August 2010 Archives

Christianity = Truth? Really?

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Isn't it true that Christians are supposed to seek truth?  That means that seeking truth must be independent of what makes us feel good, or makes us feel secure, or superior, or valued, or respected, or accepted, or included, or anything else, frankly.  If we seek truth, truth must rule the day, else our lives are a lie.

Time

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I was thinking about a good friend from college who played an important part of my life during the latter part of those days.  I haven't seen or heard from him for nearly 20 years.  Why? A variety of reasons, I suspect, but that is a fact regardless of why.  Time passes and the general, the mundane, and the profound aspects of life intrude.

I decided to google him this morning just to see if anything came up, and it did.  I listened to a radio interview he did last year about his current career and creative activities.  It was so funny hearing his voice, as if no time has passed.  Yet, so much time and so many changes of life and attitude and perspective.  What can be said?  Nothing really - actually so much if given time.

Looking back over the years of friendships and relationships and acquaintances, of events and activities and and jobs and goals, I wonder from time-to-time what could have been if different decisions were made a strategic points in my life.  My life could have gone in so many different directions, and I have done so many different things.  There was no real plan.  Opportunities presented themselves and at times I fell into them and other times I pursued them.  I am a reluctant cleric.  I've been a bus driver, a graphic designer, a desktop publisher, a network systems director, a data analyst, a teacher, a campus pastor, a missionary, a technology geek, a oil change technician, a college instructor, a student leadership development specialist, a student three times, and coming full-circle now a missioner.

Back in Bowling Green, after my bachelors degree, I took a year of graphic design and photography in a program similiar to the primary course of the old Bauhaus.  I loved it and was quite surprised that I actually had talent.  But, just one year and I moved on to Kent.  What if I continued in design and photography, which is now my hobby.  What if I allowed my creative side to develop rather than allow myself to be taken into fields where logic ruled?  I don't know, but here I am after all that time and all those experiences.

With people, too, how might things have been different.  What might have been if my friend and I kept in contact and maintained our friendship?  I have little contact with people from my past, and that is primarily my fault.  I am terrible at keeping up past relationships.  It isn't that I forget about them, as is evident in my googling this past friend, but I just don't make the phone call, write the letter or e-mail because life intrudes and the immediate cries out and I heed the call.

Sometimes, I really do wish things would have been different.  I'm in one of those times right now.  Why?  I don't know, but I am.  It isn't that life is bad right now, because it certainly isn't.  I have right now the opportunity to do what I've always wanted to do, but the problem is knowing exactly what I always wanted to do. At times I feel like I am the proto-example of the Gen X-Y kind of guy who is just all over the place with no clear direction or intent. 

To be honest, I don't think I would change anything of the strange and winding paths my life has taken.  I just wonder if I went back in time what might or could be different and whether I might be more settled.  God only knows, truly.

Like most of our culture these days, Christianity in the U.S. is undergoing a great deal of change.  There is a lot of angst around the changes within our culture and society that show that we are no longer a predominately Christian nation (implicitly or explicitly).  In addition, our current church culture caters to a philosophical and theological perspective that proving itself to not be very popular among emerging generations.

This article from the Wall Street Journal, entitled "The Perils of 'Wannabe Cool' Christianity', touches on some of the machinations going on within the Christianity right now in order to try to be "relevant" with changing culture and young people.  As the author concludes, this jump to trendiness and shock value will probably not work for much longer.

From the article:

Statistics like these have created something of a mania in recent years, as baby-boomer evangelical leaders frantically assess what they have done wrong (why didn't megachurches work to attract youth in the long term?) and scramble to figure out a plan to keep young members engaged in the life of the church.

Increasingly, the "plan" has taken the form of a total image overhaul, where efforts are made to rebrand Christianity as hip, countercultural, relevant. As a result, in the early 2000s, we got something called "the emerging church"--a sort of postmodern stab at an evangelical reform movement. Perhaps because it was too "let's rethink everything" radical, it fizzled quickly. But the impulse behind it--to rehabilitate Christianity's image and make it "cool"--remains.

and the conclusion:

If the evangelical Christian leadership thinks that "cool Christianity" is a sustainable path forward, they are severely mistaken. As a twentysomething, I can say with confidence that when it comes to church, we don't want cool as much as we want real.

If we are interested in Christianity in any sort of serious way, it is not because it's easy or trendy or popular. It's because Jesus himself is appealing, and what he says rings true. It's because the world we inhabit is utterly phony, ephemeral, narcissistic, image-obsessed and sex-drenched--and we want an alternative. It's not because we want more of the same.

Read the whole article!

