Monday, October 31, 2005

Well, after a long, tiring weekend, I'm slowly getting back into the groove. I led a retreat over the weekend for some college students that go to schools around the Puget Sound. I've never been asked to lead a full retreat before, so that was an interesting experience. Three talks, all related to a central theme. Be high energy enough to maintain peoples' interest, without being cheesy or lame. Be challenging in the talks in order to motivate some life change/adjustments, without being overly emotional or manipulative. Overall, it felt like things went pretty well - my opinion isn't the important one in terms of whether or not it was actually a good experience for people - but I guess my opinion does count for something.

The next few weeks will still be very busy and full of activity for me, but I get to be more of a consumer than a producer of the things I'll be doing. So that should be a little fun.

Meanwhile, today is Michelle's first day on her new job. She took a position with a research company a little bit north of where we live. She's helping them put some systems in place that will facilitate some growth. It's a good career step for her. Our plan, though, is to look farther down the road than our need to pay this month's and next month's bills. Hopefully, over the next couple of years we can transition her into a place where she can do some work that's more in tune with her passions and life interests. She's very skilled and talented with what she's doing, but it still kind of feels like work. I'd love for her to have the kind of job I have - yeah, I'm busy and keep long hours a lot of the time, but I'd be doing a lot of what I do whether I was getting paid for it or not.

posted by Steve at 10:19 AM
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Wow . . . tragic news for a young, but effective church in Waco, TX. Their pastor, Kyle Lake, 33, was electrocuted during a baptism service at the church yesterday. Full story here. Pray for this young family.

posted by Steve at 8:36 AM
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Thursday, October 27, 2005

I stepped outside my office yesterday to make a phone call (cell phone reception is horrible in there), and saw two University Police cars and one Seattle PD car literally across the street, with yellow caution tape strung up in front of a wooded area on campus. I and a bunch of other people stood watching . . . and then the Medical Examiner's truck rolled in. Here is what happened.

posted by Steve at 5:30 AM
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Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Young Canadians — and likely young people elsewhere in the world — have found a hero. Anyone who messes with Stephen Lewis better know that.

Some do-gooder is running around using my name. No worries:
a) He's older than me, so he got his name before I got mine
b) He's making the name mean good things to millions of people, and raising trouble at high levels while doing so.

Read about the Stephen Lewis Foundation here.


posted by Steve at 12:51 PM
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Monday, October 24, 2005

While reading through The Shaping of Things to Come, among other things, I've latched on to the idea that the church needs to become less attractional and more incarnational if it is to have a helpful impact on the world. The days of tightly produced musical and drama programs, slick advertising campaigns, and sermon series that supposedly address what real people are dealing with are coming to the end of their effectiveness. Instead, we ought to incarnate (Greek = "enflesh")the life and work of Christ in our lives. Figure out what that looks like within our local contexts, whether they be urban, suburban, rural, cross-cultural, foreign, etc.

In my own ministry arena - on the college campus, I've been seeing the reality of this scenario. Being new to this, I think I've got a little bit of objectivity, but here's what I've witnessed. On the campus where I work, the bigger organizations are the ones that give grab bags full of books, CDs, bumper stickers, and toothbrushes away during welcome week activities. They're the ones with rock bands and light shows during their weekly worship services. In some cases, they're the ones in which students are encouraged to conduct dorm room Bible studies. The smaller campus clubs put up tables in the student union, with banners saying who they are, with a whiteboard that has some profound quote about life on it, asking students to write their comments on it.

Coming into this environment, I knew that some things were going to need to change. And after a few months, I'm more convinced than ever. I'll fully admit to having played the attractional game here. Nice banner printed, good looking flyers, food/water giveaways during move-in and welcome week, parties, big plans. At this point, it's not working. We're only four or five weeks in to the first quarter of the year, and I'm already about to shut down our current plans and just quit trying. Instead, I want to ask our staff and the few students we do have, "What does it look like to be incarnational right here?" Does it mean joining other campus clubs that are focusing on good issues like an environmental group and integrating our mission with theirs? Does it mean changing our gathering times and places to be more fluid with the life of a college student?

