Chapter Four of the Search to Belong (continued from Thu Nov 6th.)

Jumping into chapter four we hear Joe asking, “Why do we promote small groups as the most significant way to build community and congregation? Why have they become a fad of our time? Why do we lead our congregants to believe that small groups deliver the community they seek?” The effects of this is to promote only two possible environments of belonging in the church- either the public (worship service) or the intimate (small group), thereby excluding healthy belonging in all four spaces of public, social, personal, intimate. What we need is a healthy balance, a harmony, b/w all four space in our lives, at Church, and even with God.


This first of all means that we need to understand and have “competencies” in all four spaces. (The competencies outlined in this section are worth the price of the book, but too detailed for me to outline.) The point here is that some people may be competent in one space, but not in another. They therefore might value personal space more than public, thinking that real life only happens in personal space, not in public. But this might reveal a lack in their own public competencies (which is how I spent much of my life, bashing “small talk” b/c it didn’t connect with “real life.” But actually I’m just really bad at small talk and am therefore incompetence in the public space.)

Spontaneity and Environment

Next, it is important to understand that community emerges within all four spaces, and that this happens spontaneously. Belonging/community cannot be forced or programmed, it just comes about spontaneously. We need to move away from “forced belonging” where we have expectations of intimacy, moving people inappropriately from one space to another, sometimes explicitly, sometimes implicitly (and therefore confusing and manipulative). Given this, “If we would concentrate upon facilitating the environment instead of the result, we might see healthy, spontaneous community emerge…we must switch from being group programmers to becoming group environmentalists.” We must pay better attention to the environment, we must cultivate the soil from which healthy community will grow, rather than engineer the results in a synthetic fashion. And this primarily means growing people’s competencies so they can form healthy connections, and creating a harmonious ratio b/w the spaces.


The last implication of this shift from being programmers to environmentalist is a change in how we measure success. It is very easy to measure how many are in small groups, or attend our larger, public worship services, but very difficult to measure spontaneous, healthy connections or the sense of belonging people have. These connections are measured through stories. This also changes our definition of “congregation” allowing for whoever tells a story connecting with a church/group to count as part of the congregation, even if they never, or rarely, attend.

The next chapter concerns how people/relationship can move in and out of the space. until then…

Growth (units) or Growth (tissue)

I was recently talking with a friend, who is also a worship leader, about sound equipment, particularly in-ears (headphone/ear-piece monitors, instead of floor monitors). Because they are right in the ear I asked how he could hear the congregation worshipping. He said that they have to mike the congregation and run the sound through the monitor so he can hear them. They also run the sound of the congregation back through the main speakers (so the congregation can hear itself singing, a somewhat typical practice for large churches). He said that this helped “fill the room,” and by that he meant that it would feel as if more people singing than were really present, hopefully leading toward more people actually being there in the future (or at least that those being there won’t feel like its empty). (this is definitely an example of virtual worship, see below at the nov 3rd and 5th posts.)

This illustrates the difference between capitalistic growth of units and the organic growth of tissue. As I mentioned in my last post (tuesday nov 11), maybe pastors should think of themselves as mothers/mid-wives nurturing the “body,” an actual body that grows through the maturing of tissue in the balanced relations of each section of the body, not a corporate/economic body which grows by the production of units or the accumulation of “members”, especially “productive members.” The example above is an indication that we too often substitute organic “growth” for capitalistic “growth” while thinking that we are retaining biblical growth. We can tweak some technological effects, add some hype and get some growth (how many church plants grow from 10 to 300 in a year) through these means, but is that really growth? Isn’t rampant growth in a tissue cancerous? Where is the time for normal/healthy growth?

I’m currently reading “The Fragile Absolute: Or, Why is the Christian Legacy Worth Fighting For?” by Slavoj Zizek, a postmodern Maxist (read atheistic political materialist) and I think it triggers some of the thoughts above.

I was just working through Robert Webber’s Journey to Jesus for a curriculum i’m making for my church and he quoted Ephesians 4:11-16. This talks about the gifting of apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor/teachers to “equip the saints for the work of the ministry.” I started thinking that many times we think of this “equipping” to mean “leadership”, “visioneering”, “guiding” and “directing”. The typical corporate america mentality stuff. But this phrase is embedded within the metaphor of the “body” growing, so shouldn’t “equip” really mean “nurturing”, and nurturing is what mothers typically do for children (i’m not sexist). So maybe church pastors/leaders should think of themselves as mid-wifes or handmaids (reclaiming the idea of the church as mother) growing up the Body to full maturity. And mothers typically don’t get any credit for all the hard work they do, and it is all sacrifice. No more superstar pastors who lead, only nurturers who enable.

Cultural Studies

As I mentioned before, I’m starting an adventure into the world of “cultural studies.” (I called it “media studies” before but doing more research I think that it really cultural studies.) My justification for this is below in my “media studies” post but maybe need to explain why I think this is different that what I used to think. (but before that- this is the best website for all this stuff, it goes on forever, and it has the best, explanation of the postmodern, and it’s not be so theologian/culture watcher.)

