Surprised by Hope

I just got back yesterday from a two day hangout at the National Pastors Convention in San Diego. I journeyed out with Shane Hipps and basically shadowed him at all of his events. It was an amazing time of hanging out with friends and meeting others who I’ve greatly admired.

For some reason that I’m not totally sure of, most of my close friends happen to be pastors. Maybe it’s a coincidence, I’m not sure, but for some reason I really am fascinated by who they are and what they do. Based on my observation it’s hands down the most difficult and demanding job I know of.

My take away from these past few days was that both Rob Bell and Shane Hipps haven’t done nothin’ yet. Watch out! And another theme that really jumped out at me through various conversations and observations that there are two completely different conversations taking place in Christianity today. One version is concerned with defending the religious assumptions rooted in the all important “either/or” duality that blankets American Christianity. The other conversation has already mourned the death of the previous conversation and has turned to page to a completely different set of questions. Maybe I’m terribly wrong, but this conversation is actually interesting and compelling. It is rooted in possibility, not duality.

Witnessing this dialogue in person this week has somehow relieved me of some of my bewilderment and frustration for the other conversation that seems to be losing more of it’s relevance with every tick of the clock.

I went in bracing for major bum out but I return to the desert more optimistic than ever and I must admit, it’s a bit shocking. Not even all the garbage in the conference retail store could bring me down. 😉 Tom Wright’s book title, “Surprised by Hope” comes to mind.


23 thoughts on “Surprised by Hope

  1. I totally agree with your assessment of where the church is at. Some people are caught up in the duality of American Christianity while others have moved on to new, and in my opinion more optimistic inspiring questions of incarnation and how Scripture can be lived out.

  2. I am a big fan of your band but never realized you were spiritual until recently. I think it’s wonderful and refreshing to see and I enjoy your blog very much.
    I have a question for you, as a spiritual person, I find it is often difficult in circle of friends that do not share the same values with you. How do you deal with this within your band? Do they share your sentiments and faith? I am apart of a little garage band..but my band mates are not so supportive.
    Thanks for reading.

    p.s. Did you ever read that Wally Lamb book: The Hour I First Believed ? I finished it last month and it was amazing 🙂

  3. I am reading a book called Metavista right now, and these two quotes ended up in my notes and speak to what you are saying:

    p. 70 In the twenty-first century Christendom is dead – we have only yet to arrange the funeral.
    p. 74 It is one of those ironies of contemporary cultural history that the collapse of Christendom was supposed also to announce the victory of something called secularization.

    Realizing that others are either arranging the funeral or moving on entirely helps. The truth that secularization, being the opposite of christ-centered political policies (or forcing religious behaviors on non-believers), is a myth excites me. It shows that we can live a life fully devoted to Jesus without spending it worrying about other people’s dick moves. That is probably too harsh.

    [one example, and this is obviously too brief: But since I was a kid I have seen millions of dollars spent on ending abortions while no one was talking about loving the guy that walked out on the girl that felt like she then needed to abort the kid. It has been this all out war against hopelessness from a law centered approach rather than a love centered approach.]

    Which in turn illuminates the struggle between hating on the ‘either/or’ crowd as a subtle way of being a new ‘either/or’ ourselves.

    I hope this can be said of the conference: “and they will know you are my followers by the way that you love one another.” But I would still be expecting the major bum out that you speak of. It would have been cool to go, knowing now that it wasn’t the bummer I had anticipated. Thanks for sharing this bit of insight.

  4. “…there are two completely different conversations taking place in Christianity today.” Only two? Come on now, that’s so dualistic!

    There were more than two conversations before Rob Bell came along. There were non-white conversations, non-masculine conversations, non-American conversations, non-Protestant conversations. This is just one conversation thread amongst many. Important, but not for everyone. There’s a whole world out there folks! How representative can a “national” conference be anyway when its a “world” religion your talking about?

    This is like the joke: There are two tyoes of people in the world – those who talk about there being two types of people and those who don’t.

