What Will Shape Our Spirituality: Future Church #2

Yesterday’s post on What will shape our spirituality in the coming decade has sparked quite a bit of interest and as I have far more to say than can fit into my article for the upcoming MSA Seed Sampler I will share some more of my thoughts here.

Yesterday I talked about the impact of social media and how have moved from consumption to immersion.  Today I wanted to talk about the impact of the changing geographical centre of Christianity.  In 1900 80% of all Christians lived in Europe and North America, but by 2005 that had dropped to under 40% and by 2050 will probably fall below 30%.

In the next decade, this trend will have profound implications for theology and spiritual practices as voices from Latin America, Africa and Asia contribute their perspectives to a discussion that has been dominated by Western thought for a thousand years.  What many of us in Western cultures are oblivious to is that much of our theology has been shaped by a Eurocentric viewpoint that arises from the place of power and privilege that our cultures have held.  It does not have universal validity and is often shaped more by our positions of privilege than by the gospel message.  In a post colonial, post Eurocentric Christian world those of us from European backgrounds will need to become listeners and learners.  We will not only need to listen to voices from other cultures we will need to allow the theological perspectives of other cultures to shape our theology too, humbly seeking forgiveness for the wrongs of the past  and working for reconciliation and justice.

In Foolishness to the Greeks, Lesslie Newbigin states:

The fact that Jesus is much more than, much greater than our culture-bound vision of him, can only come home to us through the witness of those who see him through other eyes.

To fully understand Jesus and embrace the entire gospel message we will need to reinvent discipleship so that it to compels us to give up our positions of power and invites us into a journey together with sisters and brothers from around the world.  It should embrace our need to learn from believers in different cultures who emphasize distinct aspects of the gospel message based on questions that have arisen within their history and context.   Often their theologies have been shaped by the pain and suffering inflicted by Western colonialism and domination.  Liberation theology for example, grew out of a culture of oppression.  It places high value on not just individual repentance but on creation of a new community with structures that promise justice and wholeness for all.  In Africa and Asia there is strong emphasis on issues of poverty and racism, and Australian aboriginal theology grapples with concerns about displacement from their native lands.

God’s family is drawn from every culture and tribe  and nation.   In this coming decade we will need to recognize that all of us are on a journey together learning to understand and walk together in partnership with our sisters and brothers from around the world.  When we know we are all part of God’s family, we will willingly seek for understanding, reconciliation and new ways of sharing life so that we all become one as God intended.


Boundary Breaking Books

Thanksgiving and Christmas are fast approaching and there is much to do & much that I want to say over this next week.  One thing I realized is that I have not blogged much about the books that I am reading at the moment, partly because there are so many that I get a little behind with writing them up.  However I realize that this is the time that most of us are putting together our Christmas lists (unless you are determined to make this a buy nothing Christmas)  so I thought I would give you my suggestions.

The approach of Christmas seems a good time however to reflect on some the boundary breaking books that I am reading – those books that push my thinking outside the boundaries of the usual ways I think about faith

Top of the list is The Boundary Breaking God: An Unfolding Story of Hope and Promise, by Danielle Shroyer.  I think that this is a must read for all of us who are grappling with what it really means to be a follower of Christ in today’s world.  God’s people were always those being pushed to the margins – the outsiders who are moving towards an unknown yet hopeful future.  I love the way that Danielle stretches our thinking beyond the familiar ways of interpreting bible stories.

I love her telling of the story of the Magi – “these very un-Jewish, pagan astrologers” far from home yet acknowledging Christ as king.  Danielle’s comments seem very appropriate at this season.

“Though God’s activity in the world began with one family, Jesus’ kingship begins with one world.  Christ’s birth marks the beginning of the promised Kingdom of God on earth.  And that Kingdom as we see in Epiphany reaches far beyond Jerusalem.

From the very beginning of jesus life on earth, God makes it clear this Messiah is going to muddy the lines between who is in and who is out.  The story of the astrologers is the story of God’s expanding love from the viewpoint of the unexpected outsiders.

The second book I want to recommend is a new bible that arrived in the mail a few days ago.  It is called Mosaic and combines the New Living Translation with reflections for the seasons of the church year.  Tyndale has drawn together authors from a rich array of backgrounds and cultures to share reflections, poetry and art.  The trouble is that I wanted to read all the reflections on the first day.

