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A few days ago I read a blog post from Fr. Robert Hendrickson, friend and colleague, Curate at Christ Church New Haven, and developer of the new and wonderful ministries of St. Hilda's House, Ascension House, and Church of the Ascension in the Hill district of New Haven.  In his blog entry, we spoke about the centrality of worship as the hallmark of Anglican Christianity and the Church's experience.  From his blog entry:

I have found that this exercise has emphasized that which we have always struggled with as Anglicans - uniformity of belief. Throughout our history we have navigated the Catholic and Reformed strains and struggled with the melding of politics and religion. Through all of this, we have maintained our identity through common worship. We have prayed together, broken bread together, and listened to one another with a common language, with a common prayer.

It may sound nonsensical or naive but I truly think the most crucial task for the Church is not growth, justice, discipleship, survival, nor restructuring. The most crucial task facing the Church is worship.

Please read his entry at his blog, The Curate's Desk

This morning, I thought it might be interesting to see how Eugene Peterson (pastor, scholar, writer, and poet) wrote a couple particular chapters in the book of the Bible known as the Revelation (you know, that strange, last book of Holy Writ) in his version of the Bible known as "The Message".  Upon reading his short introduction on Revelation, I was reminded of Fr. Hendrickson's blog post above on worship.

Peterson writes,

Worship shapes the human community in response to the living God.  If worship is neglected or perverted, our communities fall into chaos or under tyranny.

Our times are not propitious for worship. The times never are. The world is hostile to worship.  The Devil hates worship. As The Revelation makes clear, worship must be carried out under conditions decidedly uncongenial to it. Some Christians even get killed because they worship.

We are wise if we heed such instruction and insight from both.
Considering what is going on in the 2012 General Convention of the Episcopal Church right now with regard to resolutions related to changing the Church's reaching to official acceptance of the unbaptized being given Holy Communion, I want to make more accessible the piece I recently wrote on the topic.

The piece that I wrote focuses to how emerging generations (younger folks) may or may not engage this issue (topic, point of contention, disagreement, fight, or whatever-else-it-might-be-called).  Primarily, what I say is that if we make this change for reasons related to "welcome" or "inclusion" or the removal of supposed "obstacles" to new people coming to our churches, that such reasons for such a fundamental change may play well with liberal-minded, Baby-Boomer sentiments, but it will be irrelevant for younger people.  Younger people deal with such issues from very different perspectives.

So that anyone who may want to read the essay/commentary without wading through irrelevent stuff, I have made a "Page" for my 2-cents worth of commentary.  Of course, you could just scroll down.

Here is the link:
http://www.hypersync.net/mt/communion-without-baptism-emer.html

The rise of...

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A very interesting article entitled "What The Rise Of Depeche Mode Teaches You About The Rise Of Digital Design" comparing the rise of digital design today with the rise of synth-pop of the '70's & '80's (oh, how I remember "Cars" by Gary Numan!)

"After the explosion of synth pop onto the world stage, the press and industry were forced to recognize it as music and embrace it as an art form... For designers, after a pretty decent amount of struggle, we are just barely starting to see the acceptance of digital design as something people should care about."

Frankly, I see a very similar thing happening within our Church (and that would be the Episcopal Church). I can point to some folks who are doing the rising stuff and in the midst of struggle are making their way (it is, frankly, attitude, belief, and approach more than programmatic anything).  They aren't really those we hear lot about - or are more often than not put forward by the powers that be! That is just the way it is. Soon, however...

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Speaking of "Cars," here is Gary Numan in a surprise 2009 appearance at a NIN concert in London:

The Millennial generation does not imagine they are accepting or rejecting the Christian Faith--they imagine they are entering into formation for a new way of life, and they expect the Church to initiate, guide, teach, equip, and send them. 

What follows delves into how this may play out when considering the practice of "communion without baptism."

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The Lord GOD has given me

the tongue of a teacher,

that I may know how to sustain

the weary with a word.

Morning by morning he wakens--

wakens my ear

to listen as those who are taught. (Isaiah 50:4-9a)

 

Isaiah's words ring loudly if we take up the challenge to understand our times forthrightly and consider candidly the looming debates within the Church. I humbly pray that we as a Church may be as one who knows how to "sustain the weary with a word." I pray that we all are awakened daily by the Lord with ears "to listen as those who are taught."