The Imago Dei Initiative doesn't seek to employ trendy artifacts that become so 5-minutes ago in 2 minutes flat, but seek to understand and receive the enduring, ancient Faith experienced in new ways.  We seek to understand and experience the enduring faith and learn how to pass it on.  We seek to find simply ways of living the profound Faith in ways that get to the heart of the longings of emerging generations in every changing contexts.

This is your brain on iPad

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H
Image representing iPhone as depicted in Crunc...

Image via CrunchBase

ere is an interesting article from the New York Times.  Entitled, Digital Devices Deprive Brain of Needed Downtime, the article describes findings concerning the affect of digital technology and its constant use on the brain, particularly on the brain's ability to actually learn, to form permanent memories, to synthesis what has been inputted previously, and to be creative.  Devises like the Blackberry, iPhone, iPad - the entire digitial cornucopia - are used to fill up even small amounts of downtime. Our purpensity to not simple be is a real hindrance to our own well being, it seems.  We are coming to the point where we allow no downtime, no time to "clear our heads," and we are robbing ourselves of simple rest. Perhaps we are even hindering our own ability to effectively learn. 

What does this do to feelings of tranquility, our ability to not be bored, or our ability to actually engage with people in ways that are deeper than relational "sound-bites"?

"Almost certainly, downtime lets the brain go over experiences it's had, solidify them and turn them into permanent long-term memories," said Loren Frank, assistant professor in the department of physiology at the university, where he specializes in learning and memory. He said he believed that when the brain was constantly stimulated, "you prevent this learning process."

HANNOVER, GERMANY - MARCH 02:  A man, wearing ...

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

At the University of Michigan, a study found that people learned significantly better after a walk in nature than after a walk in a dense urban environment, suggesting that processing a barrage of information leaves people fatigued.
I've often thought that a growing and now significant hindrance to our faith and relationship not only with God but with one another revolves around our inability to be still, quiet, alone with our own thoughts, and simply be with someone without the need to be entertained or occupied. 

A strategic triumph of the Enemy of our Faith is to so distract us that we no longer give time to sit quietly with God, to study the contemplate the Word of God, or meditate on what it all means for life and love.  We cannot know God without being still, but if we are so conditioned and culturally malformed to avoid those times of stillness and quiet, we will never know the depth of relationship that is possible with God.  We will not know the depth of relationship that is possible with one another, but rather we allow ourselves to be conditioned for the superficial and the temporary.

We in the Church will need to be intentional and determined to give ourselves to periods of downtime, quiet, and stillness.  We, as followers of the Christ, will need to be examples to a world that will grow weary of this form of life.  When people begin looking for an alternative, will they see examples of a way of life that doesn't shun technology but also is able to singularly focus for a lengthy period of time on the person sitting across from us, a life that is content and at peace without distraction?  What will be the witness of the Church?  Will people see the imago of God and an image of life that is substantially different and compelling for a good alternative, or will be look just like everyone else? 

This will be a coming mission of the Church - to reintroduce to the human experience, in the U.S. at least, examples of real, tactile relationships, a peace that comes from within and not determined by outside circumstances or influences, creativity, and a whole list of other things.  This is a common proclivity to the human experience from time beginning - we do harm to ourselves.

The "E" word

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This recent article from the Episcopal News Service has prompted me to think again about the "E" word - you know, "evangelism".  The article is entitled, "Mobilizing for mission: Seminarians organize for young adult evangelism."  I have a lot of respect for this group of Episcopal seminarians in their effort to engage in evangelism, but to what are we calling people?  Is there an enduring aspect to what we are calling these young adults?

When I ask myself that question, here is what I keep coming back to: The Church needs to reclaim one of its primary purposes - to be about the Cure of Souls.  That means we call people to God through Jesus Christ first and foremost.  But, why should anyone be compelled to heed such a call, particularly if they take an account of our lives as examples of what we are calling them to?  How is our witness?

Within certain circles of the Christian Church in the U.S., and I suppose everywhere, the "E" word is avoided with a passion or simply redefined to fit particular sensibilities.

Growing up in American-Evangelicalism/Pentecostalism, evangelism was supposed to be at the center of my experience of the Faith.  We believed that we and all Christians are charged by God to "go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation." We believed this because, "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned." (Mark 16:15-16). 

While I certainly upheld this call to us all to preach the gospel, the problem I had with all the evangelism stuff was the preferred and accepted method most often used by American-Evangelicals, particularly in my context, which was the college campus.  The method used was often refereed to as "Confrontational Evangelism".  In a more crass and defamatory description, some people referred to it as "bible-thumping."