I'm not just looking for another way of trying to meet peoples' needs. And, the reality of our situation is that the majority of the people on campus are middle class white kids. So basically, it's not too terribly far off from church planting in suburbia. Meeting their "needs" may just be another way of selling out to consumerism.

Back to the book mentioned above, the answer would seem to be working on the social networks our students are already in. Strengthening them, and adding purpose/mission to them, and being available when people begin to get caught up in those nets - sort of the way a first century Palestinian fisherman would. Still way more questions than answers around here.

posted by Steve at 5:06 AM
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Thursday, October 20, 2005

What does "missional" mean?

As I was in the seminary lecture the other day, I used the word "missional" a few times. After one of these times, one of the students asked me to clarify what I meant by that term. That wasn't the first time that's happened to me. I've had pastors, denominational leaders, and even academics ask me what I mean when I use the word.

And while I've read and studied some really good books, and spent a lot of time discussing elements of missional life with a large number of fellow travelers along the way, it's always been difficult for me to define the word in a brief and clear way.

I think part of the difficulty in doing so has to do with how the word sounds. It sounds similar enough to stuff that church people are familiar with that many people make assumptions about what it means - even though more often than not, their assumptions are different than my own definition. It typically takes a few minutes of hearing the word used in a different enough context before people go ahead and ask me for clarification. That's fine - it's a relatively new term, and one that I probably shouldn't throw around too much, because it is confusing.

My biggest problem in defining the word for people is describing its meaning in such a way as to call attention to the differences between what it really means and what it just sounds like it might mean. That, and defining it in a clean enough way that it's quick and simple.

So I think I may start a poll or contest or something to define the word missional in three sentences or less. The definition must be clear, and distinguish substantive differences between assumptions and reality. A metaphor would also be helpful.

I tried looking for the word in Wikipedia, but ran into the problem I have: lack of brevity. Any help out there?

I was reminded of an Albert Einstein quote earlier this week: "You do not really understand something unless you can explain it to your grandmother." Fitting?

posted by Steve at 3:28 PM
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Busy few days. The seminary lecture went well, I think. I was brought into the class in order to help stimulate some thinking in the students. I think we collectively did that. Some of the students had some sour looks on their faces by the end of my time with them, and some were nodding their heads. I guess that's what I'd consider a good result.

Still lots of work to do for this year's student ministry calendar, as well as planning for the things down the road. These are fun times, but I do feel as though I'm in a little over my head. Michelle encouraged me by telling me about a TV show she had been watching. It highlighted the story of a woman who had lost her eyesight as a child, but had boldly gone through life, and ultimately pursued and opened a school for blind children in Tibet. If you care to learn more, I found a quick profile here about this woman, Sabriye Tenberken. She and her husband developed a program called Braille Without Borders in Tibet and are now attempting to develop a second project in India.

I haven't spend more than a few minutes reading about her story and the amazing work she does. But when Michelle told me about her, it occurred to me that while she's done incredible things, by necessity, she's had to be somewhat reliant on others. She is very self sufficient, navigating the busy streets of Tibet alone (and teaching her students to do the same), but at some points, she just has to let others help her, if only in small ways. My immediate sense is that she has a richer life for it. If I am feeling overwhelmed by the vision that I've been given the opportunity to develop, it's my own fault, for feeling as though I have to do all, or even most of the work myself. I've always been weak in the area of delegation, which I'm more than willing to acknowledge, but I have thought of it as only having limited my productivity or my effectiveness in my work. But now I'm beginning to see that gaining the participation of others in what I do in life would do more than simply help me produce more/better work - it would make me a better man. The truth is that I can't do a heckuva lot on my own in life. Telling that truth to myself and the people around me by how I allow and invite others to be a part of who I am and what I do will bring a more connected quality to me. I know this is elementary stuff about building community, but for as much as I claim to value it, I fail to regularly practice it. There's a hidden spiritual discipline in this for me. I hope to uncover it.

posted by Steve at 6:02 AM
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Monday, October 17, 2005

Malcolm Gladwell, Moby, and other cultural creatives discuss what's coming in this Time online article:
One of the big trends in American society is the transformation of the evangelical movement and the rise of a more mature, sophisticated, culturally open evangelical church. Ten years from now, I don't think we're going to have the kinds of arguments about religion that we have today.

