Grace Emerges

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Chap. 1, "A Moderate Wall" Blogbook

A Moderate Wall

a blogbook by Brad Duncan

Chapter 1

Hello Church

Hello.  Hello Church.  Hello Christians, like me, in the mainstream protestant culture of Western civilization.  I hope that description is specific enough to let you know the target audience, and to let you know that I can use the word "we" when I am talking to people that can relate to me, and to the Christian culture I am referring to.  Definitely a big umbrella, but given the huge array of denominational and non-denominational Protestant churches that believe in Jesus and the Bible, I think you know who YOU are - who WE are.  We are also called the Church, for our part, but certainly not the entire Church (including Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox, etc.), which spans the globe, crosses all cultures, and must include the past, present and future Christians of this world.  So, Hello Church, as WE see it through our own cultural and historical lens.  Maybe what I describe applies to other branches of the Church, but due to my own limited perspective I really don't know.

In short chapters of what I will call a "blogbook" I want to write for my fellow Christians on this journey, to describe something that I have come to see.  Something of a wall.  I call it the Moderate Wall.  It is the thing we have built out of our belief system and traditions.  It certainly serves some good purposes.  It makes us what we are.  It circles us and surrounds us, helping us to identify with one another, helping us to form the Church that we belong to.  Without it (so it seems) the Church would be gone.  I would like to take a close look at this wall.  What is it made of?  What is its purpose?

Aah, there's the word.  Purpose.  Without purpose, we don't have an identity, do we?  And yet with a misguided purpose we could waste what precious time, energy and resources that we have in this world.  That is why I am writing.  The Moderate Wall defines us, but it also misleads us.  It guides us into a purpose of building walls.  And that's not much of a purpose at all.  Even worse, other things that we try to do and need to do are constrained by the very wall that we've built.  I would like to show us all this wall, so we can decide what to do about it.  And I would like to explore the idea of a Church with a different purpose than wall-building.  I would like to explore why the wall is there in the first place, and what could be built instead that could better serve the purpose of the Church.

Can the Church exist without its wall?  Can it find a new purpose other than building walls?  Can it function better without a wall than with one?  Can something else be built that gives us new direction and new purpose?  Explore these questions with me in this blog-based journey.

But First a Parable

To setup the metaphor and complete this chapter, consider this weak attempt at a parable. If you don't like it or can see holes in the plot, then no, I really won't be offended.  See if it makes sense to you:

The Parable of the Golden Bricks (by me)
In the land of Urt there was a kingdom called Kog.  The people of Kog were at times kind and gracious, and sought to do right, building their kingdom into a place of peace and wholeness.  A place where children could grow up nourished.  A place where everyone had their place.  But like all people, the people of Kog also struggled in every imaginable way.  They were threatened by corruption from within and without.  They were shaking and afraid, and their fragile kingdom was on the precipice of collapse.  
God came to these folks of Kog, and gave them a gift of golden bricks to properly build their kingdom.  Each brick, made of heavenly material that was impregnable, was bestowed with the beauty of God, and carried something of the goodness of his character.  They represented everything good and strong that could be used to build the kingdom of Kog.  
The rulers of Kog met to decide what to build with these golden bricks, and how to use them to save their kingdom from collapse.  They decided to build a strong tower to show the beauty of the bricks so that they could be seen throughout all of Urt.  They formed bricks of rock and clay from the land of Urt, and built them into the base of a mighty tower.  The golden bricks were used to finish the tower, taking it to a mighty point high up in the air.  This tower became the greatest symbol in Urt of all that is good and strong.
But while the kingdom of Kog did prosper with their new tower, all that was good and beautiful did not.  The tower brought power.  The rulers of Kog became strong and wealthy.  They became hungry for their own power.  By control of the rest of the people who worked the land they made themselves more and more rich.  By building armies they took control of all of Urt.
But in time, the armies and the workers failed, and the wealthy rulers could not hold on to the power they had longed for.  After some time, the mighty tower of Kog was toppled by wars and battles.  The golden bricks lay in piles of rubble.  The bricks of rock and clay from the land of Urt lay next to them.
After some time had passed, the people rose up to reclaim their kingdom.  Seeing the fallacy of their past efforts, they sought to build something that would truly make Kog a place of beauty and peace, rather than a place where leaders could rise up to become tyrants.  They decided to build a wall.  They circled Kog with a wall made of the bricks of rock and clay,  They
interspersed the golden bricks to add strength to the wall, and to surround their kingdom with the goodness of God who had provided the bricks. The wall represented all that was good and strong.  The wall protected the kingdom, bringing order, and allowed the people inside to find peace and happiness.
The kingdom of Kog prospered again with its new wall.  Other people of Urt would visit and marvel at it.  Families and communities thrived in Kog.  The rulers and government were able to lead the people without resorting to tyranny and control.  Kog was a place of freedom and order.  The wall became of fortress of strength for the people for many years.
But eventually the wall failed, and the kingdom failed.  The wall did not prevent the main two problems that plagued the kingdom of Kog, corruption within and without.  Inside the wall, turmoil and conflict led to disputes over how to keep the freedom and order in the kingdom.  Outside the wall, other kingdoms rallied from time to time and waged war on Kog.  The kingdom was besieged, and plagued from within.  Eventually the wall was toppled by wars and battles.
After a long and very dark time, new hope arose.  The people of Kog once again rose up to build their kingdom.  They found the golden bricks among the rubble with the bricks of rock and clay.  They had an idea.  Instead of building a tower or a fortress, what would happen to their kingdom if they built the bricks into a symbol of peace instead?  Since any tower or fortress was doomed to eventually collapse when attacked by enemies, why not resist the problem at its core - why not create peace instead of enemies?  How much more could the people of Kog prosper if they used all the strength and beauty of the golden bricks to try to achieve this?  Certainly, what harm could come from it?  Certainly, the failed experiences of the tower and the wall showed that something different should be done.
So the people built a bridge out of the golden bricks.  The bridge rose over the piles of rubble left from the bricks of rock and clay.  The bridge connected the kingdom of Kog to the world outside.  The bridge was a symbol of peace as well as strength.  It welcomed the people of Urt to visit the kingdom of Kog.  And come they did.  And they brought all kinds of treasure to Kog and helped build it into the most majestic kingdom the people could have imagined.  What's more, the people of Urt invited the people of Kog to come out of their kingdom and visit other kingdoms throughout the land of Urt.  When they did, they found something amazing.  In many places, they found other symbols of peace, like bridges, roads and welcoming statues, and they were all built out of golden bricks!  They realized that the kingdom of Kog had in a way spread to all of Urt, and it was a land of peace.
The End.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Peaceful Religion