I was uncomfortable with evangelism all together because this was all I knew.  This method to me seemed fake, contrived, and forced in a way that didn't leave room for dealing with real and honest questions and doubts.  To me, it did not seem to respect there object of the effort.  Paul, as described in Acts 17, often said something like, "Come, let us reason together...", but there was no real reasoning within confrontational evangelism.  It seemed overly superficial.  Yet, I personally knew people who came to be reconciled to God ("saved," in good Evangelical verbiage) through this method - God works as God will work!  Who are we to get in the way of the Spirit because of our own likes and dislikes!

I was drawn to another concept of evangelism during those days - "Friendship Evangelism."  This method seemed more natural and respectful.  We befriended people simply because we wanted to be friends, although added to the mix was our desire for the person to also be a friend of God.  The problem was the constant tension between being "in the world," but not "of the world." 

Being friends with a "worldling" sometimes seemed to ran counter to God's demand that we, "come out from among them". (2 Corinthians 6:17)  How could one just hang with a non-Christian and be okay with that when being with him/her may be a bad influence on one's own struggle against sin and striving for holiness?  Besides, their eternal soul hung in the balance and it was up to us to do something about that.  Pressure!  Pressure that made real friendship nearly impossible.  That's why these "friendships" rarely lasted.  When the object of our efforts didn't get saved, we dumped her/him and moved on to another prospect.  This was our witness of "friendship" among many non-Christians.  Some kind of friendship, eh?

This was why I hated "evangelism."

Within American Mainline Christianity, there took hold among some an idea that "evangelism" wasn't so much converting people to Christianity, but doing things that helping the poor and down trodden and then hoping that those helped would like us.  I remember while in seminary a representative from our Church's Foreign Missions office declared that we no longer try to convert people, because that is disrespectful of their culture and religion, but we simply help them be all that they can be.  To what are we calling people? 

Today, for much of the Mainline, the "E" word has been redefined. "Evangelism" is simply helping, and then perhaps someone might like to help us help other people.  Helping others is a very good thing, but is it that to which we are to call people?

I can't get into this kind of "evangelism," either.

Within the Imago Dei Society, we center on Formation and Witness.  The Imago Dei Initiative is the means for helping us to live lives that reflect God, that reflect the transformational nature of God's work within us, and that reflect something compellingly different within the surrounding contexts of our lives that get people's attention.  What we hope gets people's attention is not due to marketing, gimmicks, or manipulation, but simply the way we live - "There is just something compellingly and delightfully different about these people!"  The difference, if seen, is due to our relationship with God first and foremost and the re-formation of heart and mind that results. 

In a society and culture that is increasingly similiar to  the pre-Constantinain environment, "evangelism" comes about because something about our lives and example attracts the attention of those seeking something other than the status-quo.  If we can be the "image of God" with integrity, with honest, and with humility in our everyday lives among the people we encounter regularly, we will be doing "evangelism."  We will be a good witness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

We do "evangelism" whether we want to or not.  The question we have to answer is whether the image of God and the Christian life we portray is on target (as best it can be in success and failure) and whether we call people to be reconciled with God before anything else.  Do we?

We hope to call people to two things consistently - be reconciled to God and with one another.  Take up your relationship with God and discover how you are transformed to live "life to the full". (John 10:10)  It isn't easy, and that is why we need one another to keep on. 

 

Sufjan Steven's new EP

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Sufjan Stevens released his new EP, yesterday!  The title is, "All Delighted People," and contains 8 tracks.  His sound is a bit different than former albums, but you can tell it is still Sufjan.  Good stuff - give it a listen.  Better yet, but the album!


<a href="http://sufjanstevens.bandcamp.com/album/all-delighted-people-ep">All Delighted People (Original Version) by Sufjan Stevens</a>
An article in the Sunday New York Times on intentional-communities of faith in NYC.  This is my intent.

Sharing the Faith, Splitting the Rent


Justin Hilton, 21, arrived at the brownstone in Bedford-Stuyvesant on July 1. Mr. Hilton works at a video store in Park Slope, and moved from Crown Heights, where he shared an apartment with a friend. He now pays $500 a month to be a part of Radical Living.

A child of missionaries to West Africa, he grew up in communal situations, and he was seeking similar surroundings when he discovered Radical Living.

"Living here in this community is not just like I have people my age or into the same things as me," he says. "It stretches you and makes you hopefully more selfless, living for something more than just your own comfort."

He said that living where religion is as much a part of daily roommate life as making sure there's milk in the fridge, means the principles of his faith are always in practice. "Church, when it's once a week, you can turn it off," Mr. Hilton said.


