the jerusalem experiment

I had lunch with my friend Bryan today and we talked a lot about an experiment/adventure he’ll be embarking on this coming year. Bryan is a seminary student at Bethel and is about half-way through an MDiv program, so he’ll be a pastor when he’s done. As part of his studies, he’s decided to take an unpaid leave from his position as director of high school ministry at a church in Minneapolis so that he can live and learn in Jerusalem and the surrounding “holy lands” this winter and spring. He’ll take classes at Jerusalem University College to study the ancient culture, settings and languages of Christianity while also taking “field trips” to several of the key biblical locations outside of Jerusalem (places like Egypt, Galilee and Bethlehem). I’m guessing to some of you it might seem like he’s basically studying abroad for a semester — which I’m sure many of you did in undergrad — but this is where the “experiment” portion of what Bryan is doing in Jerusalem comes into play. While he’s in this holy places, he’ll not only be experiencing the stories of Scripture in new and powerful ways for himself personally, he’ll also be including/inviting all of us (the Church) to join him in his adventures and learning. In fact, the very reason Bryan is doing this is as much for the Church back home as for himself (a bit like a missionary, but opposite).

Not everyone can go to the Middle East for 4 1/2 months, but Bryan has come up with a multi-dimensional project that will allow others to travel there with him (virtually), learning along the way about the God who revealed himself to the world through a Jewish carpenter from Nazareth.

Through daily online journal entries at www.jerusalemexperiment.com (including pictures, video and discussion questions), a weekly podcast (weaving the stories and learnings of his travels into sermons) and culminating in a book titled A Land of Dust and Sun, Bryan will highlight several of the biblical sites he visits — writing about the geography, retelling the biblical narrative, sharing ways in why our lives can/have been shaped by those stories and inviting readers to find themselves within those stories and places — allowing us as his “fellow travelers” to discover intersections between our lives and the life of God’s story.

Bryan states as one of his deepest passions, “witnessing the Word of God come alive in the hearts of those who had formerly understood the ancient book as one that rarely (if ever) intersects our 21st century lives.” In light of that passoin, I believe the experiment he is taking on is incredibly relevant, and the resources that he will develop for the church as a result of this experiment will be invaluable. As you might assume, an undertaking like this requires plenty of support; spirirtually, emotionally and financially.

Here’s a few easy ways you can support this project:

  • Visit The Jerusalem Experiment website and watch the video Bryan made to explain more about the trip.
  • Add Bryan to your prayer chain at church or in your small group.
  • Tell some friends about what he’s doing (forward them the link to the website or to this entry to explain more).
  • Join The Jerusalem Experiment facebook group.
  • If you’re at all able, show your support by making a donation (big or small, it all helps) – there’s a link on his website to donate online using a credit card or through paypal. (Note: everyone who makes a donation will receive a free copy of Bryan’s book A Land of Dust and Sun, regardless of how much they give.)
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new job!

I’m not sure if people are interested in my personal/professional life, but I thought it might make sense to share the news that after months of interviews/conversations/prayers, I accepted the position of Associate Director of Admissions at Luther Seminary (St. Paul, MN). I will start on January 5, and although it’s a position that will involve a significant amount of travel, the seminary has given me their blessing to continue in my position as Community Director of Journey.

luther-seminaryHow will this effect anewdoxology.com? I’m not sure yet, but hopefully not much. I still have an interest and excitement in sharing my “reflections of faith in an MTV world,” but I also consider it a great honor to have this new opportunity to help the seminary — where I discovered this calling — to recruit the next generation of leaders for the church. I don’t know exactly how my life will change, but there are three things about me that I’m confident will stay the same: 1) I will  see life through the perspective of my faith. 2) I will have an interest in popular culture. 3) I will bring my macbook with me.