by Brad Duncan

Is it any wonder that the church became a place of resisting the "other?"  In both the Industrial age and the Modern age the world was a scary place.  It still is, no doubt.  Modernization of the Western world was a rocky and volatile process.  Is it any wonder that our current culture is so shaped by fear of tyrants and empires, fear of power? Fear that the world would obliterate itself.  

Even though the Restoration Movement created an autonomous movement in opposition to the powerful church structures of its day, is it any wonder that in the Modern Age, the Age of Ideas and Order, that  this new church also became a place of ideological strength, of uniformity and exclusion, and ultimately a place of control? It is human nature to try to control the chaos around us.  To fight control with control.  Is it any wonder that we reacted to all the chaos by creating a system of power and control out of religious ideals?

But control is not peaceful.  The New Restoration should break down the walls of hostility to create a place of embracing the "other".  The New Restoration should create a Peaceful Religion.  Christianity that embraces the freedom that comes from serving Christ and from living by his words.  Freedom that believes in these principles so strongly that it partners with others who embrace peace, no matter what faith they may or may not have.  Freedom that comforts sinners instead of condemning them.  Freedom that brings water and education to remote villages.  Freedom that refreshes the inner cities and liberates the enslaved.  Faith based on principle and action, but not control, not fear of power and tyrants.  We need to topple tyranny, but not with another structure of tyranny.  We need to topple tyranny with Freedom.  We must bring this Freedom to the masses.

Truly the words of an idealist, I know!  But consider the ministry of John the Baptist in Luke 3.  Can we follow in John's footsteps and prepare the way for the Freedom that comes from Christ?

1-6 In the fifteenth year of the rule of Caesar Tiberius— ...—John, Zachariah’s son, out in the desert at the time, received a message from God. He went all through the country around the Jordan River preaching a baptism of life-change leading to forgiveness of sins, as described in the words of Isaiah the prophet:
Thunder in the desert!
“Prepare God’s arrival!
Make the road smooth and straight!
Every ditch will be filled in,
Every bump smoothed out,
The detours straightened out,
All the ruts paved over.
Everyone will be there to see
The parade of God’s salvation.”

Monday, November 19, 2012

Swords into Shovels

by Brad Duncan

Sometimes I feel optimistic.  This is one of those times.  We can re-frame the doctrines we were taught to use as weapons, and instead use them as instruments of peace and healing.  Back to the intended message of hope.  Back to the good that comes from God.  It's time to end the elitism and hostility that we somehow derive from our faith.  That kind of faith WILL NOT save us.  However, the kind of faith that leads to peace and healing WILL save us day by day.