  5. Zach, great to finally connect in person.
    I get your point. It was most evident to me at 5pm on Wednesday than any other time over the weekend. To me that was the most disappointing hour of the whole NPC.

    I’m not sure if this is what you are referring to, but wow.
    I’m going to think more on this, but I didn’t have a single conversation with a seminar leader, or convention participant that showed me this that I recall. It was only sitting in the little white chairs over cheese.


  6. Zach,

    Thanks for this post. I’d love to hear more details about the conference. I feel like I’ve gotten some sort of idea about what you came away with but not what made you come away with those impressions. Not getting to go to the conference, I’d love to know more about the specifics of what went on. I’d love to know more about what each presenter had to say, not to mention some of what you’re expecting from guys like Hipps and Bell in the future.

    Thanks for your blog. I enjoy it immensely.

  7. Zach, linked over from Steve K’s page. I resonate with the ideas that you and Kurt highlight – Western religion (Christendom) is dying, old religious cultures are fading – our inherited ideal of finding the “right answers” are being replaced with asking better questions. There is always a better question, and in remaining in that place of inquisitiveness we reform our identity into something more childlike, more open to the “other” and less concerned about religious identity.

    Matt Stone’s reminder is spot on: this “local” reformation is not shared (right now) by the vast majority of global Christendom. But I think, over generations, especially virtual generations, the move back to a simpler, local-centric, bottom-up ecclesia will emerge globally.

    That said, I don’t think Shane Hipps quite “gets” the fact that virtual ecclesia is indeed one of the key self-organizational tools of this emerging community – the neo-ecclesia. I blogged some thought on this earlier today, have shared some ideas with Shane in the past, and hope to engage him in some conversation on this in the future.

    • thanks for the comment john. i guess i’m wondering that if what you say is true and virtual community and face to face community are equal forms of community, then would you also say that if one participates exclusively in “virtual community”, they would have no need to experience face-to-face community? If not, then you must tell me how “virtual community” falls short.

  8. mark,

    yeah, that little media deal was creepy. that was part of it, but this sense I got more came from various conversations I had with different folks.

  9. Zach asks (sort of), “are virtual community and face to face community equal forms of community?”

    No, that’s not possible. As I say in my review of Hipps, ” I don’t know anyone who would argue that virtual community is a substitute for physical community.” But Hipps is arguing that virtual interaction is not even a -component- of community; that on-line communication is “not community.”

    I’ve been using PCs since 1983. I helped start one of the world’s largest computer companies. I’ve been part of virtual communities since the beginning of PC networking (mid-80’s). Now, in 2009, someone writes a book claiming that computers don’t facilitate or enhance a shared community experience.

    It’s silly.

  10. Well, John, thanks for being in community with me here on my blog. It’s been a real pleasure. I just feel this strong bond with you and it’s lovely. You know, I’m cleaning out my garage next weekend. It would be great if you could swing by and help me out. I’ll provide the pizza and beer.

  11. “Now, in 2009, someone writes a book claiming that computers don’t facilitate or enhance a shared community experience.”

    My cream and sugar enhance and facilitate my coffee drinking they by themselves are not coffee. It’s really that simple. If you want to artificially elevate online interaction in this way, have at it. I just think you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.

    Like I said on Steve Knights blog, for Christians, community is sacred. Saying that virtual community is real is like saying virtual parenting or virtual marriage is real. I think Shane’s right here in pointing out that one is not the other. And I don’t think Shane is saying that online connection can’t be beneficial or helpful. He’s actually concedes that online community can provide a shared vision of the future, which is a component of real community. So I think you’re misreading him a bit on that point.

  12. Then we had better abandon books, including the writings of Paul, for they are nothing but virtual proxies intended to build and enhance the ecclesial community in his absence. Not sugar, not cream, but coffee itself. The Word. The starting point of ecclesial community, whether that Word be written on papyri, printed on paper, embedded in pixels, or spoken p2p. Communication builds community.

