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I think many of you are friends with Elizabeth Keller on Facebook, and as such may have noticed the posting she made last week. I asked and she said she was willing to have it posted here, as well (it is an excerpt from a paper she wrote in seminary). I think it is an interesting look at the differences between the generations in the church, and raises some pretty good questions about where the church, and culture in general, go from here. I pulled some excerpts from her posting and put it below:

As we enter into these various stages of life, our dependence, activity, leadership and stewardship are supposedly dramatically affected by the generation from which we come. Strauss and Howe describe four generations: the Idealist (boomers), the Nomad (busters), the Civic (bridgers), and the Adaptive (builders). These generations cycle over and over again through four different turnings, the First Turning is a High (when Boomers are born, 1946-1964), the Second Turning is an Awakening (when Busters are born, 1964-1984), the Third Turning is an Unraveling, (when Bridgers are born, 1984-2006), and the Fourth Turning is a Crisis (when Builders were born, 1925-1942, and – and now, the children born today, 2005-2026!).

Because Boomers are born into a High Turning, they are formed in their youth as Idealists, living into a time of overcoming crisis and moving into prosperity. Busters – like myself – are born into a Turning of Awakening – when spirituality and religion are questioned and explored and moral values are challenged; we are referred to as Nomads. This Second Turning requires us to focus on our inner-worlds and typically becomes a time when “social unrest has broken out.” During this time the Boomer generation was rising into adulthood – and began breaking boundaries, starting revolutions, and rebelling status quo.

The Third Turning then arrived between 1984-2006, when the Bridgers were born – a time of Unraveling. Our culture again shifted from the inner-world focus to outer-world focus. During this time we tested new approaches and new applications, so as to suggest that “previous norms and social expectations come apart, but their replacements are still being tested and constructed.” The Bridger Generation is thus referred to as the Civics. Because the spiritual awakening time before them served rather intense, in this Turning comes the desire for a “little fun.” […]

[…]Born in 1975, “they” call me a Gen X’er or a Buster, since we “busted” the booming birth-rate drastically. Strauss and Howe describes my Nomad and/or Buster Generation as “a recessive Reactive Generation who grows up as under-protected and criticized youth during a spiritual awakening, then matures into a risk-taking, alienated rising adult, mellowing into a pragmatic midlife leader during a secular crisis, and thus, maintaining respect as a reclusive elder.” Can’t wait!

Living through my youth and now living into my rising adult years, I will explore historical waves and events that further influence the Buster generation. We are described as apathetic and cynical – even slackers. Raised in families with increasingly high divorce rates and mothers who entered the workplace, we are known as the “latch-key” kids, who develop deeply committed friendships, rather than intimate family relations, at least more so than other generations. As another result, we are described as independent, resilient, and adaptable, thus, not needing someone telling us what to do (Hmm, perhaps, these details describe me a bit!). In the same breath however, we very much expect immediate and ongoing feedback. We grew up with the release of cable television and MTV (though I didn’t!). We witnessed the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster, the Persian Gulf War, and Tienanmen Square.

Becoming working adults in an economic recession in the 1990s and 2000s, we know the hardships of unemployment and job insecurity. As a result, we are less loyal to an organization, than we are to our careers. In addition, we dislike authority! We reject rules. We prefer effective mentoring where clear expectations are provided, but then we are empowered to figure it out on our own. Thus, instead of working for someone, we prefer to work with someone.

Our generation also experiences delayed adulthood. We delay getting married and raising children, and we prolong our education (that is, taking longer and longer to complete our degrees) and establishing our careers. At the same time, consumerism consumes us, and we are in debt, living way beyond our means.