Isaiah 2: 1-5 The Message Isaiah got regarding Judah and Jerusalem:

There’s a day coming
    when the mountain of God’s House
Will be The Mountain—
    solid, towering over all mountains.
All nations will river toward it,
    people from all over set out for it.
They’ll say, “Come,
    let’s climb God’s Mountain,
    go to the House of the God of Jacob.
He’ll show us the way he works
    so we can live the way we’re made.”
Zion’s the source of the revelation.
    God’s Message comes from Jerusalem.
He’ll settle things fairly between nations.
    He’ll make things right between many peoples.
They’ll turn their swords into shovels,
    their spears into hoes.
No more will nation fight nation;
    they won’t play war anymore.
Come, family of Jacob,
    let’s live in the light of God. [The Message, Isaiah 2:1-5] 
 The Swords Into Plowshares Gallery and Peace Center is Southeast Michigan's unique location for peace and justice related art exhibits as well as a location for a number of peace-related events

Sunday, November 11, 2012

)open( missional community

My wife and I are thinking of starting an open missional community in Boston area (Bedford MA). Starting as a home church as long as it fits in our little Cape Cod house, meeting on Sat or Sun nights, and functioning as a co-op of believers trying to make a difference in our community and social justice around the world.

missional community
If you are interested you can email me at or message me at . If you have any advice, experience, encouragement or other resources to bring to bear I would also appreciate it! Could be a scary step for us to take, but very rewarding.

ALL people would be welcome from various backgrounds.  My statement of beliefs are summarized at: but you don't have to agree on beliefs or have any faith at all to feel at home.  The only ground rule will be Grace.

I'll keep you posted as things progress. I would love to kick things off with a Holiday Meet & Greet before Christmas.

Brad Duncan

Inspiring Repentance [updated]

by Brad Duncan

I would like to propose a definition for valid criticism: it should be welcomed by the person receiving it. If they don't thank you for it afterward, your criticism failed. We should choose our words wisely so they have the desired effect.  What good is it to point out another persons sins when they don't want to hear it?

What about spiritual criticism?  Think about it. If our mission is to criticize someone's spiritual values we are working against a very strong defensive mechanism. By labeling sins and pointing to salvation, we are incriminating the person at their core. Calling for complete reversal, by pointing out a person's flawed state. Pointing to God, by saying how displeased he is, and how the person must shape up or else.  To change behavior, we need to inspire the core of the person instead to see things a new way.

Our Christian mission should INDEED call to repentance. But repentance means one thing --> Change. Not misery, but hope!  We can inspire people and lead people to change more effectively by shining light on the good works of God and the good news brought to man, than by criticizing them. God's spirit will do the rest of the work. Inspire people by example, and by showing them the power of working together with God and others to achieve a greater good.

You can pull a rope but you can't push one.  Be a shining example of the change you hope to inspire in others.  Don't push people around hoping to change them.  Use words only if necessary.

Take a look at this interesting passage in 2 Corinthians 2:5-8. It seems that Paul is more interested in the person's response and well-being than in the sin in question. Can we respond more practically when we are offended? Trying to find the road that considers the person more than the offense? Also notice how efficiently and obediently the church chastised this person. Paul is saying "enough already! Now is the time for love. All of this judgment can overwhelm the person being corrected."
Forgive the Person Who Sinned
5 If someone caused distress, I’m not the one really affected. To some extent—although I don’t want to emphasize this too much—it has affected all of you. 6 The majority of you have imposed a severe enough punishment on that person. 7 So now forgive and comfort him. Such distress could overwhelm someone like that if he’s not forgiven and comforted. 8 That is why I urge you to assure him that you love him. [GOD's WORD translation]
How do we inspire repentance using criticism?  It's a tough road fraught with peril...  Maybe we should do nothing about wrongs that are committed?  That's sometimes the better path, but when someone is really getting hurt that leaves us as the accomplice, so that won't do.  No, we need to find a way to successfully criticize when needed, if we want to intelligently defend the powerless and right wrongs.  Would Jesus leave injustice un-addressed?  We need to speak up MORE against injustice, and less against mere differences in opinion on spiritual matters.  Let's invest our words of criticism in things that are important!

Monday, November 5, 2012

On Christ and Christianity

by Brad Duncan

I often ask myself what I'm up to, by writing this blog and keeping up the )open( church FB page.  Is it really doing anything useful?  What's the purpose, etc?  A little bit of existential neurosis is good for you from time to time.  The answer is, I write because it's something I can do, and something I want to do.  I write because I love the Church and want it to be a home for Christians.  But at the same time I want the Church and Christianity itself to change.  Really change.  Repent.  Modify.  Correct.  Be something different.  Cultural shift.  Missional shift.

