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Today’s guest is Alessandra Pigni. (pronounced: péen – yee) She will be joining me and the rest of the group selected for the On Being Gathering in February, 2018.
Her book is entitled: Idealist’s Survival Kit, The: 75 Ways to Prevent Burnout (The book is published by Parallax Press which is the publisher founded by mindfulness teacher, peace activist, and Vietnamese monk, Thich Nhat Han.)
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Shownotes: PART I
A conversation (in 2 parts) with
the author of Vulnerable Communion: A Theology of Disability and Hospitality, by practical theologian Tom Reynolds
Tom joined the Emmanuel College (part of the University of Toronto) faculty in 2007. He is committed to an interdisciplinary, practical, and relational vision of theology, his teaching and research address a range of topics related to constructive theology (particularly the doctrine of God and theological anthropology), theological method, intercultural and interfaith engagements, contextual theologies and globalization, philosophical theology, disability studies, and the thought and influence of Friedrich Schleiermacher.
Incorporating the theology of disability into his work training pastors at Emmanuel Seminary, because theology is personal, and not disconnected from the real world concerns of the church and people living their lives.
About his son Chris sparking his interest and work in the theology of disability.
5:30 Learning that disability isn’t a problem to figure out, but rather it’s about a person who I love and live with, and care with and for, which radically reoriented my perspective on theology.
Disability and God’s Providence
(Questioning does God “cause” disability as a curse or opportunity for healing…or a kind of moral lesson…)
His son exploded the theological categories (and assumptions) pertain to Providence…making everything confusing and needing to be re-thought.
What is abnormal? What is “faulty” humanity?
Amos Yong, Hans Reinders, John Swinton writing on the topic too.
Tom details the new book on the Theology of Care which builds on the first book.
Some churches stress Cure over Care in terms of disability.
(Lisa) My visit to a church where the leadership was interested in healing my son from his non normative experience of the world.
The range of responses churches have when encountering people with disabilities.
The church’s “urge to cure” is better than outright exclusion, which plenty of families have encountered.
It comes from the the idea of remaking and fixing someone in a way that is more comfortable for non disable people and normalcy (what they consider normal). Not helpful or Christian.
About the church that didn’t want his son as a disruption and a church that did receive them.
“How can we help you?” was water for his parched soul. How the church accepted and welcomed the uniqueness of his son.
Hospitality vs. a narrow view of what is preferred.
The messiness of various kinds of people, in general, means we have to expand our view of grace.
Who gets to be a full-fledge member of the church community?
and the “mascot syndrome” for those with disabilities.
16:30 – 17:50
Levels and types of responses:
• Tolerate disabled, but they do not get to be a true part of the church.
• “Inclusion” sometimes means means the the “outsiders” get invites to the inside group based on the good graces of the in group, but are still treated as problems to be solved, or people that are to receive the gestures of charity from others (people for whom things are “done for (them”)”. Doing for instead of “being with”.
What is access? In is not just accommodations (i.e. ramps and special bathrooms) and alterations but ongoing…
Faith communities may be not expecting and not ready to receive those with disabilities.
It’s not an issue about outsiders, because disability extend to a broad range of issues, both visible and not visible, including mental health challenges that are already there.
Thinking of the word “BELONGING”
as in “to be longed for when you aren’t there in the fullest sense.”
John Swinton and belonging
Jean Vanier “In giving and receiving do we really thrive as people”
Unconscious bias that includes “fear of the stranger” and “fear of the stranger within”.
We fear weakness and vulnerability.
Before “mainstream”…the stigma of “retard”…and fearing and disposing weakness.
Nathan means gift. (Lisa) I learned that I had to recognize weaknesses (shortcomings) in myself the I saw reflected in my son…and communities can do the same type of thing unconsciously.
“The encounter with disability punctures the illusions of what we think of as our own strengths.”
The journey with a child with disabilities is isolating.
Societal epidemic that fears being vulnerable or perceived as weak or unable to perform in ways that are considered valuable by society.
We have to see what are myths about autonomy, independence, and productivity where are assume we are self-reliant and these qualities are prized so highly. “Able-ism” (The idea that being able in body and mind is normal and most vital which serves as the lens by which we see and judge the world and others outside those parameters as faulty.)
Tom’s latest work called “A spirituality of attentiveness”. Christianity: St Paul’s strength in weakness serves as a prophetic witness against a society that prizes the strong as the main thing of value. 1 Corinthinians pretense of strength undercuts our ideas of grace)
We are all only temporarily-abled. (Lisa).
On hearing “You must be so blessed to have a disabled person as a teacher.” Is this sometimes a reframing of the situation that spins the situation to be more palatable? A glossing with spiritual truths and making it about spiritual growth.
Instead, Chris’s life seeks its own flourishes, and he may at times function as a teacher.
Thoughts on intellectual ability (or inability) and belief in terms of Salvation.
God’s works God’s own path in different ways and in different capacities with people. This undercuts my arrogance (as a theologian), so I don’t think I can so easily map it out definitively and universal for all people in all places.
His son’s atheism (who is the God he doesn’t believe in)…and how that challenges our presuppositions about God.