Because we experience our rising adulthood in a delayed and prolonged, living at the edge of survival sorta’ way, we have very little to offer financially. Carl Eeman in his book Generations of Faith, suggests that fundraisers, whether from the church or other organizations, focus stewardship for the Nomad or Buster generation in means of time and talent, and not as much treasure. In part, Eeman suggests this approach due to the life stage cycle in which we reside currently; as rising adults, we do not have the extra income or resources to give due to the above-mentioned issues of educational debt, marriages and children, and moving from job to job. However, we do value giving our time and talent. What Eeman does not say, is how this generation will respond to stewardship as Midlifers and/or Elders. He also neglects to connect issues of stewardship with the issues of our faith formation.

How then does our generation shape our faith formation? We mistrust traditional values and institutions and as a result, religion for us, is complex. Some of us are indifferent; while others of us believe in a Higher Power, but are more accepting of a plurality of religions. We struggle with disbelief, “I believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). We always wonder – will you be there for me?

However, if we do manage to convert to a spiritual pathway, a faith formation, then Carl Eeman suggests that we become passionate disciples, committed deeply to religion. Because we were forced to search solely in unearthing our faith, we then hold a stronger zeal for it. Eeman also suggests that we are much more action-oriented than word-oriented; we are the “embodiment of faith active in love.” This idea ties well with the above-mentioned suggestion from Eeman that fundraisers should focus their efforts on time and talent, since the Busters prefer putting our faith into action.

Once we convert to a spiritual pathway, how then do we connect our spirituality with the community and/or church and/or causes? Where do we give our time, talent and treasure? The Busters deeply desire authentic community. Yet, while we desperately desire deep community, we can also be smothered by it, for we seek an individual uniqueness. It is a tension in which we constantly struggle. Struggling to overcome our institutional mistrust and embracing our newly converted faith, we seek out community, but only inasmuch as we can feel valued as an individual. Again, these underlining issues connect well with the idea that fundraisers should encourage Busters to utilizes their time and talent, so that they are empowered to put their faith into action, while demonstrating their individual value, and eventually learning to embrace the church community.

In addition, the Busters find ourselves deeply loyal to causes and thus, that is where we give our money – to causes, not to people, like the Boomers. Interestingly, we minister to confront issues, not for personal satisfaction, like the Boomers. In contrast, the Builders give money to missions and minister out of duty. Lacking overall trust in people (from the brokenness we experienced as children), including authority, religion, and institutions, we are completely cause and issue-oriented, out of these, we give our loyalty, our money, and our devotion. Give us a cause – and put us into action!

I am interested to here what y’all think!

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Last week I had the blessing of attending Peace Among the Peoples, an ecumenical peace conference which gathered together peacemakers from around the United States, and also a few from Canada. There was a lot of focus on preparing for the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation in Jamaica next summer, as well as visioning for the future of peace work together as the Decade to Overcome Violence of the World Council of Churches comes to a close. A lot of good conversations were started.

But one that fascinates me was one that began with the first two set of presentations, and became an underlying theological conversation for the entire conference. It is one I would love to hear from this community on. The question was one of our atonement theology – and whether we can move toward a more peaceful future, and claim to be a peace church (in the case of the conference, churches) if we endorse a theology of bloody, sacrificial atonement. The debate for the week was set up by Rita Nakashima Brock and Stanley Hauerwas, two theological giants of the peace community. Rita’s argument is best summed up by this quote from a Lenten season post on the Huffington Post:

Many Christians today refuse a faith that asks us to be thankful for the torture and murder of Jesus Christ […] The earliest images of the cross — dating back to the mid fourth century — symbolize resurrection, the tree of life, paradise in this world, and the transfiguration of the world by the Spirit. These crosses are not about sacrifice or debt repayment. Christianity that is true to the life of Jesus Christ tells his death as the story of resistance to the Roman Empire, not as the story of how the Empire enacted God’s will. Rome used crucifixion against non-citizens, the poor, and slaves […] The gospels constructed an innovative strategy to resist crucifixion. They rejected the terror that crucifixion instilled and told the story another way, against the grain of historical fact and with the grain of love and resistance. They reported that Jesus had no broken bones and died quickly. His friends removed him intact the day he died and buried him properly. They found him again in the garden, along the shore, breaking bread, and telling them to carry on his ministry. They experienced him as many people and cultures experience those they love who have died, as present still in visions, dreams, and rituals. These loving details said that Rome was impotent to erase Jesus from memory, to deny his humanity, or to end his work for justice, healing, and peace.