I love the New Living Translation – it is very readable but as a translation not a paraphrase which is great.  I also love that proceeds from the bible go to support the work of Wycliffe Bible Translators.  So again this is a gift that I would heartily recommend – and with that feel good sense that you are doing something to spread the word of God into other cultures too.

The third book I want to recommend is one that I actually have not read as yet (I am expecting to receive a review copy in the next couple of days).  It is Samir Selmanovic’s: It’s Really All About God: Reflections of a Muslim Atheist Jewish Christian. Even the title is enough to make my mouth water. I will probably blog more about this after I get into the book but here are some reviews that are definitely enticing me to want more.

His aim is to embrace the diversities and even the mutually exclusive mysteries of the three Abrahamic faiths and atheism to gain a new perspective that is not about ourselves but about God.  Read the entire review here

Through his personal stories and engagement with the stories of  Christians, Muslims, Pagans, Atheists and more, author Samir Selmanovic points the way to a life with God and each other that is bigger and better than most of us have ever dared to dream.  Read the entire review

Cultural Protocols as Spiritual Practice

Today’s post comes to us from Hannah Haiu in New Zealand.  Hannah comes from Maori and Irish heritage.  She works with iEmergence iEmergence which was conceived as a way for indigenous youth/young adults and their families to engage in culturally appropriate holistic transformational development opportunities while training next generation leaders.  I had the privilege of meeting Hannah, her husband Leon and their three children recently at the NAIITS symposium in Langley BC.  At the end of her post I have included a performance of a traditional Maori haka.


More than just smoke – Cultural protocols as spiritual practice

I’ve been wondering about God lately – Where is He?  And what can I learn about Who He is from where I find Him?  I’ve been intentional about ‘going deeper’ into the places I go, with the people I meet, the moments I experience.  This means I have to admit ignorance and ask questions, which in itself could be described as a spiritual experience – dying to oneself in the quest for Truth.

There is a deep longing in my soul to remove my woefully narrow and constricting cultural blinders, that I may recognise Jesus in other people, their places and in their ways of being – ways of spirituality that are new to me.

When a Hawaiian woman dances the Hula, the Grace of God moves in her; when Maori men and women do a Haka, the fearless strength of His spirit commands; when the smoke rises and the aroma of Sage permeates when a First Nation’s person of North America does a Smudge, he or she is ushered into a place of solemnity and meditation with our Creator.  And it goes on…

God has embedded himself in culture and in creation. I just need to learn to recognise Him where He is; recognise that in my primitive humanity, God is so much more glorious, creative and beyond my thinking than I could ever begin to imagine.

Many indigenous cultural protocols are a means to connect with and worship the same Creator that Western folk seek to connect with and worship through their Sunday Church programmes.  It isn’t a matter of either/or, it’s both/and.

The Psalmist said, ‘The Heavens declare his majesty” – a declaration which resounds with indigenous people the world over.  There is no concept of ownership of land, plant or creature – we are all created by God.  Therefore, respect and honour of the Creator and the created is embedded in cultural protocol – prayer, song, thanksgiving, as we all participate with Him in His creation.

Part of my journey of recognising Jesus where He is, is also learning what He is not.  I’m not an academic person, and I view the gospel through a rather simplistic lens. 1 Corinthians gives us a clear description of what love is, and even states that God IS love.  And if God is also truth, then where there is love and where there is truth, there is God.

So, when a Lakota or Blackfoot or Cree man plays his drum and sings his song to the Creator in his language, he is using the treasures given and inspired by God as an offering back to Him.  It is an expression of worship.  God is there.  When we use traditional knowledge passed down over generations for the cultivation of plants and their application for medicinal purposes, we honour the One who created the plants with those medicinal properties.  God is in it.  Carvings on a Maori Meeting house and Ta Moko (traditional Maori tattoos) serve to remind us of our ancestors, where we have come from, who we are, much like photographs or a family tree.  We honour God in remembering our history, and who He created us to be.

What a frightening privilege it is to be on this intimate journey of the world outside my own; to perhaps learn more of our Creator, more of His design and His intentions through others and their ways of being; to face my own narrow-mindedness and cultural arrogance.  The more I explore, revel in and grapple with the incredible creativity of our Creator and His expressions of love for us, the more I realise that there is so much more that He delights in than what we are aware of.  And personally, I want to see it and share in His delight.  To Jesus, I’m sure, that this is all so much more than smoke.

Challenged and Provoked


Tom & Eliacin and I are just back from the Native American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies Symposium in Langley BC.  Ostensibly we were there to speak but in reality we had far more to learn than we had to teach.

