A long-time favorite author of mine, Brian Zahnd, is releasing a really important book soon, and I have had the immense honor of designing the cover! The book is called Postcards from Babylon: The Church in American Exile, and it is set to release in January 2019. Stay tuned for more details and fun stuff like a giveaways :)
I love learning about the lives of the saints in church history. Their stories can be so valuable as encouragement, inspiration, and motivation for us on how to shape our lives today. One of my favorites is St. Francis of Assisi, coincidentally the namesake of the current Catholic pope–appropriately I think, as Francis was one of the first to critique and warn against the dangers of capitalism, lived with a deep value and care for the environment/all of Creation, and was actively non-violent and doing the work of peacemaking in a time of war and crusades. We can benefit greatly from the wisdom of Francis, and today is the day the Church remembers him collectively...
"Today is one of the great holy-days of the year. Happy St. Francis Day!!!
Christians around the world remember one of the great heroes of our faith, and the Pope’s namesake – Francis of Assisi. But Francesco Bernadone (Francis of Assisi), who died on October 3, 1226 must be laughing at the irony of it all.
He was one of the first critics of capitalism, one of the earliest Christian environmentalists, a sassy reformer of the church, and one of the classic conscientious objectors to war. Even though it’s hard to imagine a saint whose life is more relevant to the world we live in today, Francis was not always so popular.
Legend has it, the first time he preached at the Vatican, the pope told him to go preach to the pigs. But later the pope had a vision: the corner of the church was collapsing, and little Francis and the youth of Assisi were holding it up. Arguably that youth movement was one of the most powerful restorations of church history. While he did not hold back on his relentless critique of the church, he remained humbly and hopeful. He stopped complaining about the church as it was and started dreaming of the church as it could be. As Francis said, he heard God whisper: “Repair my Church, which is in ruins.”
So perhaps it’s Providential that 800 years later the Pope is named after him.
Francis was the son of a wealthy cloth merchant, born into a society where the gap between the rich and the poor was increasingly unacceptable. It was an age of religious crusades, where Christians and Muslims were killing each other in the name of God. The Church and the world were in chaos… Sound familiar?
Francis did something simple and wonderful. He read the Gospels where Jesus says, “Sell your possessions and give the money to the poor,” “Consider the lilies and the sparrows and do not worry about tomorrow,” “Love your enemies,” and he decided to live as if Jesus meant the stuff he said. Francis turned his back on the materialism and militarism of his world, and said yes to Jesus.
One of the quotes attributed to Francis is a simple and poignant critique of our world, just as it was to his: “The more stuff we have, the more clubs we need to protect it. Be free like the lilies and the sparrows.”
With a childlike innocence, Francis literally stripped naked and walked out of Assisi to live like the lilies and the sparrows. He lived among the outcasts and ostracized. He lived close to the earth and, like Jesus, became a friend of the birds and creatures, whom he fondly called brother and sister. In light of that, many a birdbath wears his iconic image. But his life is worthy of more than a lawn statue. His life was a powerful critique of the demons of his day, which are very similar to the demons of our day.
One of my favorite stories about Francis was when he decided to meet with the Muslim sultan during the Fifth Crusade – in Syria of all places. It was a tumultuous time. War had become a necessity and a habit, and was sanctioned by much of the church. Francis was sent off as a soldier, but he could not reconcile the violence of war with the grace of Christ . . . and so he got off his warhorse and put down his sword. He pleaded with the military commander, Cardinal-Legate Pelagius, to end the fighting. Pelagius refused. Instead, Pelagius broke off all diplomatic relations with the sultan of Egypt. The sultan in turn decreed that anyone who brought him the head of a Christian would be rewarded with a Byzantine gold piece. Francis, however, pursued his vision in steadfast faith, surmounting all dangers in a journey to see the sultan. He traveled through fierce fighting in Syria and inevitably was met by soldiers of the sultan’s army, who beat him savagely and put him in chains, dragging him before the sultan himself. Francis spoke to the sultan of God’s love and grace. The sultan listened intensely and was so moved that he offered Francis gifts and money. Francis, of course, had no desire for the money, but he gladly accepted one gift, an ivory horn used in the Muslim call to prayer. He took it back with him and used it to summon his own community for prayer. Both Francis and the sultan were transformed by that encounter, offering much hope to our world of troubled interfaith relations.