Stanley, on the other hand, went the route of sacrificial atonement, arguing:

But that is why we do not trust those who would have us make sacrifices in the name of preserving a world at war. We believe a sacrifice has been made that has brought an end to the sacrifice of war. Augustine and Luther thought Christians might go to war because they assumed a church existed that provided an alternative to the sacrificial system war always threatens to become. If the Civil War teaches us anything it makes clear what happens when Christians no longer believe that Christ’s sacrifice is sufficient for the salvation of the world. As a result, Christians confuse the sacrifice of war with the sacrifice of Christ.

This is a sacrificial atonement theology based out of one posited by Anslem which Rita outlines in her post:

In 1098 Archbishop Anselm of Canterbury summarized the evangelical idea of salvation: he claimed the crucifixion of Jesus was willed by God to save the world. His idea, now called “substitutionary atonement theology,” claimed that humanity’s sinfulness had dishonored God and carried a magnitude of debt from sin that was impossible to pay. God had to send Jesus to substitute for us as the only sinless sacrifice qualified to atone for sin.

This has been a lot of words to pose the question to all of you: what is your theology of atonement? If the church exists as an alternative to the world of violence, to work to bring about the peace found in Christ, do we need to radically revision our traditional conception of sacrificial atonement? Or not?

Friends, at the end of March a new committee within the Church of the Brethren gathered – the Vision Committee. 8 folks, 4 representing denominational agencies and 4 nominated by Standing Committee, gathered to start considering what the 10 year vision for the Church of the Brethren was, with the goal of having it ready to go by Annual Conference 2011. I am blessed to be a member of that committee, along with Bekah Houff, another CoB young adult.

Instead of going through the usual process of having influential members of the denomination fill out another survey, and quietly craft a vision to be brought forth in 2011, we thought it would be a bit more effective to just write a vision statement – and then see what the denomination thought!  So, that is what we have done. This statement is in NO WAY final.  It is a statement to be edited, for you to have input in,  and to hopefully look almost nothing like what it does now when it comes before Annual Conference for adoption. This statement will be making the rounds of CoB folks – it has already been at Young Adult Conference, for instance, where the conversation and input was phenomenal – and will be at NYC, and Annual Conference, and, well, all over the place. As many places as we can think of and possibly be.

And, it is also here. Below is the first draft of the vision statement. Let us know what you think – what doesn’t fit? What is missing? Does this jive with who you think you are as a member of the Church of the Brethren? Try to avoid word-smithing (the time for that will come later!) – but give us the big picture. This is about your vision, after all, and we want to hear from you. Use the comments section, or shoot a longer comment to the email address vision@brethren.org. One final note – this is a pretty short statement, and that is on purpose. Resources will be developed so that this can be used and integrated into congregations, districts, ect. Ok, thanks!  And I, for one, am interested to know what you think!

Inspired, challenged and shaped by the New Testament, we have decided to follow Jesus.

We will live as courageous disciples, nurtured in dynamic and missional congregations.

We are led by the Holy Spirit, called to model God’s reconciliation to all creation with words and deeds.

I was recently posed this question: What does the Church of the Brethren do best? And it honestly made me stop and pause. For me, I can answer that question in a couple of ways. I often joke that people in the ecumenical world understand what being Brethren is all about than a lot of Brethren I have met – and in that light my mind immediately jumps to our peace witness. This is historically what we are known for, and what the  ecumenical world turns to us for advice on.

