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Embarking Blog

...on the journey towards restoration of all things

Filtering by Category: City

Gordon Cosby


I'm not sure how I missed this (I guess it's been a hectic week), but Gordon Cosby from Washington DC passed away a couple of days ago. [Read Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove's article on Patheos here.]

I spent a little time with Gordon at the Church of the Savior in the past couple of years, and those few moments were transformative for me. Not only was I introduced to a truly missional church, but was amazed at the power of a small group of people to serve so many through self-sacrifice and deep commitment. From the planting of several churches and several non-profits ranging from a retreat center, a transitional home for women and children, Christ-based Child Care Centers to an innovative art center for inner city kids to a jobs placement center to a hospital for the homeless to a theological school to train servants of the gospel to a hospice for the homeless and those with AIDS and other illnesses to an affordable housing organization to one of my favorite coffeeshop/ bookstore/ diners (you can find a more comprehensive list here). This little band of gospel centered people discipled and shepherded by Gordon have loved the least of these in ways many of us merely talk about, and their impact is incredible. Their commitment to Christ, to each other, to the spiritual disciplines, to prayer, and to service is inspiring.

Gordon taught me many things in our short conversations. I heard him speak passionately about being people formed by the essence of Jesus, about the importance of the inward journey, about doing the gospel and the outward journey, about downward mobility, and about the power of a simple act of love done in the name of Jesus. Gordon talked about our addiction to culture rather than to seeking the essence of Jesus. He spoke of pursuing the questions and pressing into the God who is the answer rather than seeking answers in themselves. I was impressed by his ability to hold the evangelical power of gospel transformation together in practice with a deep commitment to social justice - a marriage so often divorced in the contemporary church. As we talked about that issue, I asked him poignantly about the loss of spiritual fathers and mothers for my generation, and he looked deeply into my eyes and pointed his finger... "You be a spiritual father to the next generation." Quite a challenge, and not what I was looking for. I was comfortable lamenting the lack of spiritual fathers, and he gave a simple call to action. He reminded me to stay focused on Jesus as the center - what he called "the essence" - which so easily gets lost in our doing and our addictions, and we so often don't realize we're losing his essence. I was privileged to have spent a few moments with him, and know that Jesus has said to him, "Well done, Gordon, good and faithful servant."

"We are addicted to knowing and doing, and I wish we were addicted to being."

"Let the artisan shape you."

"If we are going up the rope, and Jesus is going down, then we've missed him."

-Gordon Cosby, March 2009 and April 2010

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City to City part 2


One of the interesting things that Dr. Tim Keller said at the North American Network gathering for City to City was something like the following:

"The reason secularists are afraid of Christians is their belief that if we get in power, we will take everyone else’s freedoms away."

I found this to be an interesting and enlightening comment.  I'm not sure the word "afraid" hits it quite right, but what Keller is getting at is that Christians are often not great "citizens" in the secular society because of our propensity towards creating a government which takes things away from people - rights, civil liberties, freedom of belief, etc.  I'm not sure this has happened in recent history in any way of significance, but the threat is certainly there from the Christian Right.  The sense that, if Christians would be placed into major political positions of power, we would use our power to estrange others of different beliefs is palpable in at least the rhetoric.  The interesting thing about this is that certainly, any political group lobbying for power hopes in someway to use that power to leverage their beliefs for their version of the good of the country.  I'm not so sure that Christians are all that different in this political sense than any other idealogical group.  However, my deeper question (and possibly Keller's) is whether there is another way to approach cities, politics, and the social sphere in general from a Christian perspective or from Christian values and beliefs.

There are lots of questions wrapped in whether and how Christians should be involved in politics.  And historically, there are any number of ways in which Christians have approached the public realm, from ruling and reigning to fomenting revolution to isolation.  Today, Christians can be found on the left, on the right, in the middle, and on the outskirts.   What I appreciated, though, about Keller's comments was that it is disturbing that our neighbors and fellow citizens would be worried about persecution and oppression under a Christian lead government.  That's enlightening when we think about it deeply.  I realized that I'm afraid of many of the Christians I know getting into the political realm for the same reasons.  So, Keller asks, why don't our neighbors think we love them?  Why don't people in the city think we love their city?  If we are truly loving our neighbors as ourselves and seeking the welfare of the city (and country), why would that be threatening?  Is it the confusion in their hearts and minds, or is it in something we have done? (my bias is that it's something we are responsible for more than anything... cf. the wonderful book UnChristian by Gabe Lyons and David Kinnaman).

I've been reading the book To Change the World by James Davison Hunter, which is a fascinating book on culture, history, power, Christianity, and change.  In that book, I think it's chapter 5, Hunter shares some history of the relationship between Christians and political movements.  One of his arguments (to be really simplistic) is that when the cultural elites are truly converted and lead with humanity in mind through true care for the poor, estranged, and powerless that Christianity has been the most effective in cultural change.  Though I haven't heard enough on Keller, I think this is where he's pointing.  How do you impact the cultures of power and ideas while maintaining a heart for true justice and care for all humanity?

Jesus said this in his inauguration into ministry in Luke 4, quoting from the Isaiah 61 vision:

"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

One of the questions here is how this message and mission of Jesus - the good news - is being missed by our culture when Christians try to enter into the public realm?

I think Keller's right.  We don't know how to enter the public discourse, and often aren't allowed into the public discourse as Christians because of our reputation.  We do need a new apologetic that arises out of the message and mission of Jesus for a new humanity, rooted in love and redeemed by love, for all people.