It was one of the most challenging and eye opening conferences that I have been to for a long time.  Saddest of all many Native American Christians feel abused and alienated from the white church which has practiced a theological colonialism.  By that I mean that because of their Euro-centric worldview, white Christians have basically told Native Americans that to become Christian they must become like their western sisters and brothers.  White Christians present the gospel as though it can only be interpreted in the midst of western culture.  Integrating faith with Native American culture is seen as synchretistic.  Integration with the materialism and consumerism of western culture is interpreted as God’s blessing.  However as Richard Twiss from the Lakota/Sioux Tribe commented

Jesus was God and Jesus was human.  Jesus is the vine and we are the branches.  Our life comes from him and we are to be conformed to his likeness and image.  In Genesis we are created in the “likeness and image of God”.  We are not created to become Jewish even though Jesus was jewish.  We are created to be fully Christ-like and fully human – whatever that human identity might be.  Because of Jesus, I can be fully Christ-like and fully Lakota, not as compromised previously incompatible realities.  Western dualism makes us see these realities as simply at odds, but diametrically opposed.  To be fully human is to fulfill who God has intended, created us to be.  For community to occur we must fully embrace our humanity as gifts, not to the exclusion of others, but as empowering us to love others in their unique humanity.  

As I listened to First Nation’s people from Canada and the US share their stories of struggle with a world that has abused, disinherited and denied them basic human rights, I was challenged at many levels.  

First there was the need for me to grapple with the fact that though I may not have directly alienated native peoples, my very ignorance of their plight has shown my indifference to their struggles.  My position as part of the dominant white European culture is a direct benefit of the domination and abuse of native peoples.  the asking of forgiveness and the need for restitution are obvious but I am not sure what that can look like for me

Second I struggled with how to be supportive and enter into the struggles of their life journeys without adding to the hurt and misunderstanding or worse still expressing the same paternalism and domination that has always been the white response.  Neither do I want to react like so many of my American friends for whom friendships are disposable, being more geared to instant gratification than to long term mutually supportive relationship.  I realize my need to just sit and listen to my sisters and brothers and to make sure that I create opportunities or respond to invitations to interact and learn.

I particularly enjoyed Jeanine Lowe LeBlanc’s paper on Indigenous Hospitality.  I was profoundly challenged by her provokative comment:

In a world that often experiences fragmentation and individualism, hospitality and welcoming the Other, may seem to have been lost forever.  However, indigenous peoples have been practicing (and living lives of) hospitality and welcome for many years.  Consequently, practices of indigenous hospitality and welcome provide an excellent model of a community for whom hospitality and welcome are integral.  

This was a great gathering to be a part of and I would heartily recommend the next gathering to be held at George Fox University June 10 – 12th or what should be an even more exciting gathering January 2011 in New Zealand – the International Gathering of Indigenous Peoples.

What Shapes Your Spirituality?


African Village scene

African Village scene



Last week I wrote a post on New Realities Shaping Spirituality in the 21st Century.  Since then I have been thinking a lot about the forces that shape spirituality for all of us in this global village in which we live.  These thoughts have been spurred on by the fact that Pentecost is only a few weeks away and the traditional emphasis for that celebration is either the need for peace amongst peoples or the multicultural nature of the kingdom of God.

I was not only thinking about is the forces that shape spirituality in general but the specific forces that shape spirituality for each of us as individuals.  After all it is these forces that determine how we interact with others both in and outside the kingdom of God and how we interact with our world.  

What has shaped my spirituality I was wondering?

Many of the forces are ones that you are already aware of – forces that shape all of us and the ways that we practice our faith – the families and neighbourhoods we grow up, our culture and how much we interact with people of other cultures, our education and the faith traditions or lack there of in which we grow up.  As well as that the life experiences we have had continue to shape and mold our views of faith and our spiritual practices.  However there are other forces too that shape our spirituality that we may think less about.  Here are some of the ones that I am most aware of in my life.     