However, I also realized this went a lot deeper than that. And the more I thought about the question, I realized my problem with it was in the phrasing. What we do best as a church is about what we do best as a people. The question shouldn’t be, what does the Church of the Brethren do best, but what do Brethren do best? I say that for a couple of reasons, that I might get into in a future post (tomorrow :)). But my answer to the second question was no less complicated. I think Brethren are at their best when they are living as reconciled people of God – peacefully, simply, and together. I have seen this lived out in a variety of ways relatively recently. Externally, I have seen it in the gatherings of the Historic Peace Churches held throughout the world during the Decade to Overcome Violence, and the different witnesses that have spoke of living this way in their contexts. Closer to home, I saw it at Heeding God’s Call in Philadelphia last year – and the way that ministry has continued and taken on a life of its own.

I have also seen it internally – I saw it at the young adult ministry forum in Phoenix a year and a half ago – where we all clearly disagreed an awful lot, but committed to working together to live out what being a reconciled people should be. And I have seen it in how the conversations on sexuality have been set up, and the intentional commitment to seeking input from all corners of the church.

So, that is the beginning of my answer. What say you? What do Brethren do best?

Today marks the beginning of one of the most Holy weeks on our calendar.  Today, we celebrate the presence, the arrival, of the Kin-dom of God! This is the day when Jesus rides into Jerusalem, and receives a royal welcome – even while riding in on a humble donkey.

And yet, so often this message gets blended this Sunday with the message of Good Friday, as churches, who know many won’t show up for a church service on Friday, want to make sure they get in the suffering that Jesus goes onto endure. And I always struggle with this reality – and believe that we really miss something if we don’t properly recognize the coming, the arrival, and the recognition of God’s kin-dom on this earth.  It is not something we are still waiting for, it has come! That can be such a vital message for the work we do.

I also understand, however, the importance of the message of Good Friday. Of naming and understanding the suffering Jesus endured because we didn’t, and don’t, recognize the message of Palm Sunday. So, my question for this morning is (especially for all my pastor friends out there) – how do we strike this balance? Has anyone found an effective way to live out this week in the life of the church – from Palm Sunday, to Maudy Thursday, to Good Friday, to Easter Sunday – while allowing each of these incredible holy days to stand on their own?

Friends, that subject line is one that I sit with quite often – wondering what our denomination will be or look like, as we continue to have major budget issues, as we no longer have a Witness/Washington Office, as we debate issues of sexuality.  And, of course, as we continue to shrink in terms of membership.  In the next, say, 20 years, what will the Church of the Brethren look like?

But, this is also particularly on my mind this week. I am preparing for a trip to Elgin, to serve as the On Earth Peace representative to the Vision Committee, which is called to, “To prepare a document that presents vision and general directions for denominational mission in the next decade.” I certainly don’t have answers to that – I hope, trust, and pray that the conversations had at the beginning of next week with other committee members will help us start visioning what it can be.  But as part of my preparation … what do you think?  What do you see the Church of the Brethren looking like in the next 10 years?  What, in your mind, should the church be going forward?

As young adults, this is our church. It is our future to begin to mold, to imagine into being, to call into being. So … what do you say?

Hey y’all.  First of all, registration for YAC is up – be sure to sign up, it would be great to see you all there.  For that, and for the Spring edition of the YA newsletter Bridge, I was asked to reflect on our scripture for the weekend – Romans 12:4-8 – and the idea of community.  I thought this would be a good place to share that – and I would love to hear your thoughts.

“For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, 5so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another (Romans 12:4-5).”  What in the world does it mean to all be members of the body of Christ – to be individually members of one another?  At first glance, it sounds like an odd sci-fi flick.  The image that pops right into my head is something out of the Matrix, with all of humanity hooked up to a machine to make it function.  But that can’t be right – there is no individuality there.  So, what does this look like?

