Wednesday, February 09, 2005

From PCUSA News Leonard Sweet Cats, Toasters, Vomit and Priest Prophets

Note #8643 from PCUSA NEWS to PRESBYNEWS:05080February 8, 2005
Calling all pneumanauts

Sweet tells APCE participants to be 'sailors on the Spirit'by Jerry L. Van Marter

VANCOUVER - In a world dominated by the power found in material things, Christians must reclaim the reality and power of the spirit, renowned futurist Leonard Sweet said in twin lectures yesterday and today here. He even coined a new word for doing so as he addressed the 900 Presbyterian and Reformed participants in the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators (APCE) annual conference here: "pneumanauts" - from the Greek words for "spirit" or "wind" and "travelers." "We believe that the physical and material forces are the strongest in the universe," Sweet said, "but what does God say? 'Not by power, not by might, but by my Spirit.'" And so, in a world desperate for spiritual leadership, Christians must be pneumanauts, "sailors on the Spirit," he insisted. Scripture also reveals the chief characteristic of "the wind-blown life," Sweet insisted - unpredictability: "We know not where the wind comes from and where it goes, and it takes us even in directions we don't want to go."

Sweet outline the three "Esses" of "pneumanautics":* Simultaneity* Systems* SemioticsSimultaneity "We live in a world where opposite things are happening at the same time but they're not contradictory," Sweet said. The concept is more Eastern than Western - yoga, for instance, literally means "embracing opposites." But the Bible, borne in the East, is replete with such simultaneity. For example, Sweet said, God is one God, but exists in three persons. For another, Jesus is fully human and fully divine. And Jesus' teachings, Sweet continued, are filled with such simultaneity - he counsels his disciples, for instance, to be "wise as serpents but gentle as doves." Changes in distribution theory point to a shift in western culture toward simultaneity, he said. For generations, scientists have cited the "bell curve" as the "normal" distribution - a vast middle (the bell) with very little at either end of the curve. Scientists are increasingly relying on a "well curve" distribution theory, with vast extremes and very little in the middle. "Just look at the presidential election, or many of the mainline churches - there's no middle left anywhere," Sweet said. The key to ministry in such a changed world is to bring the extremes together and only by embracing simultaneity can that be achieved. Again, Sweet said, the Bible is replete with examples of Jesus (and his disciples) bringing seemingly opposites together.

And it doesn't happen by trying to find a lowest common denominator, Sweet said, citing Revelation 3:16 - "Would that you were hot or cold, instead you are luke-warm." Calling this the "God-vomit" passage because the Revelation author quotes God as saying, "You make me sick "(or "vomit"), Sweet said, "What's happening today is a bunch of churches are being thrown up, vomited out, because they're neither hot nor cold but just plain luke-warm."

Coining another simultaneity term, he said Christians today must be "priest prophets." "A priest represents the people to God; a prophet represents God to the people," he explained. "A priest tells it like it is; a prophet tells it like God wants it to be. A priest reaches out to where people are; a prophet reaches out to where people are not but need to be. Pneumanauts need to do both at the same time - that's what's missing in church leadership today."

Systems Christians must understand (and act accordingly) that the Bible, the church and other people are living organisms and not machines or devices. It is, Sweet said, like the difference between trying to fix a toaster and trying to heal a cat. "To heal a toaster, you take it apart, clean and repair it and then put it back together again," he explained. "You cannot heal a sick cat by taking it apart and putting it back together again. "The modern world taught us toasters," Sweet continued. "We have yet to learn how to do cat, to treat things like cats, not toasters. The challenge, fellow pneumanauts, is to figure out how to treat more of the world like cats, not toasters." Start with the Bible, he suggested. "When I was a kid I was put in a program to memorize Bible verses," Sweet recounted. "I learned a lot of Bible verses, but then discovered, almost too late, that the Bible wasn't written in verses, it was written in stories.

"We've turned the Bible into a toaster. We have to treat it more like a cat. We say the Bible is a 'living' book. Then we must trust it as a whole, not as a collection of small parts that we can take apart and put back together again," Sweet said. Churchgoers do it with sermons, too.

"Ministers are the worst listeners to sermons because they immediately start taking them apart," he said. And people. "As soon as we meet someone, we start taking them apart to see what we like and don't like about them," Sweet said. "How radically would our ministry change if we started treating them like cats and not like toasters?"