All that to say, even if I don’t post things on anewdoxology quite as often, I will continue looking for new words and ways to glorify God.

confession and forgiveness (remix)

During worship at Journey tonight we discussed 1 John 1:8-2:2, which is where some of the text from the Lutheran Book of Worship’s (LBW) brief order for confession and forgiveness is found (pdf). This piece of liturgy is probably familiar to people who grew up in traditional Lutheran churches because it most likely would have been part of worship every Sunday since they were young. Being part of a Lutheran congregation (Calvary Lutheran), we try to stay true to our Lutheran heritage, but we also make efforts to simply be Christian while “doing” and “being” Church in new/different ways that are meaningful to people, regardless of whether they grew up in a church or not. So tonight, during worship, we took time to discuss the words of confession and forgiveness from a hymnal that is now 30 years old, and in groups of 2-3 people throughout the sanctuary, we re-wrote the liturgy in our own words. Each group was assigned a short segment of the liturgy and during the music-worship after the message, the pieces that each group re-wrote were typed together and put onto slides (because of the way it was constructed, being written in small segments by different groups of people, it reads a bit disjointed). Then, before the last song of the night, we gave this new version (or “remix”) its first public reading. It was a very cool thing to witness and be part of, and it could have never been done without a congregation that is open to trying new things, filled with imagination and of course, technology was an important element as well (since without it, the words could have never been put together so quickly and displayed on screens for the entire congregation to read together).

Here is what we came up with.

Brief Order for Confession and Forgiveness (remix)
Written by the Journey worship community at Calvary Lutheran in Golden Valley, MN on June 15, 2008

Leader: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

All: Amen.

Leader: Almighty God, you know us and our lives. Clean up our hearts and minds by your example. We will try to love you – to show you what you are through the things we say and do, by the power of Christ’s life, death and resurrection.

All: Amen.

Leader: We have to stop being egotistical – to go against society – and be honest with ourselves. Fortunately, if we admit to these sins, God, who is a constant and reliable source for every need and the ultimate judge of all truth, will forgive us for all the ways we turn against him and give us a fresh start.

(Silence for reflection and self-examination)

Leader: Most merciful God,

All: we admit that we are prone to sin and we need your help to free us. Every day of our lives we sin against you with our actions and our inability to act, as well as our hurtful words of painful silence – we continually drop the ball – sin has consumed our lives and there are a lot of things we have not done but should be doing to glorify your name. We have held back from loving you fully. We have focused on loving ourselves, and with what we have left, we have not reached out to our neighbors. Your son sacrificed and died for us. Show us your mercy, forgive our sins, refresh our hearts and guide us through our days. We love you and want to be like you. We are thankful for your grace so that our sins do not permanently separate us from you.

All: Amen.

Leader: We are in need of a savior – in need of mercy – and God provided Jesus who loves us so much he died for us. Through Jesus’ love, God has forgiven all our sins. If you have faith, you belong to God’s family and have been sealed with the Holy Spirit.

All: Amen.

(Please feel free to use this version in your own worship settings, but if you’re looking for a new way to incorporate confession and forgiveness into worship I would strongly suggest having your community write (or re-write) something new and create a more organic/homemade liturgy. If you have questions about the specifics of how we went about doing this at Journey, you can email me.)

I graduated…now what?

I graduated from Luther Seminary yesterday with a master of arts in Theology & Pop-Culture. I’m excited about this accomplishment and all that it represents, and although seminary wasn’t always the most enjoyable experience, I’m thankful for how it has shaped and influenced the ways I understand the world around me and how God is actively involved in it. I’m happy to be done with school (again), but I hope the learning and growing continues.

During the commencement ceremony yesterday afternoon at Central Lutheran in downtown Minneapolis – in a sanctuary filled with family, friends and supporters of the 170 graduates – my classmates and I were blessed with the following words as part of our “Call to Mission,”

…in the presence of God, we honor you for your diligence, perseverance, and faithfulness in study and we present to the church all of you who aspire to serve the Church of God in the variety of ministries to which you have been called and for which you are prepared. But your preparation is not over and you will need to be creative, flexible and visionary as you bear witness to salvation through Jesus Christ and serve in God’s world, a world that is constantly changing.

My friends and relatives have all been asking me “what are you going to do next?” and unfortunately, this is the best answer I can give, for now… I am going to continue working part-time with Journey (the Sunday evening worship community at Calvary Lutheran), at least through the summer … I’m teaching a course at Luther Seminary in June (the course is titled “Ministry with Young Adults” and I’m teaching it with my favorite professor, Rollie Martinson) … and looking more long-term, I’m hoping to become a resource (i.e., a consultant) for churches and ministries that feel called to find meaningful ways to reach today’s younger generations.

If you know of any churches looking for someone to help them re-think what it means to “do” church and re-imagine what it means to “be” the body of Christ in our world today, please tell them about me. My resume is available on this website (click the “Resume” tab above) and I have been developing the following personal statement of “who I am as a Christian public leader” (as found on my business card)…

Andy Jolivette is a communicator, consultant, artist, analyst, theologian and missionary to people living in a media culture.