First I have to say that some churches and denominations are joining me in this cultural and missional shift.  I'm not standing alone in the woods screaming my head off, here.  I'm just joining in the choir.  So, if you're already aligned with this movement of change, we're partners in the change.  I'm writing to help.

One place to find the evolving story of the cultural and missional shift I'm calling for is in the writings of Brian McLaren.  I'm reading this book right now:

Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?: Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World by Brian D. McLaren (Sep 11, 2012) 

So what is the shift?  In short I am (we are) calling for Christianity to address it's mistakes.  Yes mistakes.  Like slavery, colonization, misogyny, racism, religious violence, and genocide, there were times and events in history when wrong actions were considered right, even God-ordained.  Now we understand that these things are wrong.  We understand best when we look at these wrong actions from the eyes of the person and group being harmed.  It is now time that we realize that Christianity is harboring hatred toward outsiders, propagating violence, perpetuating discrimination, and resisting real beneficial change in the world.  Harsh words, I know.  But it's why I write.  It's why I do something.  The society I love, the society of fellow believers, is due for some real repentance.  

Like Martin Luther King, Jr., who called on Christians to stand up for freedom and to oppose racism and violence, I am calling again for Christians to continue the tide of change.  I'm calling for basically one thing: open your arms to the "other".  The Church is Christian society.  It has thrived by loving itself and its own.  But in the process has split the world, deliberately I would say, and based on wrong theology, into "Us" - the good guys, and "Them" - the "other" - the bad guys.  This dichotomy excuses certain behaviors, done in the name of love, but which is visibly harmful to the "other".  McClaren describes this love.  It is the love for our own cause, and standing up for its defense when it is attacked, that causes us to excuse mistreatment of the "other".  In this way, "love" does harm.  It is Christian society shoring itself up and defending itself against the outside world.  It's called isolationism.  Society protecting itself by excluding outsiders and defending against foreign ideas.

What I'm asking the Church to do is both difficult and easy.  Don't abandon culture, religion, traditions and beliefs, unless and except these are in place to protect your own interest.  Open your hearts by liberally applying the teaching of Jesus in a counter cultural, revolutionary way.  Love liberally.  Don't worry about the potential harm to your cohesive society.  Let down your guard against the "other".  By embracing the "other" you will let go of some of the defenses and cohesiveness of safe Christian society.  But you will embrace our true Christian mission to love the world and reach the world with God's kingdom.

What's hard is that the "other" is people of other religions.  Non-Christians, like Muslims, Hindus and Jews.  Like atheists and agnostics.  The rest of the world.  The "other" is also gays, LGBT.  Or democrats ! :) .  Actually, you know quite well who the "other" is, because it's the people that you declare yourself to be different than. "I'm so glad I'm not like them."  You say, or "Don't ever be like that," or "I'll never understand how someone can ...".  We can't see through our own culture to recognize the equally valid cultures of other people.  This blindness is in fact something we all have in common, Christians and non-Christians alike.  It causes the worst kind of crimes and atrocities!

What I'm calling for is a new Church.  One that keeps Christianity.  Keeps Christ.  But lets down its guard.  Lowers the defensive wall.  Opens mind, heart and arms.  Embraces its role in broader society.  Like McClaren, I'm calling for an end to the hostility  

If you still have no clue what in the world I'm talking about, I recommend reading his book.  In the safety and privacy of reading a book, you can ponder whether you are part of the problem, or part of the solution. In fact, if you email me I will BUY you this book, up the first 20 takers :), under the condition that you will discuss it with me.  Together we can change Christianity.  Not throw it out, as some might be calling for, but call it to repentance.  Times have changed.  People change.  Society changes.  Christianity can change too.  

One final appeal: if you think Christianity can't change, because it is based on the Bible and the Bible is static, then look at history.  Christianity has adapted time and time again. It has addressed its previous wrongs.  It has done great good, where previously did harm, especially in the area of racism, for example.  The Church still has a HUGE distance to make up in women's equality, racism, homosexuality, and acceptance of other religions, just to name a few.  It also needs to step up and care about the world we live in.  The kingdom of God is here, now, and we need to take responsibility for it.  As the keepers of the Great Commission, we have an important role to play in bringing the kingdom of God to all people.  We can't just abandon them, in favor of safe Christian society!  Apathy is the worst enemy of love.  We know it.  But we excuse it.  It's time to end the hostility and open our minds, arms and hearts to the "other".  It's time for the )open( church to take shape.