Semiotics From the Greek word for "signs," semiotics, Sweet said, is "an invitation to read the signs. The height of spiritual illiteracy is the inability to read the handwriting on the wall." Jesus continuously implored his followers to read the signs he was pointing out,.The gospel of Mark, for instance, is filled, Sweet pointed out, with Jesus' expressions of frustration and the disciples consistently missed the clues. "Mark is the 'duh!' gospel, he said. Semiotic awareness - which Sweet also called "connecting the dots" - should be easier for Christians because they have a personal stake in seeing the signs of the Spirit's presence in the world. It's like buying a new car, he said. "As soon as you drive it off the lot, you immediately begin to see the same vehicle everywhere. People aren't suddenly copying you by buying the same car," Sweet explained. "What has changed is you. You have a personal stake in that car so now you can start reading the signs."

Sweet said one of his favorite metaphors for "reading the signs of life" is South Carolinian Reggie McNeil's "refrigerator door." "We ought to think of ministry as a refrigerator door. If I go into your home, I might admire the furnishings or the art on the walls," he explained. "But if I really want to see your family's life in all its richness and creativity, I'll look at your refrigerator door - that's where the growth and vitality and stuff that's really important to the life of your household will be found."

Christians must think of their churches as refrigerator doors, Sweet concluded. "Make fine music, preach good sermons, fill the walls with fine windows and art, but don't forget the refrigerator door."

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Unknown said...

I like this guy! I especially like the part about treating people like cats, rather than toasters.
Pneumanautically yours,

Mary said...

Sign me up for Pnuemanauts UN-Anonymous!
No, I'm not a preacher by profession but shouldn't we ALL strive to be priest-prophets?
Man, this was great, thanks so much for posting it.
I, too, loved the toaster/cat comparison. So true.

I just returned from our Ash Wednesday mass (Catholic Christian here) and came to check out the lectionary for some readings online. When I read the beginning of your post I had an "a-ha" moment when I got to the part about opposite things happening at the same time and the idea of embracing opposites, honing in on that simultaneity... because I had just read this quote which was on the "link of the week" :

"'There is nothing more exhausting for the person,'
says Howard Thurman in The Inward Journey,
'than the constant awareness that his life is being lived at cross-purposes.
At such moments the individual seems to himself
ever to be working against himself.
What he longs for is the energy that comes from
a concentration of his forces in a single direction, toward a single end.'"

-from "Clarification", by Frederick J. Streets,
The Christian Century, 1993.

[taken from ]

I think this idea of bringing the extremes together is really BIG, but what do you think that means in our smaller everyday spiritual lives? I love a good sermon (or homily --and yes, I tear them apart all I can!) but sometimes I come away thinking 'Ok, now how am I going to apply this? How am I going to put this into action and watch it work?' Because I do believe the ideals behind this concept of 'pneumanautism' as I read them. I do believe they will work. I just often wonder where the 'start' button is, you know? (Haha, like on a toaster, not a cat... maybe that's my problem!) I find myself wanting to do more than just sit here and nod my head 'yes, yes!' all over the place as I read your post.

This is why I love Lent. It's a time for serious reflection on these kinds of ideas/reminders that will hopefully renew and strengthen our spiritual relationship(s) with God. And I do so enjoy the 'unpredictability' that comes with an embracing of that 'wind-blown life', as Sweet put it.
Anything can happen.

Thanks for the great read,

PS - here in So Cal suburbia, there are many new luxury homes being built and they all seem to include those fancy custom "built-in" refrigerators (can you tell I don't have one, I don't even know the proper word for them!). The thing is, the facing of them is made of wood or oak or some other panel-type stuff that matches the rest of the custom kitchen cabinets... and the faces are NOT magnetized. Which means, of course, you can't stick stuff to the front of the frig. (Good Lord, nobody's gonna use tape on a frig that fancy!) I've been in friends' homes that have beautiful fancy friges like this, and it always amazes me how quiet and downright 'sad' the refrigerator front seems without any signs of 'life' on it. I guess I can't help compare it to mine, which is so covered with photos (of moments we've had in our life!) and calendars (of things we need to do and where we go in our life!) and shopping lists (the food for our life!) and artwork (the creativity of our life!) that I honestly cannot tell from here if we have a GE or a Whirlpool or what. I'm sure there's a label under there somewhere... ;)

PPS - commenting on your blog is seriously cutting into my own blog-posting time! LOL

PPB said...

Oh, my peeps are so fun sometimes!!! (And they call us the frozen chosen, harumph!)