Thanks to everyone for your support the last two years. Your thoughts, prayers and suggestions are invited as I step into this new chapter of my life and ministry.

pop goes the church

I just started reading a new book titled Pop Goes the Church. It was written by Tim Stevens who is a pastor at Granger Community Church in Indiana, one of the few churches I’ve heard about lately that I actually get excited about because they seem to be connecting people living in our (constantly-changing) media culture with God’s story of hope, love and forgiveness (things that never change) in meaningful ways by engaging pop culture. I don’t mean this to be a critique of most other churches I hear or know about – well maybe I do, but only a little – but I’d like to focus on what is going on here that I think is good. I find hope in the realization that there is a pastor and a church that are passionate about some of the same things as me. Stevens and Granger Community Church seem to share my vision of a church where the “texts” of pop culture (music, movies, tv shows, etc.) are discussed alongside the biblical text — even on Sunday morning during the sermon — without compromising or watering down the message as a result.

Here’s a sample of how Stevens thinks from the introduction of his book…

If Jesus physically entered twenty-first century America, I believe he would do much as he did in the first century. He would hang out with normal people in the real world, and he would reserve his strongest words for the entrenched religious leaders who love their traditions more than they love their people. He would leverage the culture. He would read our books, go to our movies, watch our TV shows, look at our magazines, and surf the internet so that he could better understand our culture. I believe he would look for themes in our popular culture that would help him make a connection between the topics that had our attention and the kingdom life he was offering. He would be encouraged by the lyrics in some of today’s mainstream music. He would see honest searching in the words, and he would use those lyrics to reach and penetrate hearts.

I think, that just as he did in the first century, Jesus would disciple a small team of leaders while at the same time looking for opportunities to attract and influence large crowds. And when those crowds gathered, he would draw upon what he had learned about our popular culture and would use illustrations, props, and analogies that would connect his love to our hearts.

I believe that is what Jesus did and that is what he would do, and I believe he expects no less from us.

I could not agree more with this or have written it any better. I believe that what Stevens is saying is important and true for not only the church and people of faith, but also for the world (inside the church, outside the church, everywhere), and I want to thank him for expressing this so well. Perhaps others do not agree with Tim Stevens, or with me. Maybe you think that letting the values and behavior expressed in contemporary pop culture will corrupt the church (and Christians) to the point where we will erode into some form of moral relativism (not knowing what is right anymore, because everything seems to be alright). I know for a fact that many people feel this way because I have had conversations and received emails from people who thinks this way. The last thing I want to do is keep anyone out of this conversation or make it sound like I don’t agree with them (I actually think there’s some validity in what they’re saying and their opinions should be heard by people like me and Stevens as a legitimate warning/caution), but before anyone jumps all over this with harsh criticism let me first clarify some things.

This is more than just a conversation about whether or not media should be used in churches. It’s less about churches having video screens and projectors in their sanctuaries and more about how they use them. Yet it’s not even about video screens and movie clips during sermons, it’s about pastors and ministry leaders reimagining their ideas of what it means to be the church in a media world. That’s why I think pastors and churches should use wisdom to discern how to most effectively incorporate pop culture into their ministry. It is not good enough to simply force connections between faith and culture, as if it’s a fool-proof equation (pop culture + church = good). I would have a difficult time convincing anyone that there was a meaningful connection between Jesus saying “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39) with the movie Dude Where’s My Car, or that the Apostle Paul’s suggestion to “consider others better than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3) was somehow illustrated in The Big Lebowski, but I can see a powerful example of someone loving others as himself in Patch Adams or selflessly considering others better than themself in Good Will Hunting (coincidentally, the characters I’m thinking of from each of those movies are played by Robin Williams).

What I’m trying to make clear is that not any/every thing from pop culture will be appropriate or effective in communicating the Gospel. In fact, there are some topics or themes where using illustrations from pop culture might even insult or take away from the message. For instance, when I preached at Journey a few months ago about Jesus washing his disciples feet – and then calling them (and us) to serve each other in the same way – I did not use any clips from a movie, lyrics from a song or even a touching story from the newspaper (although I considered examples of each). I chose to give an old fashioned “no frills” sermon because none of the pop culture references or examples would have added anything to the message. Any examples I could have used from pop culture would have been merely an imitation of the original; but Jesus washing his disciples feet along with a few verses of laying down his life for us? That’s a powerful witness and example of what it means to be a servant.