Here is how I like to picture this, and it is grounded in how i think about God as Trinity.  I imagine the Creator, Son, and Holy Spirit, all in one space, dancing around each other.  The energy created between them, the way you can’t Identify one without seeing the other – that is the essence of God.  But they each serve different roles in bringing the reality of God to us here on Earth.  God the Creator, maker of heaven and earth.  The Son, the redeemer, through whom Creation is brought back into relationship with God.  And the Holy Spirit, sustainer, giving us the real presence of God through which to live out our call as followers.  God is, in God’s very essence and being, a community.

In much the same way, we are called to be a community – the community we create and live out is the real body of Christ on this earth.  And much like God, we all bring different gifts to the table.  Some of us are missionaries, some of us are teachers, some of us are preachers, some musicians.  Some tend the buildings and grounds, some make sure the day to day operations happen.  But what happens when we all dance together, unable to be identified without each other, is that the energy between us brings forth the living Christ and the Kin-dom of God.  We each manifest that reality in our own ways, with our own gifts – and when brought together, we can do amazing things.

But, goodness, this is not easy.  Not a chance.  It is hard, it is radical, and it takes an incredible amount of trust and love for those around you.  It is especially hard for young adults – we rarely stay put long enough, for one thing, to build this kind of community with those around them, and we are also trying desperately to live into our own individual identity, to carve out our own lives, that the community can often get lost in the mix.

Yet, we know it is what we are seeking – it is what fills us, sustains us, and gives us hope.  It is when we feel and know the real presence of God among us – when we are involved in that intricate dance with others, calling God forth.  It is what it means to be church – anytime, anywhere.  William Placher writes, “The last word about things cannot be power if God is love.  And in love, equality need not imply identity.”[1] We are called to live into the love of God that runs so deep, it is the energy that is who God is.

So, join us for YAC 2010, and walk with us as we explore exactly how this happens – trying to define what it is, how you seek it out, how you build it, and how you maintain it.  It is what it means to live in the presence of the Triune God – Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer.  It is the calling forth of God’s kin-dom on Earth, and witnessing to the risen Christ.


[1] Placher, William C.  The Triune God:  An Essay in Postmodern Theology.  Westminster John Knox Press.  Louisville, KY:  2007.  pg. 151.

Friends, let me first apologize for not posting last week. Between travel and the snow here on the East Coast, it slipped past my calendar that it was my turn to post!  What i means is double the posts for you this week, so enjoy!

The role of the Church in public life, and in particular in political life, has long been a question debated within the Church of the Brethren. Set up to be a community apart – in the world but not of it, the church for a long time stayed outside of, and not involved in, the political world that surrounded it. In the last century, however, that relationship has changed dramatically. As the church has become more and more involved in the society which surrounds them, the political realm has been no different. We are now elected officials, and consistently participate in the political process.

The question, then, is what this means. Alan Storkey, in his text “Jesus and Politics: Confronting the Powers” writes,

But there is more to it than that. The disciples started to learn, but knowledge of the rule of God means far more than this central insight. It would systematically change every area of politics. It means submission to God’s law, seeking justice, meekness rather than assertiveness, addressing disputes we have caused, keeping rulers humble, redistributing wealth, reconciling nations and classes. It requires leaders to be put in their place, with no ruler worship. The humble are to be lifted up and the arrogant cut down to size. In its scope, this is the greatest political revolution ever, as the gentle rule of Christ voluntarily settles on humanity, with its structural principles and insights (280).

Especially in light of the closing last year of the Brethren Witness/Washington Office, what does this mean for the future of the CoB’s witness in the political realm? What is the appropriate role of the Church in politics? In what way should we participate? These are the questions on my mind as I consider the question of faith and politics. And, as a way of suggesting a possible answer, as a part of Ecumenical Advocacy Days in DC, this coming March, there will be a Church of the Brethren lunch centering around the role of peace churches in the immigration conversation. So, what do you think is the appropriate role for the church in the politics of this world?