A lot has been written and the comments continue concerning the overturning of California's ballot initiative, Proposition 8, overturning the legislature's establishing equality in marriage for same-sex couples.  A couple points I would like to make concerning what I've read and the opinions that are being expressed:

1. The U.S. is NOT a Direct Democracy.  We are a Republic!  "The people" do not have the final say except through their elected officials within our system of checks and balances.  The courts mitigate the "tyranny of the majority" that can result when the majority seeks to deny equal consideration, access, and protection under the law to whole groups of people.  The legislatures mitigate an equal tendency among the courts to engage in the "tyranny of the minority."

2.  I am astounded that the Religious Right, anti-gay forces use the "will of the people" as their primary argument when fighting against state sanctioned same-sex marriage.  How short-sighted can they be?  They will not uphold this position and the right of the "will of the people" to rule when they are disadvantaged.  We will not find them accepting the "will of the people" if a state referendum passes that demands all crosses be removed from public view. They show themselves to be political hypocrites in taking on this tactic.

What are they going to do when the "will of the people" shifts in favor of same-sex marriage?  It is shifting! It is reckless for any group to base the success of and justification for their social or political agendas on the "will of the people."  "The people" are fickle!

3. The courts are not siding with the anti-gay marraige forces.  The courts are reflecting the changing attitudes of the American public regarding homosexuality and same-sex marriage - like they did during the Civil Rights era.  So, the Religious Right has to turn people, the voters, against their enemy the courts in order to maintain their victories.  This is so terribly short-sighted.  When the winds of public opinion change to reflect a strong bias and prejudice against Christians, which will happen, the courts will be the only recourse we have.  If the public believes the courts cannot be trusted (which is different than the belief that the judges are corrupt), the Republic as we know it is done for.

4. The anti-same-sex marriage folks are just mean spirited, because their political and social agenda drives them and not the love of Christ, which they claim.  Here is an example from the American Family Association responce to Judge Walker's decision to overturn Proposition 8:

The American Family Association (AFA) has called for Judge Walker's impeachment. Under the Constitution, judges may be impeached if they violate a standard of "good Behaviour." According to the AFA, Walker violated this standard in two ways...

Second, the AFA said, "Judge Walker is an open homosexual, and should have recused himself from this case due to his obvious conflict of interest." AFA's Bryan Fischer further said, "[Walker] is Exhibit A as to why homosexuals should be disqualified from public office ... A man who ignores time-honored standards of sexual behavior simply cannot be trusted with the power of public office." [emphasis mine]  (Source)

So, homosexuals should not be allowed to hold public offices?  What if homosexuals are elected to public office by the "will of the people"?

  

Unhealthy Clergy

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I worked as the Data Analyst for the three year, multi-million dollar, multi-national research study (it was a real study!) dealing with healthcare benefits for Episcopal clergy and lay employees.  In our research, it became blatantly apparent that clergy are an unhealthy bunch.  The nature of the work and difficulty we have setting boundaries contribute to our lives being less than healthy.  We are undisciplined in this area, too.

I have found that I actually have to physically leave home and neighborhood (get out of town) so that I will  take a true day off!

This article appeared recently on AOL's blog, "Politics Daily."  It is entitled, "No Rest For the Holy: Clergy Burnout a Growing Concern," by David Gibson, Religion Reporter.  Here are a couple paragraphs:

"The untenable nature of the experience for me [being a pastor/priest] was being designated the holiest member of the congregation, who could be in all places at all times and require no time for sermon preparation," Barbara Brown Taylor, an Episcopal priest, said in describing her memoir, "Leaving Church," about her decision to abandon the pulpit. "Those aren't symptomatic of a mean congregation; those are normal expectations of 24/7 availability."

Indeed, unlike doctors or police, for example, pastors are supposed to be people who have dedicated their lives to a spiritual goal and are not expected to focus on themselves and their own welfare in the here and now.

"I really don't think people think about their pastors," said Rae Jean Proeschold-Bell, research director of the Duke Clergy Health Initiative. "They admire their pastor, and their pastor is very visible. But they want their pastor to be the broker between them and God, and they don't want them to be as human as they themselves are."
Further on:

A program called the National Clergy Renewal Program, funded by the Lilly Endowment, has been underwriting sabbaticals for pastors for several years; the program will provide up to $50,000 to 150 congregations in the coming year. And places like The Alban Institute in Herndon, Va., are studying the topic and offering expertise and resources to denominations trying to make their clergy healthier...

But experts also say the solutions have to start at the congregational level.

Congregants can encourage pastors to take time off, and not view everything in the church as the pastor's responsibility. They can also be sure to provide healthy food at church events. But clergy must also learn find time to exercise or relax, even if it means saying no to some requests. Otherwise, they won't be healthy enough to serve their flock later on.
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This page is an archive of entries from August 2010 listed from newest to oldest.

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