Monthly Archives: July 2011

Stay Classy, part I

I had the privilege this past weekend to lead worship at a local church here in Cleveland that I had previously visited as a part of my research for my master’s thesis.  It was a blast, what an encouraging group of people!  The preacher there, Chip Freed, is one my favorite local preachers.  He has a very unique way of preaching that is at once exegetical, relevant, comical, anointed, and told in such a way that it seems like one long story.

This most recent sermon was based on a text I have read and studied many times, Acts 16:11 and following.  This text covers the conversion of Lydia, the Philippian jailer, and a slave girl who was demon-possessed.  The way that Chip approached this text was both powerful and thought-provoking for me.  In an almost inductive way, the real PUNCH of the sermon came at the end, along with an “Aha!” moment.

Paul, once of the strictest orders of Jews, would have said an interesting prayer every morning, the same one that some Jewish men still say today: “Blessed are you, (Yahweh), King of the Universe, for not having made me a Gentile.  Blessed are you, (Yahweh), King of the Universe, for not having made me a slave.  Blessed are you, (Yahweh), King of the Universe, for not having made me a woman.”  Try saying that at your church this weekend!

Did you notice something, though?  Who does Luke (the writer of Acts) highlight as the first three conversions in Philippi?  Oh snap!  A woman, a Gentile, and a slave!!!!  Take THAT religious leaders of the first century!!

And then it hit me.  What was God doing there?  I never like to assume that I know what God was doing (you know what assuming does), but if you take another look at those accounts, it looks an awful lot like God is trying to tell us something.  He took the three lowest of the low classes of that time (to the Jews), and brought them before Paul in Philippi as his first converts.  What’s more, God extended grace to them each in a different way, as if He actually cares about each person individually and knows how they might respond best to His love and good news.

So going back to it hitting me.  Why did it get me so?  I started to think, “Hey, who do I thank God that I am not?”  Of course, we may not actually pray prayers like that (or we might, you never know).  But you know you think it.  I think it.  We think it.  Maybe it may go something like this in the American church today: “Blessed are you, God, King of the Universe, for not having made me…a homosexual…a person on welfare…an illegal immigrant…(you fill in the blank.”

Ouch.  Are we really that far removed from the first century?  I read a great article in the Forum section of Cleveland’s paper, The Plain Dealer, a few Sundays ago.  It was an article by a very educated, bright, African-American man about what the state of racism is today in America.  He started with the feel-good stuff, pointing out how far we’ve come in overcoming black-white racism in most of the country, and how the glass ceiling for blacks has all but shattered with Obama being president, and so on.

But then he points out the elephant in the room.  We may have all but put racism as we knew it to death, but classism is alive and well my friends.  Well-to-do blacks and other minorities may be accepted, but not our inner-city poor black brothers.  The same might be said for “white trash,” “illegal immigrants,” and you get the point.  We still play the class game 2000 years after Acts 16 was written.

This article was written from a non-believing perspective, but we as the Church (see the big C there?) should be on the cutting edge of accepting everyone no matter who they are.

Who do we play the “class” game with?  I’m ashamed at my answers…how about you?

More to come in part II…

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Community?

Community.

Community is one of the watchwords for the postmodern generation, something that everyone talks about and no one seems to have and everyone is seeking.

Community is the reason I am taking a hiatus from Facebook, that infamous online “community.”  Now that may sound counterintuitive, but let me explain…

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the ways in which the makeup of our city or town can influence what kind of community we experience (or don’t experience).  This mostly stems from my recent dabbling into a philosophy called “new urbanism,” which really isn’t that new at all.  It basically describes how cities generally lend themselves more to authentic community than, say, sprawling suburbs or exurbs.  I won’t bore you with more of those details, but suffice it to say it has piqued my interest, especially since our work right now is primarily a city-reaching movement of church planting.

East 4th Street in the CLE, a great place to hang out with real, live humans

So, I started thinking past our physical communities to the recent phenomenon of social media, especially myspace, facebook, twitter, etc.  If you have seen the recent movie about how Facebook’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, you have discovered that the onset of social media was largely caused by a relative inability of some people to successfully interact with human beings face to face.  Social media was basically birthed as a way to “simulate” community, if you will.

I wonder, though…does it really do the opposite?  I think for most people (not all), social media has allowed them to create a secondary identity.  Think about it: you create your own reality.  You control what people see about you.  Heck, you can even lie about it if you wanted!  Not only that, but have you noticed that people typically are WAY more “free” with what they say to other people on facebook?  I’m not sure these people would say the same things in real life if staring in the eyes of that person.  There’s no real accountability because it’s not a real interaction.  We’re not putting the real “us” out there, just a different version, like we are wearing a digital mask.

