
Levels 3-4: Org#3 and Org#4 Exhibit limited or moderate health and vitality
Levels 5-6: Org#5 and Org #6 Display excellent optimal health and functioning

In the first levels, there is a profound inertia or inability to move or change. Often the church or group operates only on the energy of the past. It lacks energy and health to move toward the future. Theologian David Buttrick puts it this way: "No wonder our churches cling to the past-they have forgotten the excitement of God's unfolding future. Without some bright future vision, a people cannot change."

In the second level (Org#3 and #4) there is gradual or incremental change. This church or group can change, but it will begin to rest on a plateau of "good enough", dulled by its own achievement and success, with an ever-growing contentment with being just a little better than the rest.

Third, there is the quantum/ongoing change of Org #5 and #6 which calls for a new level of thinking and and leadership and behavior. It's the view of leadership that Ron Heifitz calls adaptive leadership in his wonderful book "Leadership Without Easy Answers". This type of organization embraces ongoing change and growth and seeks to mature as a servant-leadership culture.

"A sailor without a destination has trouble discerning a good wind from an ill wind."
Seneca 65 A.D.

If you don't know where you're going, what do you do when the storms come?

Increasingly, I am convinced that at all levels of culture (including the church), we must focus on healthy organizations and healthy servant-leaders.

In a recent letter from the Board of Pensions, the health provider of my denomination, it was stated that less than 25% of ministers get regular health check-ups. Not a good trend for leaders. But then, when was the last time your church sought out an extensive spiritual health check-up for its functioning as a healthy congregation?


Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Compass Point #4 A tale of two Christianities

A blizzard was making its way through Omaha this past Friday night, with high winds and falling snow, as I drove to a mid-town church to hear the beginning of a series of week-end lectures by Marcus Borg, a noted scholar in Jesus studies and a prolific author. Borg's highly popular writings include "Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time" "Reading the Bible Again for the First Time," "The Last Week" with John Dominic Crossan", and most recently the book "Jesus". That last book bears the subtitle "Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary".

As I entered the santuary of the church for the Friday evening lecture on "A Tale of Two Christianities: Seeing the Differences, Building Bridges", I looked around at who had braved the fierce storm to come hear a lecture on Christianity by a late-middle aged scholar of some repute and not a little controversy. Some 250-300 listeners were in attendance. Most were middle aged, some older, and there were several college age or twenty-somethings in attendance.

Borg stepped to the podium with a relaxed manner, greeted us and asked for our religious affiliation (if we had one!) and then offered news that all across the country there were gatherings of people like us who are not part of the Christian Religious Right! Smiles and light laughter was the response. In response to a few other questions, Borg asked, we all learned that over 2/3 of those present had changed denominations over the course of time. That in itself is increasingly the case for people.

Then Borg commented: "The renewal of Christianity in our time is of increasing interest."
Our presence was testimony of that. He added that adult theological re-education is an urgent task. In a thought-provoking comment he added that "The purpose of the gospel is to move us away from self-preoccupation." What a striking comment from someone who is often labeled liberal, a term that Borg finds problematic and unhelpful.

Borg's lecture on "A Tale of Two Christianities" presented a tabular comparison of what he referred to as "two different paradigms". He commented that we could "shamelessly borrow his material" because he was committed to the renewal of Christianity in our time, so I'll summarize the two paradigms below. (much of this is found in Borg's book "The Heart of Christianity")

Earlier Christian Paradigm/ or Belief-centered Xnity
*Being Xn is about "believing" the right things
*Afterlife centered
*Requirements and rewards
*Christianity is the only way
*Literalist or semi-literalist
*In conflict with Enlightenment
Creation vs. Evolution
*Tends to be apolitical, or politically conservative
*Centered in one's own well-being (in this world or the next)

Emerging Christian Paradigm Or:
Transformation-Centered Xnity
*Being Xn is about "a way, a path," Faith as "centering in God"
*"This life" centered
*Relationship and transformation
*Affirms religious pluralism
*Beyond literalism: much of Xn/biblical language
understood metaphorically
*Integration of Enlightenment; No conflict, and some mutuality
*Tends to be apolitical or moderate/progressive
*Centered in God
(If you line up the two columns, you can compare point by point)

I'll offer a few comments now about these two paradigms and in a later post, explore more of Borg's first lecture. First, I found Borg's exploration of the two paradigms helpful. In the media currently, when the term Christian is used, often it's as a conjunction of Christian and Right-wing politics or theology. There's a growing movement across the country of vital mainline churches that does not fit such a strait-jacket.

Borg did observe that even many mainline Christians grew up in the old paradigm of faith as "belief centered". His own family roots in North Dakota were centered in such a view of faith.
But a growing transformation is taking place. Many of those missing from the mainline churches today, Borg contends and research verifies, moved away from the older paradigm as too "un-believe-able". They did not transfer to conservative churches! That's a myth! Instead, they dropped out.

Borg argues that the task and vocation of the mainline churches centers more in a transmission and embodiment of the new paradigm of "Transformation Centered Christianity". I strongly agree, even though I do not follow Borg completely in all aspects of his theology. Nevertheless,
I do believe that the newer paradigm embraces more clearly, many aspects of a deeper and more ancient tradition of faith in the church. The so-called earlier, belief-centered paradigm, it may be argued, is a more recent phenomenon. More about that later.