    Shane is attempting to make this into a black & white argument – a common fundamentalist approach to religion – you’re either in or you’re out of our community based soley on your physical proximity to us. I don’t resonate with that at all. It feels creepy and exclusionary. But I guess I’m not going to convince you otherwise 🙂

    I would ask a favor, however. Please don’t label our blog chat something less than mutually authentic Christ-following. Perhaps you’ll begin to see that wherever two or more are gathered together “in his name” (i.e., wrestling together with the infinite mysteries of the cross), community is established.

  13. Yeah, so in summation, shane and I just being creepy, silly fundamentalists. I wonder if you’d put it that way if we were actually sitting across a table from each other, face to face. But I’m sure you would since we’re obviously in the middle of some “authentic Christ-following”.

    And I don’t remember shane or I suggesting we abandon anything. Not sure where you’re getting that.

  14. Zach – we ARE sitting across the table from each other, wrestling with a very important issue. Yes, Shane’s definition of community (as presented on the Out of Ur video) feels creepy to me, for in one grand pronouncement, he has just intellectually nullified my years of shared virtual-ecclesial friendships and interactions and prayers and admonitions and joys to something other than “true ecclesia.”

    Before the Internet, I wrote a lot of physical letters – snail mail. Some of those relationships became very special covenants with others. We formed a community bond based in mutual love and respect, for God and each other. On occasion, we would meet in person – which enhanced our covenant. But physical meeting was not a prerequisite for our cross-centered covenant bonds – our community.

  15. John, I haven’t read anything on this subject but Zach’s quotes, so forgive me if Mr. Hipps really states that the internet categorically has no part in building community, but it seems he is just urging caution with regard to how we view the opportunities that the internet represents for worship, community development or knowledge gathering, merely pointing out it is incomplete. I didn’t get the impression he is saying it’s worthless in any of those regards.

    To use your phrasiology, internet is perfect and whole = white, internet is worthless = black. Pointing out the internet has limitations seems pretty grey to me.

    And Zach, is it just me or do you get defensive/sarcastic to critical comments kind of quickly?!

  16. I must agree with Zack and Shane on this matter, virtual community is one but not the other. Zack is right, face to face community is so important to Christian living, and living in community is hard. Church communities are made up of all types of personalities, and living in authentic Christian community takes hard work, discipline, patience, love, kindness, understanding, devotion and commitment. In contrast, It’s very easy to find people like you on the internet, that’s why sites like facebook, myspace and twitter grow, and for that matter, die out so fast.

    I think we can all agree that “virtual communities” have their place, and that they can certainly be meaningful on some level. We can also agree that it is not a substitute for physical community because it is something different than physical community, they are not the same. One thing I learned from Shane Hipps’ first book is that we critique far too soon, we must first seek understanding. Before so readily accepting new technologies we should first understand how they work and what they can do to us.

    I live in Pennsylvania and am involvd with a Mennonite church. I also know some Amish. An interesting fact about Amish is that they DO accept new technologies, they just do it really slowly. Before accepting a new technology, however, they prayerfully contemplate and consider how this new thing will affect their way of life, their community and how it will change them. Let’s not fool ourselves, technology, including “virtual communities,” are neither good nor bad, but they are not neutral! They change us and shape us, and I think that is what Shane Hipps was trying to communicate.

  17. I’m sorry John. We’ll just have to agree to disagree. We actually aren’t sitting face to face at a table and we never have and probably never will. But based on your definition of community, we are already living in community with one another. I just can’t grasp that. You’ve set the bar so low that I wonder if I read an ad in the paper for a real estate agent, does that mean we are in community as well? How do you define an “encounter”?

    Shane’s fundamental point isn’t to nullify your feelings about the relationships you’ve formed on the web. It’s to point out the shadows we often fail to see embedded in the technologies themselves. And the fact that you don’t seem to see a meaningful difference between actually sitting face to face at a table and “sitting at a table” (aka: posting comments on a blog) makes the point all the more that we need folks like Shane to point out how these kinds of technologies re-pattern our understanding of relationships.

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