Hmmmm, would that be a good thing? I want to say yes, but I gotta wonder what the price of this kind of "peace" would be.

posted by Steve at 6:15 PM
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Sitting here in a hotel room in Vancouver, WA. I got up at 4am to make the drive down here with a friend to go to a seminar this morning. My friend teaches a class at our denom's seminary here, and he asked me to come in and do a guest spot. This will be a first for me, so I'm looking forward to it.

I had a good quick chat this afternoon with the seminary's Dean, which I'm hoping will develop into a really good working relationship. The work with the missional school we're developing could be aided by some credible academic endorsement.

Last week was the first of about an eight week run in which things get a bit hectic. The next eight weekends are booked solid. I'm leading a retreat for college students one weekend, doing the Generous Orthodoxy thing another weekend, I'm speaking in a couple of churches on other weekends, I'm going to New York City for a few days in mid-November, and then we're going to SoCal for Thanksgiving weekend. Meanwhile, the next six weeks or so will very likely define the degree to which the next 11 months will be outofcontrolbusy, or just a little busier than they ought to be.

Most of me is excited about all of this, but I am a bit concerned about that little thing in life called margin. Now is a really good time to be practicing some disciplines and setting some boundaries.

posted by Steve at 5:09 PM
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Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The Seattle Times has written about something I was afraid of: after giving generously to the tsunami and Katrina disaster relief efforts, people are slowing in their giving of aid. The earthquake in Pakistan, and the mudslide in Guatamala are not generating significant contributions to organizations like World Vision.

Then again, maybe people just aren't aware enough of what's happening. The latest conservative estimate I read said that at least 22,000 people have been killed by the earthquake. And last night on the local TV news, the story about the quake was place about 20 minutes into the half-hour newscast, following a story about the Seattle arrival of dogs that were displaced after hurricane Katrina. I like dogs as much as the next guy, but 20,000 people dying ranks behind homeless pooches??? I seriously hope that isn't a fitting metaphor for how the news director feels about Pakistanis.

posted by Steve at 8:58 AM
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This isn't for real, is it? 'Fraid so.

posted by Steve at 7:22 AM
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Monday, October 10, 2005

Oh, I guess I will mention that this article was recently posted on Next-Wave. It's basically an edited/expanded version of a blog post I wrote following Hurricane Katrina.

posted by Steve at 10:18 AM
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I found this article from Christianity Today via Jordon Cooper a couple of days ago. It's on Rick Warren's newest effort to take the purpose driven message into Rwanda. As usual when reading about Warren, or in reading his own writings, I had some tension. Much of what is said is very very good. Especially his latest focus on helping end poverty and disease, which has completely ripped through Africa and left devastation behind. Even his approach to doing so - through church planting efforts and the like - rather than just setting up another marginally effective NGO, is interesting and worth celebrating. But then I come across a couple of elements that at first bothered me a little, but then later got me feeling a mixture of scared and angry.

First this:
"Personal computers have brand names. But inside every pc is an Intel chip and an operating system, Windows," Warren says. "The Purpose Driven paradigm is the Intel chip for the 21st-century church and the Windows system of the 21st-century church."

That metaphor is equal parts arrogant and foolish. Warren may be celebrated as the second most influential evangelical (behind Billy Graham), but that's a pretty grand thing for him to say, isn't it? Apparently the gospel itself is DOS, and we needed the purpose driven Windows to pretty it up. Mac users, you may now rev up your anti-PC creativity in your response to this metaphor.

And then this:
After Rwanda's President Kagame read The Purpose-Driven Life, he wrote Warren saying, "I am a purpose-driven man." He invited Warren and others to the capital, Kigali. In March, Warren, his wife, key Saddleback leaders, business leaders, Beasley, and several Rwandan Anglican bishops all gathered in Kigali with the political leaders. "It was one of these wild, divine moments that all these circles interconnected," Beasley says.

