Archive for December, 2008

My dad turned my attention to a band I had heard of, mostly because of their two songs “Cumbersome” and “Water’s Edge” from the album American Standard. I thought, “Oh yeah, the roots rock band from when I was in high school.” Not so, I was told, and since Dad and I share nearly all things musical (Fogelberg, Prine, and bluegrass I owe to him) I gave it a shot.
sevenmary1 Tonally, there are many things familiar about this record, but what is surprising is the tremendous lyrical moves they make in the course of albeit brief ballads. They break, in the final half of the album, into a bit more of the driven rock that brought them success with American Standard, but the best moments in the album are crooned over acoustically-crafted melody lines and whiskey-voiced intensity. It’s worth downloading at least the first few cuts and giving it a listen.

Reading now Andy Stanley’s Creating Community, which is written (admitted by Stanley in the introduction) largely by NorthPoint’s community life pastor Bill Willits. After the other readings I have done, this seems light in comparison to Wilhoit and Ogden, but I see the point. The small group program, if it is to be done, must move beyond a “program” into a culture. Yet, Andy Crouch’s great book Culture Making reminds us that to say we can change “a culture” as if it can be defined as just one culture, is kidding ourselves because we all live in multiple “cultures” simultaneously. I think the Stanley book is hitting at their congregation’s practice of small groups and how it has become indicative of their corporate mindset, but I don’t know that it is as pervasive or possible in other locations as it is in theirs. The subtitle, “5 Keys to Building Small Group Culture” is ambitious and perhaps misplaced, but at least they avoid the John Maxwell mistake of saying “THE 5 Keys…”

In all this thinking about discipleship, I think perhaps the one most powerful tool that enters into the process of following Jesus is the opportunity to say NO to the whole thing. I think we need to recapture the idea of giving people the chance to say “I can’t follow Jesus, I can’t make that step” because it reveals the inverse–the strength and pervasive effect of saying YES to following Christ. I don’t mean simply being baptized–we have plenty of soaking wet people who aren’t disciples–I mean opening up the whole picture before them and saying “This is the life of the disciple, this is what it means to follow, can you take this on?” John 6:60-66 is powerful to me, haunting even, because Jesus stands in the presence of people who are thinking about leaving, and He does nothing really for retention. Other places he intimates that this is a decision that should be thought through beforehand, rather than the typical position of “Hey, now that you’re baptized here’s what you just agreed to.” The magnitude of that cannot be missed on the landscape of an impotent Christianity such as the one we’re confronted with. Perhaps there are fewer and fewer disciples because the “bait-and-switch” of evangelism is incapable of producing lasting change?

In other words, the strength of discipleship lies in the option to categorically turn the whole thing down. The decision to follow, with the option to say no, shows the weight of the change needed to follow.

listening: Iain Archer


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finished Wilhoit’s “S.F. as if the Church Mattered” and moved on to another in my series of readings, this one from Greg Ogden titled Transforming Discipleship. The premise is similar to Wilhoit, that being a disciple and being a “Christian” have become mutually exclusive in our contemporary culture, with many willing to claim to be the latter but few claiming the former. The church will continue to suffer in its ability to image and announce the Kingdom of God until there are more who are seriously entering a life of discipleship instead of a life of “sin management.” Discipleship and spiritual formation have become interchangeable, with the former being a more “conventional” construct and the latter being a “sexier” construct for those who need that. Regardless of the semantic impact, the reality is that there are tons of people calling themselves Christians who have not taken seriously the call to discipleship. Enter the prognosticators to help plan the solution…wait, that includes me so I perhaps should stow the cynicism for a bit.


Ogden’s book is far more conservative and blunt in its approach than my recent readings, saying at one point that “…the reality is that most believers are biblically ignorant people whose lives are a syncretistic compromise” (33). His idea is that SF/discipleship is best done under the conditions of a mutual covenant among 3-4 individuals who share regularly in the spiritual disciplines, Scripture, and pervasive transparency with each other. I’m not sure (as of yet) whether this approach will be as strong or persuasive as Wilhoit’s community based receiving, remembering, responding, and relating pillars but time will tell. I can see the value of a tight-group pursuit of following Jesus, but the hermeneutic of justifying it because Jesus only called 12 and then had 3 really close relationship within the 12 seems to miss the historical and Jewish connotations of calling 12–namely, Jesus was creating a new Israel and the 12 disciples represented 12 new tribes, called up onto a mountain and chosen and given a new covenant to live by (cp. Mt. 5-7). Can you APPLY the smaller group as an image of what Jesus did? Sure, but let’s not put all of our hermeneutical “weight” on that application’s “foot”. That’s all I’m saying.

I will say, and I think this sounds picky but it’s true, the font/page formatting of some books actually affects how I read them. For some reason, IVP tends to have very tight pages and coarse textures, and this may sound anti-intellectual or focused on something other than the content, but that will present a challenge in reading to me. Am I alone in this? If there is a soft page that accepts my pen or highlighter and the reading fits my eye, I will likely have a better retention of that text. That sounds awful…

I think this string of readings for my next class is going to be a gauntlet, with Bill Donahue’s Building a Church of Small Groups, Andy Stanley’s Creating Community,  and a second glance through Willow Creek’s REVEAL study. Definitely not books I would self select (although I had been looking forward to Wilhoit, I must say), but that’s a good challenge.

Listening: Sigur Ros

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It has been a few weeks since I watched this film and wanted to reflect on it then but couldn’t for many reasons which are likely just excuses. Moving on.

umbertoVittoria De Sica’s Umberto D is part of the Criterion Collection, which includes other such powerful directors as Ingmar Bergman. The film is in Italian with subtitles and deals with the deconstruction of the pride and life of a man named Umberto D and his dog, Flike. What is striking about this film are some of the cinematographic moments, frames and lighting, as well as the narrative that unfolds. I think perhaps now in this economy, in this climate of Kingdom thinking, the movements of the film may resonate tremendously within the Western culture. I would really love to hear the reflection of others who have watched this, and what you make of the fluid moral and ethical storyline. If you need an intro to the Criterion Collection, I would still recommend “The Seventh Seal” by Bergman, but this might be a fitting intro as well.

The reason anyone should watch this is the unbelievable perspective it gives toward how industrialization and post-war economies are capable of completely annihilating human life, until it takes unlikely saviors to pull people back from total collapse.

listening: radiohead “2+2=4”

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