“It is in the kind of relationships of mutual belonging that the full image of God is borne out.”
(Lisa) To my son I said, “when you see someone who is loving you, you are seeing God.”
(Lisa) On how I changed from thinking “right belief” as the way to understand God was central. Our intellectualizing what God has done is not salvific.
Martin Luther’s theology of the Cross:
The pretense that we know exactly where God is and how God works. Where God is most hidden is where God is most vividly revealed in saving ways.
“Who I am to declare that God’s grace only works in some ways? and the God’s capacity and God’s own mystery is limited to what I would deem and my community would deem adequate.”
What the practical theology of disability tells us about Grace with God and relationships with others.
“The longer I live and work as a theologian the more I realize the limitations of theology and the true infinite mysteries of God.”
Jesus was disruptive to religious pretense and suppositions. “You say this..but I say this…”
Theodicy – The question of why does God allow suffering and how should we think about suffering.
How Tom, as a theologian, answers the question,
“Why would a sovereign God allow a person to be born disable and encounter such suffering?” (This is great!)
The best is yet to come! Come back for part II next week.
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Rachel Evans is calling for a response to Marck Driscoll’s recent bullying of effeminate men, here: But I have to mention….doesn’t this sound a lot like an episode of GLEE?
Mark Driscoll is gay? Don’t kill the messenger…I didn’t come up with this.
You can find a pretty solid case HERE, compiled from his friend Don Miller, who–years ago–coined him, “the cussing pastor” in his best-selling book Blue Like Jazz. (When I say “case”…I mean Donald seems to refer to Driscoll, with some detail, right along with [other] male leaders associated with…well, gay scandals. Maybe it’s a connect-the-dots thing.)
Another person to recently point out Mark’s hyper (and perhaps suspicious) masculinity, is Brett McCracken, within the pages of his new book Hipster Christianity, (pages 103-105.)
“There is a strong drift toward the hard theological left. Some emergent types [want] to recast Jesus as a limp-wrist hippie in a dress with a lot of product in His hair, who drank decaf and made pithy Zen statements about life while shopping for the perfect pair of shoes. In Revelation, Jesus is a prize fighter with a tattoo down His leg, a sword in His hand and the commitment to make someone bleed. That is a guy I can worship. I cannot worship the hippie, diaper, halo Christ because I cannot worship a guy I can beat up.” –Mark Driscoll 
(There’s a common theme of guy-on-guy fights/violence with Driscoll. You may remember he showed, the hot and sweaty brawl movie “Fight Club” as an official church event. Hum.)
Mark, if you’re reading this, you can stop over-doing it to throw us off track. Don and I both realize you’ve painted yourself into a corner, Mark. The gig is up, dude.
Nevertheless. IF Driscoll was gay, we would love him anyway. Right, everyone? Right?
There’s a punchline in here somewhere. Can you spot it?
Is Mark Driscoll too overtly macho, and (like recent pastors caught in self-created sexual hypocrisy -Eddie Long and Ted Haggard), too anti-gay to be straight? (This is where you start to realize how silly the whole topic is.)
Am I joking about Driscoll? Sure. Of course. I’m a humorist. (I’m upfront about that here at the blog.) And despite loads of circumstantial evidence, and the writing stylings of Don Miller, Mark’s certain proclivity could remain a mystery, much like Theodicy, or atonement theories. This is all probably just a loooong series of coincidences. No biggie. If Mark is gay, or tempted with homosexual thoughts or feelings, I’m sure we could trust that he’d just open up and tell us–straight out. Or, maybe, like his marriage book, he’ll hold out on telling us that he’s had some trouble until he writes a book on the topic. I”m honestly NOT worried about it. The point is, neither should any of us be!
In his new book, boneYARD: creatives will change the way we lead in the church, John O’Keefe tackles an issue rampant in the United States: the overwhelming trend of dying and dead churches. He also speaks to a pet topic of mine: the prevalent misguided practices that give churches supposed membership growth. [What I’ve called, “Poaching from the Choir”.]
You may know of John through his creative project ginkworld.
Here are his interesting answers to 6 questions about the issues discussed in boneYARD. Your comments or questions are welcome.
1. John, you use the terms “industrial church” and “conceptual church”, and so on, referring to eras. Can you briefly explain the terms you use; and -Do you think most churches are caught somewhere in the middle, or have they been fallen behind?
The industrial church is a church that centers on the principles of “Maxwellian Leadership.” The ideas that grew out of the Industrial Revolution, where there needs to be a “CEO” (Pastor) and “Vice-CEO” (Associate Pastors) to control the organization. The central motive of this style of leadership is to see the church as a business, and everything the leader does centers on benefiting the organization. People are seen as assets and they are used to benefit the organization – “what will help the church.” They are very logical, linear, and focused on profit. For them, profit is defined in terms of the offering and getting people in the pews. But, if the attendance is going down, and offerings are going up they do not see a problem. I read an article earlier where it explained how the Evangelical Lutherans are declining in numbers (most churches are), but that there was no reason to fear because giving was on an increase.