"I fell in love with the country," Warren says. "I say, 'Lord, help me find out what you are blessing and help me get in on it.' I think God is blessing Rwanda."

Warren and Rwanda's leaders jointly came up with the idea of Rwanda becoming the "world's first purpose-driven nation." A month after the March visit, Kagame and his wife traveled to Orange County, California, for Saddleback's 25th anniversary. Then this summer the Warrens returned to Rwanda with Saddleback's senior staff and evangelicals from around North America.

Again, in some ways, this may be encouraging - that there's an openness to the gospel in a place that desperately needs hope. But I would suggest that too much enthusiasm over the endorsement of people in high places is misguided. This morning I read the following from Michael Frost & Alan Hirsch's book, The Shaping of Things to Come (p. 117). I think it does a better job than I could at responding:

If you were to go to the doctor to be inoculated against a certain disease, the doctor would inject you with a form of the bacteria/virus, not enough to cause harm, but enought to stimulate your immune system to create antibodies so that your body will recognize the really harmful version and be able to fight against it. It is our contention that this is exactly what Christendom has done to our missional contexts, wherever it has manifested itself.

In fact, it has created as many problems for us as it has solved. After seventeen centuries of Christianity in the West, we still have not done the task; and wehre we have managed to establish Chistianity nationally, we have not always brought good news to the people. One look at the history of South Africa, the American South, the conquest of Latin America, or at "Christian" Europe will quash any doubts you might have about the above comment. Europe, in spite of those seventeen centuries of the faith, still can't seem to resist genocidal tendencies! Witness the Balkans; it was those raised in the Orthodox confession (which recently celebrated a millennium in the area!) that led the charge in killing people en masse. The history of Europe has been one of horrifying bloodshed and cruelty, culminating in the holocaust. It was T.S. Eliot, himself very much a European, who once noted "After two thousand years of Christian mass, we've come as far as poison gas."

I dislike my heart's tendency to want to rip Rick Warren all the time. It's dark. I believe that the man has a good heart and good motives, and that people like me misunderstand him constantly. I guess all I can do is pray that God's Spirit will give me the generosity to pray for him, even as I challenge him.

posted by Steve at 6:29 AM
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Sunday, October 09, 2005

I know this was way overdue, but Michelle and I watched Hotel Rwanda last night. Devastating. I just kept thinking - how many other things like this are going on in the world right now that I haven't hear of?

Meanwhile, an earthquake hits Pakistan and 20,000 people are dead. Meanwhile, a mudslide in Guatamala happens and 1,400 are dead.

I know Hurricane Katrina has taken a lot of our attention, for good reasons (many, many good reasons), but the numbers speak for themselves. I want our country and people to continue giving toward Katrina relief, but we need to be careful, too. I'm likely to write something I'll regret if I continue in this vein, so I'll shut up now.

posted by Steve at 6:22 AM
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Saturday, October 08, 2005

I just finished reading a book I've had my eyes on for a few years now - The Jesus Sutras. Very interesting stuff. It tells the story of Christianity in China, at least part of it. Apparently, as far back as seventh century, missionaries from the Middle East made their way to China with the story of Jesus. The book focuses primarily on translations of some scrolls that were discovered several decades ago. In these, Jesus' own teachings are found, at times intermixed with Taoist and some Buddhist teachings.

While it was exciting for me to read how far back the gospel had penetrated China, it was a bit troubling to see the degree to which the culture and especially the philosophical and religious thinking were integrated. For example, the notions of karma and reincarnation are affirmed in these teachings, except that Jesus is described as the one who can release people from the wheel of constant rebirth.

The reason I wanted to read the book, though, was that I wanted a perspective on how the message of Jesus can be changed when it is inserted into a culture. My point was not to criticize the Christians of seventh and eighth century China, as much as to see the degree to which my own culture has done similar things with the gospel. If the teachings of Jesus were understood within the context of the Tao Te Ching, then they are now also being understood within the context of the Declaration of Independence and the Federalist Papers. The issue is the degree to which essential scriptural doctrine is messed with in way that changes the gospel itself.