I also was struck by how often I had interactions with people on facebook who live in the very same community, same city, same neighborhood as I do.  I pictured myself and the other person sitting in our houses on our computers typing out messages to each other – from one street away!  I literally laughed out loud and thought, “How silly is this?”

So I made a decision.  I decided that online community wasn’t really cutting it anymore.  I decided, for better or worse, to step away from facebook, get up out of my chair, get out, and be more intentional about meeting with people face to face.  You know, people who live in the same community I do.  Crazy, I know, but I can’t begin to tell you how fun it is to talk to people.  A person.  Face to face.  I’m a fairly outgoing person anyway, so it’s been that much more fun for me.

Understand, I’m not here to “judge” facebook or people using it.  Facebook has a ton of good aspects and potential for good.  Someday I’ll probably get back on and rejoin the fun.

But in the meantime, I’m having way too much fun getting together with people face to face.

So I’m not saying everyone needs to get off facebook, but I am saying that every now and then, you should put down that bag of chips, close the laptop, head out the door of your choice, and go talk to someone.  Like a neighbor, friend, relative, or heck, even someone you don’t like.

That’s the beginning of community.

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Why Third Culture City

So what’s in a name?

You might be wondering why I chose “Third Culture City” for the name of this blog.  If you weren’t wondering…then I guess you’ll have to suffer through this post or skip it!

You may or may not know that I am currently working with another new church plant in Cleveland called Forest City Church.  J and I felt that Forest City is a great fit for us in many ways, but for me the most intriguing aspect was MJ’s vision for the Arts Ministry at Forest City, specifically the music. Forest City is focused on reaching the Shaker Square neighborhood of Cleveland, which is an extremely diverse part of this city in every way.  I use the term “diversity” instead of “multiethnic” because it is also diverse in socio-economic status and overall culture.  The Shaker Square area includes artists, young professionals, college students (Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland Institute of Music, Cleveland Institute of Art), people in systemic poverty, and people living as top .01% earners in this country.  Yes, I meant to type .01%.  Because of the demographics of Shaker Square, the Arts/Music at Forest City will naturally need to be some sort of jumble of styles to reach an extremely diverse community.

While I was transitioning from Velocity to Forest City and thinking about what this might look like, I started work on my master’s thesis for Lincoln Christian Seminary.  After wresting for three years thinking, “What could I possibly write on that would take up nearly 100 pages?” I decided to dive head first into the world of diverse, urban corporate worship (what happens on Sundays).  My first title, though amazingly awesome, was a little bit cumbersome: “Creatively Communicating the Gospel in Corporate Worship in a Diverse, Urban Setting.”  Doesn’t THAT make you want to curl up by the fire in an easy chair and…fall asleep?

Nevertheless, “they” (whoever “they” are) say that the last part in the thesis writing process is choosing a title.  So, I put my head down and steamrolled forward.  The more I wrote/studied/researched, the more passionate I became about diverse peoples worshiping together on Sunday morning, especially in the CLE.  That’s when I came across this sentence in one of the books I was reading for research: “Why not try to hit as many cultures as you can or even try to develop something new – something that we call a ‘third culture sound.'” – Nikki Lerner, “Multicultural Worship,” in Multicultural Ministry Handbook, 97.

There’s obviously a much larger context to that statement, but it’s hard to understate the impact that sentence had on me.  As I visited churches around Northeast Ohio for research, and as I read books about “diverse worship,” it became clear that A) there aren’t many churches doing this, and B) most of the time churches just pick a particular culture’s style and sit on it.  I just had this gut feeling that “there must be another way…”  I knew as soon as I read that sentence that the “third culture sound” was for us at Forest City.

The third culture represents another way; in this case, specifically dealing with diversity in corporate worship.  Are we that un-creative that we need to settle for what we hear on the radio or at the closest megachurch?  The third culture represents an approach that isn’t particular to any ONE culture.  Yet, at the same time, it is unique to the makeup of ONE particular body of believers (in my instance, Forest City).  We will seek to incorporate elements of gospel, jazz, hip-hop, rock, classical, and whatever else reflects our body of believers.  Churches in diverse, urban settings need a third culture sound.  Does your church need a third culture sound?

So why did I pick Third Culture City and not Third Culture Sound?  Easy.  Third Culture Sound was already taken! 😉  I did pick city, however, because I am convinced that God is calling cities to develop a third culture for their context.  As we move forward in time, one culture sounds will become obsolete.  I am praying/listening/seeking a third culture sound for Forest City, and for Cleveland.  The journey is beginning, and it should prove to be an exhilarating ride.  God is up to something in Cleveland.

Welcome to the Third Culture City.

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