Sorry I started asking for your thoughts and then went on for a few more paragraphs. I really would like to hear what people think about all this. Leave a comment if you have something to say.

Haiti

If you know me you are most likely aware of my involvement in Haiti through a non-profit organization some friends and I started a few years ago called the Haiti Mission Project. The HMP represents a huge piece of my heart, and the opportunities I’ve had to work alongside my friends in Haiti — both my American friends and my Haitian friends — is probably the closest experience I’ve had to the mission and kingdom of God here on earth.

It’s because of my personal involvement with HMP that I want to request your prayers for the current situation in Haiti, where people have been rioting the past few days in the capital city of Port-au-Prince in response to rising food costs. Violence of many forms is not a new thing in Haiti (it is the only nation with UN peacekeepers permanently in place although they are not at war), but the current situation is of particular interest and concern to me and my friends because we are planning to go to Haiti this Saturday to spend a week in Port-au-Prince visiting and working in orphanages, hospitals and churches as well as hanging out with our Haitian friends who we’ve gotten to know over the years.

Among our good friends in Haiti is a young boy named Jean who I have sponsored through Compassion International for the past four years, and who I will (hopefully) get to see again next week. It’s been an incredible experience to meet and spend time with the child who I have been exchanging letters with, sending money to and praying for since we were randomly paired together four years ago. In the beginning he was just a kid from a country I didn’t know anything about who was in a picture on my fridge, but now I have pictures and memories with him and the country he lives in is in my daily thoughts and prayers.

Here’s a powerful video from our trip to Haiti in 2006 that was made by a talented guy in our group; it includes images of Haiti (the country and its people), a glimpse of some of the typical work we’ve done there (building an orphanage in this case) and footage of the first time I met Jean (you may recognize him from a few of the pictures in the “Witness” video).

Many people don’t know much about Haiti except that it’s often listed as the “poorest country in the Western hemisphere” (which is true), but it’s actually an island nation with a long history of slavery, corruption, violence and injustice. Yet, through our partnership with several individuals and organizations (including a Lutheran church) in Port-au-Prince, we have been able to help fuel the hope that many Haitians have for their nation and its people, a hope they have found through their faith in Jesus. It’s a hope that is often hard to understand and is rarely seen in visible/physical ways, but it’s a future (“eschatological”) hope that is wrapped up in the message of Easter; the death and resurrection of Jesus that gives freedom, life and hope to all people at all times in all places, even especially Haiti.

To be honest, looking at Haiti in the big picture often makes hope seem hopeless, freedom look like oppression and life doesn’t appear like its worth living if it’s filled with so much hunger, suffering and violence. I realize I wrote earlier that my experiences in Haiti have provided me with the closest glimpse of God’s mission and kingdom that I have ever seen, but my time in Haiti has also led to some of the most difficult questions and doubts (of faith) that I have ever faced. It just does not make sense that a world created by a loving God would include the blatant poverty, suffering and injustices that I have seen in Haiti; it’s not fair. Yet I believe that God not only created the world but God loves the world (John 3:16), all of it, and through that love, God is continually active in the world — working in and through people, powers and movements of other forms — but unfortunately this world is contaminated by sin (not just blaming sinful people), and so this means that God is doing as good as God can given the current situation. Just because things aren’t changing for the better doesn’t mean God has abandoned the situation, in fact, I believe that God can be found even in the suffering, since the understanding of God that I have is of a Father who watched his only Son die a painful and innocent death (God knows suffering and God suffers with us).

The discussion we’ve been having about missions in my systematic theology class lately has helped me realize that the group I’m involved with does not bring Christ to Haiti, in fact, we have actually discovered that He is already there in the efforts of others to help the poor and oppressed, to look after the sick and to comfort the forgotten and vulnerable. When we go to Haiti we are meeting God where God is already at work.

We are planning to wait until Friday to make a decision about whether or not it is smart for us to go ahead with our trip. We have already sent several emails and made phone calls to our friends in Haiti asking them if it’s safe for us to come (trust me, we aren’t going to put ourselves in a bad situation intentionally, and our friends there would tell us not to come if it wasn’t safe). Please pray for our team as we face the next couple of days uncertain of where we’ll be and what we’ll be doing next week, and definitely pray for Haiti as they deal with these difficult times.