Although the church is prone to forget his witness or to make a monument of his movement, we can still celebrate his critique of an economy that left masses of people in poverty, so that a handful of people can live as they wish. We still rejoice in his love for the earth as we work to end the ravaging of our world. We remember his witness that there is a better way to bring peace than with a sword.
These are the words of the famous prayer attributed to Francis. May they inspire us to become better people and to build a better world, right alongside Francesco Bernadone of Assisi and Pope Francis of Argentina.
Lord, Make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon,
Where there is discord, union,
Where there is doubt, faith,
Where there is error, truth,
Where there is despair, hope,
Where there is sadness, joy,
Where there is darkness, light.
O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved, as to love; for it is in giving that we receive,it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen
NOTE: FOR A GOOD FLICK ON FRANCIS, CHECK OUT THE CLASSIC BROTHER SUN, SISTER MOON"
This is the 5th of 25 books I have committed to read & review this year for a project I’m calling “25/25.” Follow visual updates on Instagram (& Twitter) with the hashtag #read25in25.
The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why by Phyllis Tickle
Phyllis Tickle’s accolades include founding editor of the Religion Department at Publisher’s Weekly, acclaimed and respected authority on religion in America today, and the author of over 24 books (including The Great Emergence that I will review in brief here). However, I had the privilege of meeting her personally in March, and I’d like to add a few things to this list, like:
- the spunkiest 80 year old I’ve ever met,
- a brilliantly gifted teacher––presenting huge bodies of information in clear, concise forms that are digestible and strangely retainable,
- a person of deep and balanced love, humor, realism, and imagination,
- a hope for the Church,
- and an aspiration to all of us young emergents of what the adventure of aging can look like.
I briefly studied Phyllis's work before she visited Shreveport. By briefly I mean that I planned to sit down and listen to about 20 minutes of a lecture on YouTube to "just get the gist" so I'd be at least slightly in the loop. 4 hours later I was finishing up watching a whole series of lectures from her recent seminar at an Anglican Church in Toronto. How did my intended 20 minutes turn into 4 hours? Well sure, I expected to get her take on where the Church in America is, how we've gotten here, and what she sees coming for us. I got those things, but so much more. What I didn't expect to get and was totally drawn into was a pretty comprehensive look at world history through the lenses of anthropology, sociology, physics, art & music, etc. I don't remember another time when so much material was presented to me in such a clear, concise, and retainable manner.
The foundation of her work is based on tracking history through 500 year cycles. Every 500 years from the present back to at least 1 AD (though some track it back further) has resulted in a massive cultural upheaval leaving no institution or cultural norm untouched or unchanged. These upheavals have been compared to rummage sales, where everything is put out on the table for the taking or the leaving, at the very least for conversation and questioning. You can get rid of the clutter and the no-longer-relevant, but you can also find some forgotten treasures as you dig around. Phyllis tracks the 500 year cycle back through Judeo-Christian history, but writes and talks about how these changes are always directly connected to the state of culture at large, as religion is of course a cultural construct and situated in the dimensions of time and place with particular groups of people.
The 500-year "rummage sales" can be labeled like this:
- The Great Emergence: Now (typically sited to have begun around 9/11/2001)
- The Great Reformation: Martin Luther and 16th century protestantism
- The Great Schism: The split of the Eastern and Western Church in 1054
- The Great Decline & Fall (or Gregory the Great): The fall of the Roman Empire
- The Great Transition: Jesus
What is perhaps most directly relevant to us is that we are currently living through a time of this sort of cultural upheaval, and we are the first people to be aware of our place in such a formative time of history. How exciting! And how overwhelming the responsibility could be. Long story short, the name that has arisen for our time is the Great Emergence. Here we are, approximately 500 years after The Great Reformation, and it's all happening again. It just looks a bit different...
Some of the primary characteristics of Emergence Christianity are as follows:
- Not hierarchical
- Deeply liturgical
- Much like Catechomb Christianity (want to live faith holistically, want to feel it)
- Deeply passionate about social action
There are also some more auxiliary elements of Emergence Christianity undergirding it all:
- Moving away from the dualism that has infected Christian theology from the time of Constantine and the influence of Greek philosophy/Greco-Roman culture.
- At that time, the notion of salvation "began to shift from a means of effecting or living out God's will on earth to being a ticket for transportation into a paradise hereafter" (p161).
- Gnosticism flourished, demonizing the body and separating it from the soul (a problematic illusion which we can still see consequences of at present).
- At that time, the notion of salvation "began to shift from a means of effecting or living out God's will on earth to being a ticket for transportation into a paradise hereafter" (p161).