  1. I often tell people that my theology was shaped in the refugee camps in Thailand.  The 2 short months that I spent on the Thai Cambodian in the mid 1980s had a huge impact on my view of the poor and my responsibility to people at the margins .  However it was only as I was thinking about the shaping of faith this week that it occurred to me that my acquiring Chronic Fatigue Syndrome which resulted in me leaving Mercy Ships was just as strong a shaping factor.  It was this experience that made me ask the question “How did Jesus spend his time on earth?” which started me looking at spiritual rhythms and the need for both balance and sustainability in my life.  It is this that has shaped my desire to be a part of a community in which spiritual disciples and the rhythm of morning and evening prayer is practiced.
  2. Living as an Australian in an American context after having worked with the poor in Africa, Asia and South America is another experience that has had a huge impact on the shaping my Christian faith.  I constantly struggle with the wealth of most Western Christians and the indifference to the plight of sisters and brothers in other parts of the world.  How would God have us live? is the question I continue to grapple with out of this struggle.  It has resulted in my work on shalom as well as my continued desire to raise issues of poverty, inequality and oppression to those who live comfortable lives. 
  3. Living in community with sisters and brothers from around the world as I did on board the Mercy Ship Anastasis and now in a much smaller community here in Seattle continues to mold and shape me.  Recognizing that God comes to us in community and that we cannot fully represent God unless we are involved in community is both a challenge and an encouragement to me   
  4. Reading books from a broad array of faith perspectives and viewpoints also continues to impact my faith.   I am constantly on the lookout for books that stretch my understanding of God and God’s purposes for those of us who follower Christ.  I hunger for a deeper understanding of God that I recognize more and more can only come through the eyes of those who see God differently than do.  
  5. Working in the garden.  As most of you who read my blog regularly know this is one experience that continues to grow and nurture my faith.  The gospels are coming alive for me in new ways as I interact with the story of God as it is revealed in the garden.    

So what are the forces that shape your spirituality?  I think it would be great to carry on a conversation about this so that we can become more aware of how we are all shaped by forces both within ourselves and in the world around us.  Would you be interested in participating in a synchroblog on this topic?  Who else would you like to hear from in this?

New Realities Shaping 21st Century Spirituality


OMSC students 2009

OMSC students 2009

I am currently in New Haven Connecticut teaching  a course on spiritual renewal at the Overseas Ministries Study Center.  This is one of the most stimulating courses that I am involved in.  I always feel that I am spiritually renewed by the students rather than providing them with spiritual renewal.   There are several reasons for this.

First the students come from all over the world – India, Myanmar, Korea, China, Philippines, Uganda, Nigeria, Madagascar, and Japan.  Many of them work in very challenging ministry situations in which they face challenges of injustice, oppression and deprivation that most of us will never experience.  In the midst of this their zeal for the gospel is incredible.  The challenges of their lives have taught them to rely on God in ways that those of us who live in comfortable circumstances will never know.  Their stories challenge and strengthen my faith in many ways.

As well as that I am constantly learning from the perspectives of my colleague Stanley Green, head of Mennonite Mission Network who co teaches this course with me.  Because of his rich international experience Stanley shares perspectives on spirituality and the challenges we face both now and in the future that I rarely hear addressed in conferences or books on spirituality here in the US.  

Yesterday Stanley talked about the new realities that are shaping spirituality in the 21st century, realities that are present in all our communities but which we often ignore in our spiritual practices and interactions with others.   

  1. the challenges of urbanization, 
  2. the need for reconciliation in a society and a world that manifests ongoing and escalating violence and conflict
  3. the challenge of immigration and migration that requires us to embrace pilgrim identities and respond to the encounter of Christ in others who are very different from ourselves.
  4. the growing struggle for many people to express Christ in their own ethnic context.   

I found myself struggling with new questions in the midst of this.  What shape should spirituality take in our highly mobile and ethnically diverse world?  How do we develop appropriate spirituality that acknowledges our mobility, impermanence, vulnerability, strangeness and cultural nomadism yet still live incarnationally in all contexts?  How do we maintain the flexibility on our own spiritual lives to constantly be open to learn and change yet at the same time be anchored in ways that provide stability and strength in our relationship to God?

Part of what I realized is that spiritual renewal in our current world might mean a total change of perspective.  As Stanley pointed out this means recognizing that every person is made in the image of God and is gifted to enrich our lives.  It means looking for the presence of God and listening to the voice of God in others rather than thinking we are called to be the presence and voice of God.

I was particularly challenged by this quote from Anthony Gittins

for if we go in the name of the Lord, yet hope to find God in the lives of others rather than pressure to bring God to godless people and places we must, like Jesus become all things to all people and that for me means our appropriating and developing a variety of ways of being in the world and with God – in short a variety of appropriate spiritualities to sustain us.  