So, I think that maybe people would totally agree with what I wrote below, that in the West the symbolic exchange and the creation and propigation of values/meaning happens through the media instead of thru religions, therefore we need to undestand how this happens to understand “where” we are.

So I think that many Christian culture watchers as definitely wanting to understand the “sign of the time” so that they might know how to live, but I think that too often it just means commentary on movies, music, or politics w/o diving any deeper than the surface of these medians. What we need is not to “notice” that media shapes culture and then use “media” to share the gospel (as consevatives do with the arts- pimping the arts).

We need to dig deepers, looking at how the foundations of “consumer culture” shape us, how the media links with Ideologies which subvert the gospel, and how technologies alienate us from ourselves/bodies/other, or how they might emancipate us.

Anyway,…I’m just beginning this journey. I’ll let you know. I just bought “desert of the real” and “simulacra and simulation“. we’ll see where that leads.

Media studies

Spinning off of up/rooted’s last meeting, esp. the discussion of virtual reality and worship, i must voice something that I’ve been thinking for a while. Coming out of my reading in African theology (Theology and Identity) I’ve come to see the necessity of learning about “media studies” and “communication theory.” (this is coming from a guy who usually bashes things like that b/c is seems like an attempt to become “relevant.” I’m at this place b/c (summarizing Bediako),

Who are we (past) and where are we (present) intersect in the question of identity as Christians. Where we are culturally effects who we are historical, and who we are effects how we undestand where we are. The Church Father’s grappled with who they were as Christians in relation to their religious past, Judaism, and where they were culturally in Graeco-Roman world. For African Theology the question of identity it is who are we as African Christians in relationship to Mission/Western Christianity (religious past) and Traditional African religions (cultural present).

So the question for us at the end of modernity in the West is “what is our religious past?” and “where is our cultural present?” (the first question needs its own separate reflectin) The second question for African theology leads right through an understanding of Traditional African religions, but for those in the West it leads through both the “Enlightenment” as the source/lack of values and symbols, and through “media studies” b/c media enables the symbolic exchange of meaning/referencing (i.e. what religion usually does in societies.).

Therefore, it is necessary to understand how mass media (film, tv, radio, internet, etc.) effect and enable the “work” and “world” of culture in the west. This is not so that we can be “relevant” to others, but so that we can truly understand our own “identity” as follower of Christ in N. America. So if anyone is really knowledgeable in this area, let me know where to begin, who to read, and all that stuff.

I said last wednesday that I would write a short summary of Joe Myers’ the seach to belong so that I could be sure that I’m understanding him right. (but this may not be short; and i’ll try to distinguish summary of Joe’s thoughts with my own relfections). here are the first three chapters.

he begins like this. “If there is one converstain with which the emerging church must wrestle in new ways, it is the questin, “who is my neighbor?” Who belongs? For whom am I responsible? and who is responsible to me?”(p.6) To this I give a hearty amen. Though his book joe seeks to provide us with a “language of belonging” through which we can speak about community, friends, family, and the church.

The first chapter debunks the myth of belonging which are 1) More time = more belonging: even if we spend more time with someone/group doesn’t mean authentic community will emerge. 2) More commitment = more belonging: the demand for commitments (in small group/churches) does means will connections occur. and signigicant connections can happen w/o being close friends. 3) More purpose = more belonging: having purpose driven small groups or teams doesn’t ensure connect either b/c their might not be an intrinsic motivation to it. 4) More personality = more belonging: extroverts might not feel that they belong; introverts can have a wonderful sense of belonging. 5) More proximity = more belonging: geographical proximity doesn’t necessarily creater greater community; nor distance lessen it. “Distance” defined by physical space is all perspective. 6) More small group = more belonging: pastor/churches might say “if you want to really know our church, then join a small group” implying that this is best for “authentic community.” but usually there is only about 30% congregational involvement, so people must be participating in “authentic community” so where else more comfortable for them. All of us have and are dazzled by these myths.

The second chapter investigates everyones “longing for belonging.” To define belonging joe says, “Belonging happens when you identify with another entitiy- a person or organization, or perhaps a species, culture, or ethnic group” (p.25). However, belonging is not always reciprocated. Those that we think we belong to might not think we do b/c every community has its own ruleof belonging. These rule indicate who and how one belongs, and many times turns into rules of exclusion. Yet, just as Jesus redefined who a neighbors is, so too must we redefine how we belong and who/hoe people belong to us- for really these are the same questions. “The question ‘who is my neighbor?’ guides the church to its fundemental calling. And defining ‘neighborhood’ has been one of the primary tasks for the church throughout its history. And in this postmodern, post-evangelical blip in time, we still struggle to guide people toward a healthy experience of community and belonging.” and with that he leads us into chapter three and the “spaces of belonging”(p.30).

but that will be for another time b/c dinner is really. i’ll get back to this soon.

Here is a a fuller run down of Ed Phillips presentation, which in reality was much better. (referring to previous post)

He began by mentioning that one of his current crusades concerning worship/liturgical thought is to rid the phrase “worship experience” from our lexicon. He pointed out that instead of speaking of a worship service we now talk about the worship experience. (and example of this is the “Passion Experience Tour.”)