- Rewriting theology (and North American culture by result) back into something more Jewish, paradoxical, & narrative...something more mystical than anything the Church has had for the last 1700-1800 years. (p162)
- Something more "Jewish" is referring to the holistic theology and holistic conceptualization of human life and structure that is inherent in Jewish tradition. Faith informing every area of life, all decisions, requiring daily discipline and practice, and identity being intrinsically connected to the community/family.
- Phyllis even has a theory that we will again be referred to as Judeo-Christian by the year 2050. Fascinating...I suppose we'll see how that plays out.
- Actual vs. Factual Reality
- Logic, authoritative doctrine, systematic theology, and even metanarrative are all in question...so narrative prevails as trustworthy.
- Phyllis tells a compelling story about a 16 year old's response after a teaching she gave on the theology of the virgin birth of Christ. He sat perplexed at how the adults could question it's validity or truth. The problem just didn't exist for him. He said, "It's so beautiful it has to be true, whether it happened or not" (more on p149).
- "Narrative speaks to the heart in order that the heart, so tutored, may direct and inform the mind." (p160)
Whether or not these tenants resonate with you, it is estimated that people under the age of 40 are considered "emergents" in that we have been formed in a culture and time marked by certain things. We naturally relate to the world differently than those in the eras before us, no matter where exactly we land on the spectrum of thought or theology. The rapid development of technology plays a huge role in this shift of worldview. So much so that the very nature of humanity and human consciousness has come into question, and is actually one of the central questions of The Great Emergence. In a world that is aware of the real possibility of the singularity and is pursuing transhumanism, we come face to face with these questions: What is a human being? What is human consciousness? Another question central to our time (which I feel entirely inadequate to explore here) is: What is the nature of the atonement?
Now, a question that is central to every one of the great upheavals is this:
Where now is the authority?
Essentially it seems Emergents are are claiming authority is the Holy Spirit's, not the institution's, not logic and reason's, not systematic theology or moral law's, but the living and active Spirit of the Divine. And the Spirit's direction must be discerned within a dedicated community in a particular place that is seeking, studying, praying, and actively participating in the Kingdom work of God in the world and intentional formation in the way of Christ.
Some fresh expressions of Christianity in the Great Emergence are categorized as follows. However, these are not all mutually exclusive categories (which is quite "emergent" I suppose). There is much overlap amongst them and/or with the inherited church institutions:
- Cyber Church
- Small Church
- Missional Church
- and others...
The fresh expressions do not threaten the existence of the inherited church, and that is an important thing to be aware of as we learn to live and work together. At every upheaval, the previously dominant power or institution did not dissolve. It merely changed greatly. For example, the Catholic Church is still around, just vastly different after the challenges presented in The Great Reformation.
A final issue I'd like to address is not perhaps directly in Phyllis's book, but the conversation inevitable gets here. It has to do with the definitions of an institution and a movement as described by Brian McLaren, a leader of the emergent church movement. I've come to accept and deeply appreciate these definitions.
- An institution is an organization that preserves the gains made by past movements.
- A movement is an organization that arises to propose gains to a current institution.
Both are good. Both are needed. Both need each other. Let's not assume as emergents that we must be anti-institution, and I'd plead to those of you who assume emergents are anti-institution to reconsider that assumption or to look again for evidence of something different. Being pro-institution, or pro-Church in this case, can and must still include a real criticism of the problems that have developed. But criticism must be constructive and lead to creativity in pursuit of being the body of Jesus in the world. For everywhere and every time criticism has not been offered in love and has not been paired with hopeful, creative action, I apologize. I apologize and I personally repent, as it is an ongoing challenge for me and my community to balance these things. It's a daily reality in my life that I am no where near mastering, but the words of Phyllis Tickle are coming to my aid and the aid of many as we seek to better be the Church in the world at this time. The content and the language with which it is presented are wildly valuable, and I hope you might look farther into all this if it has ignited any sort of curiosity in you! Also, if you pick up this particular book, you might consider having your dictionary app on hand. She's unashamedly an academic and has the vocabulary of one. I've learned a ton of new words from her;)
Find out more about Phyllis Tickle and her work at phyllistickle.com.
This is the first of 25 books I have committed to read & review this year for a project I’m calling “25/25.” Follow visual updates on Instagram with the hashtag #read25in25.