   As I listened to this presentation I was challenged again by my need to be constantly open to listen and learn recognizing that God is always at work creating new expressions of faith and worship.  Every encounter with another person is an encounter with someone who thinks differently about God and faith – even those who look the same as we do and attend the same church that we do don’t see God in exactly the same way that we do.  And that means that all of us need to be aware of these new realities and of the fact that they are shaping spirituality for all of us – whether we live and work in an obviously cross cultural community or not.  

What do you think?  How are the new realities of our richly multicultural world shaping your spirituality?  What practices provide you with flexibility to change and grow as you interact with others who think very differently from you?  What practices provide stability and strength in the midst of these constantly changing realities?   


Wherever the gospel encounters culture there are three things that happen

Plurality 2.0

This morning I had the privilege of writing a guest post for Adam Walker Cleveland for his blog series Plurality 2.0   He has a great list of bloggers signed up for the series so you might like to follow along 

April 1: C. Wess Daniels / Plurality 2.0 post
April 2: Christine Sine
April 3: Melissa DeRosia
April 6: Ryan Kemp-Pappan
April 8: Julie Clawson
April 10: Adam Copeland
April 15: Tony Hoshaw
April 17: Makeesha Fisher
April 20: Matt Heerema
April 22: John O’Hara
April 24: Dr. Philip Clayton
April 27: Carol Howard Merritt
April 29: Matthew Walker
May 1: Nanette Sawyer
May 4: Doug Pagitt
May 6: Katie Harris
May 8: Jeremy Zach
May 11: Natalie Stadnick
May 13: John Franke
May 15: Kelly Bean
May 18: Seth Thomas
May 20: Marci Glass
May 22: Brian Merritt
May 25: Sarah Walker Cleaveland
May 27: Landon Whitsitt
May 28: Darleen Pryds
May 29: Brian McLaren

Last Week of Lent – A Journey Into the Brokenness of God’s Family


Ray Dirk, CMU Chapel painting, Winnipeg Manitoba, Used by permission

Ray Dirk, CMU Chapel painting, Winnipeg Manitoba, Used by permission


We are now moving into the last full week of Lent.  Next Sunday is Palm Sunday which begins Holy Week, and though Lent does not officially end until the following Thursday for many of us Holy week has its own specific emphasis.  

First here are JR Woodward’s excellent reflections on the fourth week of Lent and the Brokenness of Creation 

And for those that are following the journey here on my blog here are some thoughts from the fifth week of lent which focuses on the brokenness of God’s family


“Americans by and large work together, shop together, and play together, but they do not worship together. If we are at our core spiritual, then the fact that we seem unable and unwilling to relate to one another elbow-to-elbow in the pews of the local congregation reveals how fragile the integrity of the church is.”  (Jin Kim A Pentecostal Vision for the Church)

It has been said that Sunday morning is the most segregated time in our Christian life. We are segregated by race, age, economic class, denominational affiliation, and theological perspectives. We gravitate towards those who think and worship in the same way we do. Often, instead of living together in unity and love, we are separated by prejudice and intolerance.

Yet the golden rule of Christianity, what James calls “the royal law,” is “love your neighbor as you do yourself.” At a recent conference, Pakistani theologian Charles Amjad Ali reminded us that we are all prejudiced. What changes in dialogue with others is the focus of our prejudice. He then challenged us to consider, “Can we be prejudiced towards justice, equality, and respect, or do we always live primarily with the prejudices of exclusion?”

God is much bigger than our culturally bound viewpoint. All people are created in God’s image and worthy of being treated with respect and understanding. I do not believe that we will fully understand who God is or appreciate the incredible sacrifice of Christ on the Cross until we learn to see these events through the eyes of others who come from very different viewpoints than our own. And in the process together with our sisters and brothers from all over the world, we too will find the healing and wholeness that we so desperately need.  

Welcome to the New Majority Future

Check out the latest MSA Seed Sampler – Welcome to the New Majority Future

It is difficult for many white people to admit their privilege and dominance in society, especially American society. It is a sensitive topic, discussions of which at any great length can lead to hurt feelings, defensiveness, and resentment.  Read more

New Monasticism and White Privilege

Here is an interesting article that my good friend Eliacin contributed to the God’s Politics discussion on new monasticism and white privilege. 

It is not by chance that it is hard to find people of color as prominent figures in spreading the vibes of New Monasticism through books, conferences, and new media. This also true of many other new emerging expressions of contemporary Christianity.

Read the entire article