Again, we return to love, the gospel of love, the message of love, the heart of love, the approach of love, the words of love, the power of love, the conviction of love, the character of love, the way forward through love.  Love.  Jesus.  Simple.

What would a politics or public discourse of love look like, feel like, and sound like?  What if the world looked to Christians and said instead, "We would love to have you at the table because we know if you were in power, more people would experience the true freedom that love brings."

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City to City part 1


I spent this past week in Miami a meeting with a number of Church Planting Networks and planters too look at the possibility of beginning a North American Network for city movements.  This gathering was catalyzed by the folks at Redeemer City to City and brought together people from  Renew South Florida, Acts29, the RCA, many from the PCA, the SBC, the GCM Collective, and others.  It was an awesome time to meet other folks who are passionate about reaching North America, particular through cities.  It was great to hear the unique challenges and opportunities that cities bring and present to the church.  The outcome of this gathering was that a group will be formed, likely to be called the City to City Collective for shared resourcing, networking, encouragement, and more.  It'll be great to see what unfolds. Tim Keller of Redeemer in New York was the keynote speaker, and I want to share just a few things.  In the first session, The Challenge of North American Cities, Keller said that the expense of cities, the complexity of cities, and the mobility of cities makes a church plant there very hard.  Knowing that, it's important to see larger trends, and in that vein he spoke about the decline of cities from 1970-1990 in which cities were hollowed out at the core, with suburban flight the order of the day.  This left an urban desolation in many cases, with increased crime rates, devalued properties, and a cultural malaise.  The rich would commute from the suburbs and leave the urban poor in the central city.  From the 1990's to today, there was been an upsurge in cities, a renewal of the urban core.  In many ways this was due to gentrification (young professionals re-locating to urban environments).  Crime went down, cultural productivity increased, and the core of cities have thus seen a resurgence.  However, the poor are also often displaced as property values increase and the city finds cultural and economic renewal.  Each era presents a different kind of opportunity, different needs, and different responses by the church.    The follow up question is, then, what is the future of the city?

Keller, then, offered his analysis of what the future holds for American cities.  First, he spoke of the following positive trends:

  • North American churches are globalizing.  This is a positive trend because strong international connections create stability and prestige.  Because the era of America as an economic self-sufficient engine is over, globalization is important.
  • North American churches are urbanizing.  By urbanizing, Keller was particularly speaking to the trend in cities towards smart growth, urban planning of  the New Urbanism kind.  He referenced the return to a walkable, mixed-use human settlement in cities, including places to work, live, shop, play, and learn within 10 minutes as opposed to the suburbanizing affect in which everything is about commuting and doing life with people that are not the same people you live with.  There are lots of great books on this, and I think he's right on about not only emerging urban planning, but also that this is a positive trend not only for cities and human beings in general who live there, but also for the church because it creates a possible parish that is not merely made up of people commuting to their favorite church or speaker.

Secondly, he spoke of negative trends:

  • The rise of great need:  Here, Keller focused on the recent recession and global financial meltdown, particularly in American cities.
  • However, though this is a negative trend in some ways in terms of urban development, Keller rewinded to remind us that through our history lessons we learn that God has often used urban dysfunction to win the hearts of people.  When we are in times of great need, there is also great opportunity for the church to respond.

So, for Keller, the future of urban ministry looks good because of globalization, new urbanism, and increased need.

Lastly, in terms of cities, Keller mentioned the following future trends to expect:

  1. Increasing hostility in the culture wars.  He was particularly on target when he said that we are fighting a Two Front War:  Secularists think Christians are too moralistic.  Muslims and Hindus think we are too permissive.  There will, then, be increasing hostility from secularists and increasing hostility from fundamentalists (of all sorts, including Christians).
  2. More opportunities for justice and mercy.  This is true particularly because of the increasing needs in the global financial meltdown and the increasing gap between the rich and the poort.
  3. Culture-making will be increasingly important, particularly with respect to the integration of faith and work.  People in the city will desire more and more the integration between multifarious worlds.
  4. A new kind of apologetics.  This part was particularly poignant for me.  Back in 2000, I started a class called "Beyond Apologetics" because I was realizing that because of the shifts we are experiencing in late modernity or post-modernity, that a new kind of apologetics is needed.  This doesn't mean that the classic apologetics are wrong or bad, but merely that we need a new apologetic for a new emerging culture.  In Keller's words, "We need to answer questions people are actually asking" or in one of the bylines of my former church in Ann Arbor, "Ask questions worth answering; seek answers worth believing."  Here are some of the points and reasons for a new apologetic:
  • The world essentially says to Christians, “You are not good neighbors.”
  • We need more cogent and powerful answers to questions that people are actually asking.
  • The basic objection alongside of evil & suffering, etc. is that Christians are bad citizens of pluralistic cities because as we grow and if we grow, we will take away people’s rights and freedoms.
  • We are completely outflanked in the public arena.
  • We have to care for the whole parish, including our secular neighbors.
  • The public narrative is that Christians are intolerant, and that is very powerful and makes it extremely hard to enter public discourse.

Keller also spoke about the stages of development of the catachuminate which we need to revisit, and how the church is failing in its response to homosexuality.  That's a long conversation for another time.

I'll blog a bit more on this in the future if I can find the time, including some of his other sessions.

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