So, if you’ve spent more than ten minutes in conversation with me at some point over the last year, you’ve heard me mention the Enneagram. Seem like an exaggerated generalization? I’m pretty sure no one will challenge it, but go ahead and object if I’ve missed you somehow. Actually, I’m about to unload on you, so consider this our conversation I suppose…
Let’s start with some brief points of context:
- The Enneagram is a system organized around an ancient, nine-sided symbol that explains “the nine basic personality types of human nature and their complex interrelationships.” I’ve worked with numerous personality typing systems over the last seven years, and I find the Enneagram to be the deepest, most comprehensive, and most helpful in the transformation of self and relationships. Each of the nine types is indicated by a number, and many subtypes and variations exist in the core number’s relation with the other numbers around the circumference of the Enneagram symbol.
- Thomas Merton (1915-1968) is a widely revered 20th-century monastic who belonged to the Trappist community at Our Lady of Gethsemane Abbey in Kentucky. There he wrote more than seventy books of poetry, personal journals, letters, and social criticisms with a focus on peace, justice, ecumenism, and a life of contemplation. Merton was also a photographer & graphic artist. He is perhaps best known for his exploration of the true and false self, and for his social activism. For merging monastic life with active participation in the society of his day, Merton is sometimes thought to be the first of the New Monastics. Merton is a type 4 on the Enneagram.
- I am a type 4 on the Enneagram. I first read Merton sometime during the first half college, and found his work deeply resonant. It wasn’t until later that I was introduced to the Enneagram and eventually told that Merton was a 4. (And at some point in that progression I finally gave in and admitted, after much contention, that I am 4 –– a textbook 4.) Suddenly it was clearer why his words were having such a deep impact on me, and I have him to thank for much guidance in my path to maturity, integration, and learning to love and live more fully.
Suzanne Zuercher, O.S.B. wrote Merton: An Enneagram Profile –– which is essentially a biography of Merton’s life interwoven seamlessly with an in-depth presentation of a 4’s experience of the world. And I owe Sister Zuercher a debt of gratitude for the work she’s done. I’ve read many words for too many hours about the Enneagram in recent months, but in no other book have I found the sort of nuance and depth Sister Zuercher achieves in Merton. Undoubtedly that is more possible in a book that focuses on one man and one enneagram type than in one with a broader viewpoint, but there’s also a distinctly different perspective she takes than I’ve yet read elsewhere. I’ll be adding more of her books, such as Enneagram Companions: Growing in Relationships and Spiritual Direction, to my reading list. I believe this work honors Thomas Merton and traces insightfully the journey he took in the process of being freed from illusion and compulsion, being restored to the reality of his true self––and therefore the reality of God & the connectedness of himself to God, humanity, and all of creation. There is no pretense about Merton’s shortcomings (and I expect the late Thomas Merton would have had it no other way). There is worthy tribute to the ways in which he graced his community and the ways his words continues to enrich so many lives today.
I both excitedly and hesitantly tell you how accurate Zuercher’s presentation of the 4’s experience is––excitedly because it’s a rare thing to be understood so precisely, and hesitantly because her account holds nothing back about the challenges and compulsions of 4s. Though, in balance, she certainly lines these up next to the gifts and contributions that 4s (and therefore Merton) can uniquely embody. I recommend this book to fellow 4s and wish you a reading experience that is as encouraging, convicting, calming, and challenging as my own has been. And if you are not a 4, but ever you find yourself wanting for understanding of someone you know that may be a 4, you need look no farther than this book for a fairly comprehensive profile that I expect will be helpful in your relating. And of course, and perhaps primarily, if you are intrigued by the man Thomas Merton, I recommend this read to you for a unique and valuable perspective.
Some topics in the book at a glance:
- Merton’s/4s’ fear that conflict will destroy relationship and the compulsive attempts to maintain or create harmony.
- Merton’s/4s’ impulse to “do” rather than “be”…sometimes activity in the form of work, excessive social engagement, etc. and sometimes constant activity or commentary in the mind.
- Merton’s/4s’ tension between the special/romantic and the ordinary/mundane, and the over-dramatization and intensity this can lead to.
- Merton’s/4s’ search for significance in all things, making meaning through symbols, observation of the self and others…all comprising the artistic temperament most 4s are known to have.
- Merton’s/4s’ view of all of life as an art piece, as a drama…positive consequences of this being the possibility of a life of intentionality, integrity, beauty, etc. and negative consequences being a loss of spontaneous, authentic responses and the inhibition to act from feeling constantly observed.