I've also been dabbling in a book by Stanley Hauerwas called, Unleashing the Scripture: Freeing the Bible From Captivity to America. I'm not very far in, but I'm interested to see where it goes, especially reading it alongside this other book. Hauerwas wrote his book in 1993 - so it was pre-September 11, pre-Gulf War II.

The other interesting tidbit is that I got a call a couple of days ago, asking me to preach in a Chinese church in Seattle. That should be interesting.

posted by Steve at 2:23 PM
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Friday, October 07, 2005

Trying to get back in the saddle here today. Michelle and I flew in late last night - coming home from a vacation . . . sort of. For Michelle, it was vacation. For me, I got up early almost every morning and worked. I put in quite a few hours while away, but doing so in a faraway context was part of the idea. I was able to do some dreaming, planning, and strategizing for how to move forward with my work here in Seattle. Exciting and scary stuff, really. But I can't wait to see what happens.

It was interesting doing the kind of work I was doing while surrounded by all the trappings of a very popular vacation destination. Lots of restaurants, shopping, adventure activities. It's particularly interesting culturally speaking. Here's a place that many have found so beautiful when they visited for the first time that they dropped everything to move there permanently. Meanwhile, the locals that have always been there seem to fade into the background more and more. Perhaps it's an example of vacation imperialism.

Either way, as I was thinking about these people who have moved into this place, part of me rolled my eyes at them for being escapists - just trying to get away from reality. But then I started cutting them some slack. I mean, what if these people have made a decision to reject our culture's trappings of what success might look like? Most of them have to settle for a lower standard of living in their new home, and end up working at lower level kinds of jobs. But they do so in part to simplify their lives. Granted, they're simplifying in a somewhat indulgent way. There's definitely a statement to be made.

Anyway, I've got some catching up to do. Hitting the ground running with a student service project tonight. Hopefully, it'll ease me back into the groove.

posted by Steve at 11:02 AM
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spirit farmer data

I'm Steve Lewis. This used to be my blogging home. My online home is now at When this blog was my active online home, I lived in Seattle. Now I live in London, UK. I follow Jesus (poorly most of the time), worship simply, read a lot, watch culture, go to school, listen to music, write, enjoy art, and drink a lot of coffee.
e-mail me:

seattle spots

victrola coffee
zoka coffee
university of washington
church of the apostles
quest church
sanctuary church
shoreline vineyard

sites i visit

off the map
nt wright

a few of the blogs in the feedreader

jason evans
joe boyd
kevin rains
alan creech
chris marshall
bill bean
eugene cho
jordon cooper
dwight friesen
john chandler
amy palmer
ryan bolger
rudy carrasco
ryan sharp
sings in the sunshine
rick bennett
scot mcknight
karen ward
alan hirsch
dan kimball
petey crowder

i'm reading it

colossians remixed
africa unchained

i finished reading it - 2007

generation me
jesus and the restoration of israel
god's continent
globalizing theology
gustavo gutierrez: essential writings
jesus and the eyewitnesses
garlands of grace
twenty poems to nourish your soul
the black swan
dancing in the streets
made to stick
signs in contemporary culture
hit the bullseye
the politics of jesus
readings in christian ethics
toward old testament ethics
the kite runner
principles of conduct
velvet elvis
the irresistable revolution
they like jesus, but not the church
the great omission
charisma: the gift of grace, and how it has been taken from us
the starfish and the spider
a perfect mess
the world cafe
the new faces of christianity
leaving church
journeying in faith
the creed
transforming mission
metaphors we live by
foolishness to the greeks
personal knowledge

states i've spent time: 2007

british columbia
oh yeah, denmark, too

i wrote it

managing conflict in the 'new world'
music review: over the rhine
film review: bonhoeffer
music review: fighting jacks
film review: the passion of the christ
how reality tv changes lives
the best tv article you've ever read
corks & caps: a wine lover's story of change
america's idols
random, disorganized thoughts about life after the katrina disaster
missional . . . plain and simple
on becoming post-gnostic

i blogged it

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