The conceptual church is forming today. Leadership (if that is even a valid term in a Conceptual Age) focuses on the organism; the organization holds little value. Everything a conceptual leader does focuses on the person, the organism, and centers on how we relate to others. In the Conceptual Age we think in terms of personality traits of a conceptual leader; people have personalities, machines have qualities.
While some are in the middle, struggling to find their voice, even fewer are in front of the curve, in my research I have found most churches are far behind the curve. They are stuck in the idea that they need to keep doing what they have always done, and those outside the church need to change to fit into their world.
2. Do you think it’s apt to say that for a great many churches, an increase in membership has more to do with (as I like to say) “poaching believers from other churches”? (Or poaching from the choir.)
I love the visual of “poaching.” Sometime back I wrote an article entitled “Three Kinds of Fishing” where I saw the possibilities as pole fishing, net fishing, or tank fishing, but I love the visual of poaching. I believe most churches are growing because of poaching. Poaching is easy for the church. I love churches that advertise on Christian Radio; the question we need to ask is “Who are they trying to reach?” I don’t know any “non-follower” listening to Christian Radio. Churches that advertise on Christian Radio prove the point. Their ads are targeted to those already going to church and say, “Come to our church, our pastor is cooler, our music is better, our service is exciting, and we will not bug you to get involved.”
Some churches even go as far as to count people who come from other traditions as “new believers.” The Baptists and the Non-Denominational Church of Christ are the ones who do this the best. I use to attend a church is Las Vegas called Central Christian (Currently about 15,000 people), when it was just over 300 people. One of my family members was attending the church also and he was required to be “re-baptized” in order to become a leader in the church. Even though he had been a follower for years before he attended the church. They counted him as a “new believer.” Soon, he left Central and started to attend a Southern Baptist Church in the area, and was required to be “re-baptized” and was counted as a “new believer.” These churches count everyone who was not baptized in their method as a “new believer.” This inflates numbers, sure – but more than that, it tells everyone who is not “one of them” you are wrong and we are right.
3. What’s the difference between church growth and kingdom growth? and, What is your best nugget of advise for those in ministry regarding church growth and kingdom growth?
Church growth centers on growing an individual church, so taking from another church is seen as an easy form of church growth. Kingdom growth centers on growing the Kingdom, and sees people in other traditions as part of the church universal. Kingdom growth centers on not caring what church the person is involved with, but that they understand the love and grace of God. When I was at 247 we use to have teens coming to all our events, and many times those teens would ask about our services. I would encourage them to get connected to the churches their parents attended and go as a family.
I think the best thing I can share with churches today is to not concern yourself with growing your church, center on growing God’s Kingdom. When we focus on growing God’s Kingdom we move out from the walls of the church, and into the communities we are called to serve. We desire to share the message of hope with people, who need to know the love of God through Christ, and we are avatars of Christ to the world around us – we are the incarnation of Christ to the world. Our care is more for inviting people into God, and not into our church.
4. There will always be left-brained thinkers. If the new era of leadership is right-brained, as you say, what should these people do?
Change, embrace their right side. Keep in mind, being right brain dominate does not ignore those who are left brain dominate. The idea in a Conceptual Age is that right brains will be the dominate side and left brains will play a subordinate role. In my research I came upon a study I mention in the book that says 98% of us are born right brain dominate and creative, while 2% are born left brain dominate. Over time, our educational system causes those numbers to flip, causing 2% to be right brain dominate and 98% left brain dominate. It is amazing that our educational system flips the numbers to left brain dominance. This is because, in an Industrial Age, we need more left brain thinkers to “oversee” others.
5. In your opinion, does the “bone yard phenomenon” (of vast numbers of churches closing) have anything to do with apprehending church and/or the church building from a materialist and modernist vantage point? And how can we do better?
While I believe it matters little where a community of faith gathers, for the industrial church the building has become an albatross. Some churches spend more on building upkeep then they do on ministry and care. Between salaries, mortgage payments, utility bills and upkeep a major part of the budget is spent just to keep things going. Because of that, the leadership focuses on keeping the building afloat, and less on reaching those who are not followers of Christ. So, they strive and strive to increase the numbers in their pews to fill their coffers and less on bringing people into a life changing reality that Christ offers all people. This is one of the reasons I believe the church is comfortable with poaching. If they are poaching they are attracting givers who will help keep the building going.
6. With all the churches closing, and new ones not meeting the needs, is there any way out of the boneyard?
You bet there is. I see all the churches closing as a good thing, not a bad thing. I see the churches failure to reach a new generation as a good thing as well. Why? Because it is causing us to wake-up, and move out of the church. Many churches are waking up to the realization that what they are doing is not working, so they are now open to change. The only thing that is holding them back is that they do not know how to make the change. Keep in mind, deciding to change and actually changing are two different things.
Conversation about change is a waste of time, we simply need to change. The future looks bright for the church willing to make the change and reach a conceptual mindset. While boneYARD is not a program, I believe it is a good starting point to make those changes.
Thank you, John.
If you would like to try for a free signed copy of boneYARD, leave a comment, and tell us if you’ve seen churches closing in your region, Or, tell us the approximate % of worshipers per Sunday in your church that may be the product of poaching.