To discuss this shift Ed pointed us back toward 19th century revivalism, especially Charles Finney. Finney’s goal was to make converts and he used “novelty” and “technique” to do this. These two concepts changed the face of worship. The first is the desire for “novelty” or the “new.” This really is the modern project, to find something new. Applied to revivalism, it is the desire to wow people with something different, exciting, and outrageous, so as to lead people toward a decision. This directly effects worship through the concurrent rise of the “mimeograph”, a cheap way to create pamphlets, or worship bulletin, which can be changed from service to service. This is a marked change from the past when- before the printing press people had to embody the patterns of worship within the community, and after the printing press books, prayer books, were kept for a lifetime or pasted down- but now worship patterns were constantly changed to create a “novelty” of worship. The second concept was that of using technique to manufacture conversion. And worship became one the most useful, and fashionable, techniques for making conversions. Worship then only becomes instrument of something else (conversion), rather than being an end in it self (participation in/with the eternal worship of God.)

These movements of “novelty” and “technique” place the emphasis of worship on our experiences of worship rather than the reality of God. Our “worship” becomes a copy of real worship, rather than a participation of the original. This shift also makes worship something we make happen, rather than a participation of what is already happening in heaven. By this our worship becomes virtual reality (a copy of reality pretending to be the real thing- like fake flowers). Ed used the example of covering us a stained glass window with a screen, and then projecting the “same” window onto the screen.

This last point was the launching pad into the collaborative portion of our gathering. We steered around the discussion of “should we have experiences in worship,: and talked about the relationship of art and ketch, high/low art, icons, and much more.

i just came from one of our most amazing up/rooted gatherings ever with Ed Phillips of Garrett.. I’ll be posting a summary on the site soon, but i have to get some thoughts/reflections out while they are still fresh.

concerning worship/liturgy and reality/virtual reality:

he spoke of 19th century revivalism, particularly Charles Finney and how he redefined our understanding of worship through “newness” and “technique.” The search for the new became a revivalistic technique to wow people into conversion. Also, “technique” came into play as a means of manufacturing “conversion.” Worship then only becomes a devise for creating conversion, it is employed for/toward the effect of conversion. Therefore, worship becomes a type of fashion, useful for generating an effect. now, for a while I’ve also thought that there are many parallels to 19th C. revivalism and the contemporary worship movement, but replace the touring “evangelist/preaching” with “worship leader.” a good quote from Ed on the consequences of this is “All liturgical differences are theologically arbitrary b/c they are only evaluated by their anthropological effect.”

but the really heavy hitting stuff concerned reality/virtual reality:

virtual reality pretends to be reality, but is not, like fake flowers in my parents house. They are a faxsimile. True art is not virtual reality, but a participation/representation/invitatin into reality. Bad art, or bland reproduction is virtual realty. we have succumbed to virtual reality b/c rather than having stained glass window, we have projected images of those windows without making them into a new kind of art.

But the really question is, “how often do we fall into virtual worship, instead of the real worship.” tentatively, we fall into virtual worship when we try to make worship happen– through “new”, complelling drama, multi-media presentations, etc.- rather than join what is already happening before the throne of God. Worship is joining into the story of salvation, not merely an experience. Virtual worship is trying to copy/manufacture what is happening in heaven, rather than participating/joining with it.

This leads into a discussion of stained glass and Icons and how they are really real rather than virtual; how worship forms us into the gospel; and how “real” the Eucharist is (are the elements virtually real in light of the what they stand for? or are they really real symbolically????) but i’ll leave these for another time.

praise the lord for conversation partners (b/c none of these thoughts were my own before we all talked about it tonight.)

Here are some compelling quotes from African Theologian. The emerging church in America should listen to them…

The are from either Theology and Identity or Christianity in Africa, both by Kwame Bediako.

“For there are many who feel that the spiritual sickness of the West, which reveals itself in the divorce of the sacred from the secular, of the cerebral from the instinctive, and in the loneliness and homelessness of individualism, may be healed through a recovery of the vision which Africa has not yet thrown away. The world Church awaits something new out of Africa.” (a quote from John Taylor).

“It is utterly scandalour for so many Christian scholars in [the] old Christendom to know so much about heretical movements in the second and third centuries, when so few of them know anything about Christian movements is areas of the younger churches. We feel affronted and wonder whether it is more meaningful theologically to have academic fellowship with heretics long dead than with the living brethren of the Church today in the so-called Third World.” (a quote from John Mbiti)

and a work in progress exploring the us of metaphors in art and the way they interact with nature/natural.

this is a bad reflection of mesa while driving through western NM.


Ancient vestiges, timeless stones_____________They rise from earth,

reveal the terrainial foundations._____________stair by stair

_______________________________________their ancient abode ascend.

Layers cracked long deserted,

rumbled wreckage and ruins,________________Steps immovable,

the primal dwelling remains,_________________imposing grandeur,

collapsing,_______________________________in flawless perfection kept;

and the rest;_____________________________on them mount

a eons fall to the earth._____________________the gods.