Archive for May, 2007

Mr. Bean is Alive and Well

Sunday, May 27th, 2007

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I was out for a Sunday evening walk here in London, and had the opportunity to pass by and experience three separate churches that were meeting for Sunday evening gatherings. They were across the ecclesiological spectrum …Anglican, to Baptist, to Free Church.

And what I saw was stunning! The hilarious video, “Mr. Bean Goes to Church” is alive and well.

In one cavernous building, fifteen somber, stuffy peopled huddled in silence, while a out-of-tune electronic organ played music that would have made most mortuaries seem like amusement parks. I was dumbfounded why anyone, of any age, would be attracted to such a moribund remnant. It was pathetic, so much so, I couldn’t stand it and snuck out during one of the prayers. It was suffocating.

Such venues are certainly not unique to the UK.  That’s just where I am at the moment.  I’ve seen the same in countless settings all over the world in a mosaic of different cultures including my own.  The tragedy in this context is that these islands of lifeless Christianity are surrounded by a vibrant, pulsating city that is hungry for spiritual reality. What is equally sad is the resources, real estate and assets tied up by these dying religious institutions. I cannot begin to imagine how such waste and deadness must grieve the God whose name they claim.

London

Sunday, May 27th, 2007

London By Night

Patty and I are in London and will be resident here through the end of June.
It is our first stab at living in the UK for several months a year. We’re doing it for several reasons, one of which is NOT the weather …the prevailing damp, gray, cold drizzle is a shock to the Southern California psyche.

However, we feel God’s led us to consider basing out of here because it will give us much greater flexibility for travel into Africa, the Middle East, Europe, and Central Asia. Secondly, CRM has a growing commitment and presence in the UK. We’re adding staff and momentum to the team in London, InnerCHANGE has planted a team in Hackney that will be growing and expanding as a training venue, and NieuCommunities has a team in Glasgow.

Lastly, as CRM CoNext continues to evolve and develop, we would like to base a small, nimble group (separate from CRM-US) in London to serve our CoNext partners worldwide. It’s a healthy move to give a little distance between that function and CRM in the US.

So here we are, diving into the British scene, attempting to adjust to more of an urban lifestyle, and quite aware that we are in a cross-cultural context. The UK is definitely a different culture separated from us Yanks by a common language. Add into that equation the incredible ethnic diversity that characterizes virtually every neighborhood. It all adds up to London being one of the most complex and fascinating megalopolises in all the world.

Jerry Falwell’s Death

Thursday, May 17th, 2007

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Jerry Falwell emerged in the last several decades as an imposing figure on the religious and political landscape of the United States. In comments posted on the Sojourners website, Jim Wallace captured my feelings well. He said:

I was saddened to learn that Rev. Jerry Falwell passed away this morning at age 73. Rev. Falwell and I met many times over the years, as the media often paired us as debate partners on issues of faith and politics. I respected his passionate commitment to his beliefs, and our shared commitment to bringing moral debate to the public square, although we didn’t agree on many things. At this time, however, what matters most is our prayers for comfort and peace for his family and friends.

Falwell, in his own way, did help to teach Christians that their faith should express itself in the public square and I am grateful for that, even if the positions Falwell took were often at great variance with my own. I spent much of my early Christian life fighting the privatizing of faith, characterized by the withdrawal of any concern for the world (so as to not be “worldly”) and an exclusive focus on private matters. If God so loved the world, God must care a great deal about what happens to it and in it. Falwell agreed with that, and blew the trumpet that awakened fundamentalist Christians to engage the world with their faith and moral values. And that commitment is a good thing.

Jerry and I debated often about how faith should impact public life and what all the great moral issues of our time really are.
But many conservative Christians are now also embracing poverty, HIV/AIDS, Darfur, sex trafficking, and even the war in Iraq as matters of faith and moral imperatives. It would have been nice to hear on those TV shows that Jerry Falwell, too, had moved to embrace a broader agenda than just abortion and homosexuality. Rev. Falwell, who was admittedly racist during the civil rights movement, was in later years honored by the Lynchburg NAACP for his turn-about on the issue of race, showing the famous founder of the Religious Right’s capacity to grow and change. But two nights ago on television, I saw the pain on the face of gay Christian Mel White, who lamented that despite his and other’s efforts, Falwell never did even moderate his strong and often inflammatory language (even if maintaining his religious convictions) against gay and lesbian people. They still feel the most wounded by the fundamentalist minister’s statements; that healing has yet to be done.

Ralph Reed said that Jerry Falwell presided over the “marriage ceremony” between religious fundamentalists and the Republican Party. That’s still a concern about the Religious Right for many of us, and should be a warning for the relationship of any so-called religious left with the Democrats. But perhaps in the overly partisan mistakes that Jerry Falwell made – and actually pioneered – we can all be instructed in how to forge a faith that is principled but not ideological, political but not partisan, engaged but not used. That’s how the Catholic Bishops put it, and it is a better guide than the direction we got from the Moral Majority. But Falwell proclaimed a public faith, not a private one. And I am with him on that. As I like to say, God is personal, but never private. So let’s pray for Jerry Falwell’s family, the members of his Thomas Road Baptist Church, and all the students at his Liberty University. And let’s learn from his legacy – about how and how not to best apply our faith to politics.

Latin Worship

Monday, May 7th, 2007

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I had the honor this morning of speaking at a joint worship gathering of Rios Auga Viva and the Filadelphia, two churches in Caracas.

The worship prior to the message absolutely rocked! I have rarely if ever experienced anything this expressive in an Anglo context. African-Americans come close but even their genre is different.

The music that’s imported from North or from Europe/Australia, etc., and translated into Spanish doesn’t quite cut it. Even for someone who can’t speak Spanish, the distinction between words/music that are Venezuelan in origin and what’s from outside the culture is obvious. I’ve seen once again that when creativity is unleashed within a culture, it resonates with the soul in a manner that is hard to duplicate through that which is borrowed from without.
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For the Women …

Sunday, May 6th, 2007

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One of the amazing features of this CRM conference in Venezuela was the track that was designed for the women—mostly wives of the pastors and church planters—who attended.

According to most, it was the FIRST time they had ever been in any setting where time, attention, and focus was given specifically to them and their needs. They were used to being mere appendages. In this setting, they were ministered to as individuals and as people of worth for whom God also has a unique calling and plan. It was remarkable to see what emerged in just a few days when given such an opportunity.

From Venezuela

Saturday, May 5th, 2007

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After several weeks of pausing in putting up blog posts—mostly because of being sidelined from the vertigo attack—I’m back at it.

This week, I’m in Caracas, Venezuela for a CRM conference for over 120 pastors and other leaders from throughout the nation. This event marks several important milestones. It celebrates the transition of CRM Venezuela to national leadership. Leonel Portillo (pictured below right) has assumed this responsibility. The conference also moves our contribution to the Church in the Latin world to a new level.

The main presenters for this conference were from CRM’s CoNext partners in Australia, Ian and Verlie Hamilton. Particularly gratifying was the fact that all of this event and subsequent ministry was happening with little to no influence from Americans. Increasingly CRM in this part of the world is morphing into an apostolic movement of and for Venezuelans and others in the region.

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