- Merton’s/4s’ fluctuation between social engagement and withdrawal into solitude.
- Merton’s/4s’ temptation to despair…often experiencing seasons of melancholy and depression. Redeemed 4s, which Merton became, find the way to a deep hope by way of passing through deep despair, and can then hold space for others in their midst who must work through their own pain.
- Merton’s/4s’ experience of the spiritual life as a homecoming.
- Merton’s/4s’ experience of time as a series of deaths and births…leading to a heightened sense of the significance of life events and a focus that falls more easily on the past or the future than the present. Time is perceived more like a spiral shape than linearly. An essential in Merton’s/4s’ redemption is to learn to be fully in the present moment, resting in trust.
- Merton’s/4s’ focus on the Spirit of God and the oneness of all things in that Spirit.
- Merton’s/4s’ capacity to hold glaring contradictions: melancholy vs. joy, intensity/seriousness vs. humor/play, harsh criticism vs. warm compassion, oozing tension vs. radiating peace, sociability vs. seclusion, self-awareness vs. self-deception, empathy vs. self-absorption.
- Merton's/4s' persistent sense of longing and/or envy.
- Merton's/4s' deep experience and appreciation of the mercy of God.
This was one of those books that ends up having more underlined, starred, and dog-eared in it than not. Below are some quotes I feel are significant. Though difficult, I limited myself to what is hopefully a reasonable number:
“In the wonder of our redemption we are not delivered from our native endowment. It is that very distinguishing characteristic that becomes our contribution to creation. Once our instincts, which we had exaggerated into compulsion, are admitted, acknowledged, allowed, they gradually assume a proper proportion in our lives. They become increasingly natural and free responses.” (Zuercher, p. 7)
“We are at liberty to be real or to be unreal. We may be true or false, the choice is ours. We may wear now one mask and now another, and never, if we so desire, appear with our own true face. But we cannot make these choices with impunity. Causes have effects, and if we lie to ourselves and to others, then we cannot expect to find truth and reality whenever we happen to want them. If we have chosen the way of falsity we must not be surprised that truth eludes us when we finally come to need it.” (Merton, p. 25)
“When Merton was taken out of himself by beauty in non-analytical wonder rather than in analytical fascination, he experienced simply what is so.” (Zuercher, p.68)
“According to enneagram theory, the Divine is manifested in the many different aspects of creation. Applied more personally, each human enneagram type especially incarnates something of the Creator. In Christian terms, each triad and each space within that triad, resonates in its energy with a different Person in the Trinity of Divine persons. For 8/9/1s it is the Life-Giver and Nourisher, the Father/Mother/Creator God to whom they witness, each type in the triad nuancing that witness. The Son of God becomes inspiration for the 5/6/7 triad and each space in it. The Spirit of Jesus alive in the here and now takes flesh in the flesh of 2/3/4s, a little differently depending on the number in the triad.” (Zuercher, p. 122)
“The man with the “sacred” view is one who does not need to hate himself, and is never afraid or ashamed to remain with his own loneliness, for in it he is at peace, and through it he can come to the presence of God….Such a man is able to help other men to find God in themselves, educate them in confidence by the respect he is able to feel for them…helping them to put up with themselves, until they become interiorly quiet and learn to see God in the depths of their own poverty.” (Merton, p. 123)
“Over years of experience 4s find out that conflict, misunderstanding, and even division need not end relationships. There is always the suspicion in 4s that if others were ever to come close enough to see who they really are they would be abandoned. In life’s inevitable situations of stress, the “good face” they feel obliged to put forward, the harmony they feel personally responsible to maintain or create, fails. In such circumstances, when people who are consistently in their lives continue to relate to them and to care for them, they are amazed…
Probably the deepest and most real kind of hope 4s can experience is based on the testimony of a lifetime of commitment to the same people. This is one of the many reasons Merton’s monastic vocation held such significance for him. The monks knew him in all of his limitation and loved him nonetheless.” (Zuercher, p. 145-146)
“Merton fluctuated between friendliness and privacy, trust and mistrust, rebellion and obedience, shyness and openness, collaboration and aloofness, snobbery and ordinariness. Such fluctuation characterizes 4s and is their peculiar mix of the social instinct on the one side and the perceptual on the other.” (Zuercher, p. 154)
Thank your for reading! I hope this has been enriching for you in some way. In the next couple of days I will review The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, a classic for anyone doing creative work. Stay tuned if you’re interested!