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Kevin Johnson
Interests: The Episcopal Church, music, photography, reading, Mac computers
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In regards to you comments about this book being non-convincing to an atheist, as you describe yourself, Gary, I have no doubt that is the case. I do not say this to be a "church smarty," but most Christians believe that it is the Spirit of God from which our leading comes, and it is not just the result of a "good" (or bad) idea. Such thinking, I'm sure, would seem odd to one who did not believe that there was a Higher Power present from whom such leading would be given. It's nonsense, and just one reason why we love our faith. I believe that you will find many Episcopalians uncomfortable with some of the details, but not the underlining premise of McNeal's book. People who follow "The Way", or "Jesus Followers", McNeal's preferred handle, are not to be about themselves, but about others, thus the emphasis on outside of the church versus the "inside." I sense that you understand this to be "proselytizing", but I do not believe that this is McNeal's intent. His argument would seem to be for "Hey World, what can we do for you?" as opposed to the traditional "Hey, lucky World, we're here to save you!" I'll get back to the "blessing" thought that McNeal raises. I have a mixed reaction to the book thus far. As I've stated before, I grew up in Evangelical Land, in church settings where the focus was inward for the purposes of creating Christian Community, and outward was about "soul winning." Full stop. Community efforts as McNeal is describing would have been considered "liberal social gospel." However, my father was never big on "soul winning," but was much more, as McNeal describes, being about "blessing" others. He and my mother operated a "mom and pop" dental clinic that Dad saw as his "ministry," but not for the purposes of proselytizing, but rather, if we (The whole family participated at one time or another in the practice.) were in Christ, then what did a dental practice look like being in Christ. Thus, this concept is far from foreign to me. (As an aside, as a teen, I was a bit disappointed that Dad was not more aggressive about the financial side of his practice, as I was aware of his dental peers who had much greater financial "success." Ironically, at mid-age, I realize that I have implemented the exact same "ministry" philosophy in the running of my private practice, and speech and language clinic.). Though still relatively new to the Land Episcopal (Four years, come Palm Sunday.), it has been my experience that the "outward" focus is an Episcopalian "default" setting. As St. Mark's, this focus seems to be "organic" in that service to the community seems to be both from top-down, and down-top. Ironically, St. Mark's is also a place where the "inward" is "outward" in that the Seattle community, IMHO, assumes upon it to meet a spiritual need (See significant cultural phenomenon number 3), and the giftedness and God-breathed desire to do so is there, I believe, providentially. I am in agreement with McNeal's thought regarding "blessing" those around us, but perhaps because of my Evangelical background, not wild about the idea of telling others that's what we're doing, which immediately brings attention to ourselves. I much prefer the strategy attributed to St. Francis -- "Teach the Gospel; Use words if necessary." In this day and age, this is evangelism. There was a day when "proselytizing" necessitated quoting many Bible verses in order to prove the truth of what one was "sharing" and convince the "lost" of their "lostness." Well, in a society where the Bible is suspect, that is a self-defeating methodology, and entirely misses the point. Love God, love others, and see who joins the dance.
Alright! Intro and Chapter 1, done. Still playing catch-up. Gary, I'll have to read chapters 2 and 3 before I can respond to your thoughts. Quickie thoughts -- I think that any word that has "mission" in it is going to be viewed by some parts of the church with great skepticism, as it carries a great deal of baggage, for good and ill. I grew up in a conservative faith setting, and "mission" meant leaving the confines of the church walls for the purpose of conversion. Obviously, this is not how the terms is used in this book, where the focus is much more on who we likely ought to be in a world that's in a world of hurt. I would see the "shifts" described as being absolutely necessary for the church, but have experienced in most of my life, the "inward" focus in which the church walls, literal and figurative, were to keep the bad out. Self-preservation seemed to be the goal , ensured by the dissemination of proper teaching and "discipleship." Again, "mission" was the conversion of souls, not for our own gain, but so that they would be "saved", and in turn, help to "save" others. So, not only was the focus inward in self-preservation of the church, but also preservation of self into eternal life. But, if those who are part of the Kingdom believe that eternal life is NOW, then the living into that begins NOW. So, if we believe that we are in eternal life through Christ, how does that look NOW? When we are led into that by the Spirit, I believe that we know our mission, and that is found by allowing others to discover what I believe are God-breathed passions. I'm sure there will be more about that in the book. I will have to leave to sociologists regarding waxing or waning of the cultural phenomena. I'm not a huge fan of thinking in broad strokes regarding "society" or "culture," the macro-level, but can understand and get excited about such things at the individual, micro-level, and, I believe, such "phenomena" are Spirit-breathed, and are true of all who seek spiritual truth. Without them, one has slipped into religion for religion's sake, right?
I just picked up the book today at the Cathedral Shop, and anxious to get started on it, though reluctant to put down "The First Paul" by Borg and Crossan (I've sub-titled it, "Good Paul/Evil Paul"). I can't make comments regarding the book yet, but, having grown up in the "right," and currently living in the "left," if I were to discover it is about temporal political machinations of left or right, I would be disappointed. I think we are to be about much more than that, though such a focus would seem be about much less to some. I rather enjoyed last year's discussion, and hope that all will feel free to share their thoughts, even in loving disagreement. This morning, I had the privilege of taking photos of our young candidates for the rite of Confirmation, interrupting their class at the point when they were expressing angst about writing their letters to the bishop, having no idea what they would say and reacting to whatever stereotype of the bishop they had in their minds. "I think that Bishop Greg would prefer that you keep it real," was my advice to them, though I probably shouldn't have spoken for you, Greg. :-) Now, to the book!
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Jan 3, 2010