From John Howard Yoder’s “The Politics of Jesus”:

Jesus was, in his divinely mandated (i.e., promised, anointed, messianic) prophethood, priesthood, and kingship, the bearer of a new possibility of human, social, and therefore political relationships. His baptism is the inauguration and his cross is the culmination of that new regime in which his disciples are called to share. Hearers or readers may choose to consider that kingdom as not real, or not relevant, or not possible, or not inviting; but no longer can we come to this choice in the name of systematic theology or honest hermeneutics […] No such slicing can avoid his call to an ethic marked by the cross, a cross identified as the punishment of a man who threatens society by creating a new kind of community leading a radically new kind of life (52-53).

Friends, this is partly a self serving post. I am beginning a Doctorate of Ministry program at Wesley Theological Seminary in a few days, titled Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue. But it is also true that as we move through the liturgical seasons, I am reminded of the unity of the church that Christ brought into this world. Advent is no different. Christ brought the reconciliation of humankind and God into this world. So, as I delve into readings for this program, and also consider this message, my thoughts also turn to the role of the Church of the Brethren in the larger picture of the movement toward the unity of the church, and the ecumenical movement as a whole.

Many of you also know that this is my day job as well, working for the National Council of Churches, of which the CoB is a member communion. But just what does this mean?  What does being a member of a council of churches mean?  Michael Kinnamon, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches (who spoke at this summers Annual Conference, continually insists, “the NCC is not an organization (churches) have joined; it is a covenant they have made before God with 34 other communions to mankfest the oneness that is our gift – not our achievement, but our gift – in Christ.”

So, my questions: as members of the Church of the Brethren, what does this actually mean?  What do we gain by striving for the unity of the church? What do we bring to the table? What does it mean for our unity, our oneness, to be a gift we are seeking to make manifest?

In the comments on my last post, about what the church is called to be, it seems to me the common theme that ran throughout everyone’s thoughts was that of a radical, reconciling, relationality (even if no one actually used those words :)).  Dan spoke of the idea of the church family, Matt of being reconciled with all Creation, Josh of radical community, Paul of overcoming the continual broken relationships of this world.

So, I feel the need to push this  a little further.  We did a pretty good job of speaking in catch phrases and themes – the glory of God and my neighbor’s good, of being transformed, a network of Christ-centered communities, ect. I think all of those are well and true, but what do we actually mean by them?  What does it mean for the Church to be a place of radical relationship? H. Richard Niebuhr writes in his text The Purpose of the Church and Its Ministry (pardon the male-centered language),

Is not the result of all these debates and the content of the confessions or commandments of all these authorities this: that no substitute can be found for the definition of the goal of the Church as the increase among men of the love of God and neighbor? The terms vary; now the symbolic phrase is reconciliation to God and man, now increase the gratitude for the forgiveness of sin, now the realization of the kingdom or the coming of the Spirit, now the acceptance of the gospel. BUt the simple language of Jesus Christ himself furnishes to most CHristians the most intelligible key to his own purpose and to that of the community gathered around him (31).

But again, what does that mean when lived out in practice?  For me, this lives true as not only living out the example of Jesus Christ, but reflecting the inner, loving relationships of the Triune God.  As the imago dei, we are called to reflect and live out those relationships to the world around us.  They are relationships of radical giving, surrender, sacrifice, and love. When we conceive of a Trinity as three existing in relationship, it is no longer necessary to distinguish between the way God relates to the world and the being of Godself.  When we see God as the unity of relationships, the relationships become visible all around us as the very foundation of who God is.  Catherine LaCunga writes of the kind of impact this understanding should have in her text God For Us, stating,

God moves toward us so that we may move toward each other and thereby toward God.  The way God comes to us is also our way to God and to each other:  through Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit.  This is our faith, confessed in creed and celebrated in sacraments.  Confessing faith is incomplete unless it becomes a form of life.  Living faith in the God of Jesus Christ means being formed and transformed by the life of grace of God’s economy:  becoming persons fully in communion with all; becoming Christ to one another; becoming by the power of the Holy Spirit what God is:  love unbounded, glory uncontained (377).

So, what does this mean, and actually look like in day to day life?

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