We should recognize, even if unable at present to understand, that within Western culture and particularly American culture, we are undergoing a profound, long-term change.   This is absolutely true for the Church and Christianity in general, also. One advantage we have in the enduring Christian Church is that we've been around for a very long time and have seen this all before. The question is whether we will learn from the past or whether we will simply repeat the past mistakes and be subsumed by the present, temporary, and thin zeitgeist. Change is inevitable, and can be very good, but we have to question and examine the reasons and means for change - why, why now, how, to what degree, what might be the unforeseen consequences?, and so forth.

One of the current travails within the Church is how to stem the tide of decline so that we might again thrive. One of the aspects of change we are examining for the Church (and here I am speaking specifically of the Episcopal Church, the institutional expression of Anglicanism in the United States) is how to engage younger generations (really, for too many people it revolves are how to "appeal to") younger generations.  One way proposed to appeal to younger folks is to remove all assumed "barriers," including the need for baptism before the reception of Holy Communion, the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. Who are we, after all, to deny them something that doesn't belong to us, anyway, right? The problem is - that plays well with Baby Boomer sentimental thinking, but not particularly well with younger generations in the aggregate.

So, what follows are some thoughts I have about "communion without baptism" as the issue plays out in the upcoming General Convention of the Episcopal Church USA this summer.

 

Introduction:

communion from the cup2.jpgThe focus of this commentary deals with how the debate within the Episcopal Church over "communion without baptism" may be conceived of within the cultural melee experienced by "emerging generations"[i] and the place, needs, and hopes of younger people. The demographic we are primarily considering is the generation known as the "Millennials" or "Generation Y" - those who are roughly 11-29 years-of-age. This is a complex generation, and even while we are all still figuring out what makes them a coherent generation, there are reliable generational characteristics that can be generalized.

When dealing with the many theological, sociological, and pedagogical considerations concerning communion of the unbaptized, within the context of Millennials there are additional considerations that need to be taken into account: 1.) The influences of previous generations on the upbringing of this group of people; 2.) The general cultural context that this generation now inhabits and how they function within it; and 3.) The foundation upon which this generation builds its understanding of life, humanity, personhood, and the world and their engagement with it - their default "faith" or worldview. Each of these will be briefly dealt with below.

These additional considerations are couched within the overarching goals of being present with young people within their constantly changing contexts so to be a witness of God's reconciling and regenerative presence and love, to learn how to translate the enduring,[ii] living Christian Faith in ways that will resonate with them, and to discover the best means for bringing the emerging generation into the mystical Body of Christ and ultimately the parish community.

Finally, over the last ten years, I have repeatedly heard and read from young people that the older "leadership of the Church does not listen to us!" We are continually trying to reconfigure the Church and its worship attempting to be relevant and accessible in ways we presume younger people will like. Yet, they are not impressed, literally. We recognize this by their growing absence. What they are seeking is something worthwhile to live for - something that proves to them that it is important enough, big enough, and hopeful enough for their consideration and devotion.[iii] Many are finding this in other expressions of Christianity, even as studies and anecdotal evidence suggest that the hope and life of historic Anglicanism is primed to take advantage of the spiritual disposition of Millennials.

"The mind of a person with understanding gets knowledge; the wise person listens to learn more." (Proverbs 18:15)

 

Influence of Previous Generations:

It has been said of Baby-Boomers (born between 1946 to around 1960[iv]) that they are the first generation to reject lessons learned from the past. There was and continues to be a generational suspicion of, if not outright rejection of, established institutions, convention, and what came before them. The generation untethered itself from the past in order to create a new world. A continuing example of this can be seen in TV commercials extolling how the Baby-Boomers are overthrowing traditional thinking and remaking retirement for themselves. Yet, Baby-Boomers were enculturated and formed as children within a society that still valued the sense of continuity and understanding that rests with tradition and elder-wisdom. There was a collective rejection of how they were raised.

It has been said of Generation X (those born around 1961 through 1981) that they are the first generation to draw meaning from popular culture. They are the "MTV" generation. This seems to be a natural progression from the Baby-Boomer rejection of lessons learned from past generations and their values. Where else are GenX'ers to find meaning, if the past is moot and untrustworthy - even dangerous? They find meaning from what is - now. Of course, the "now" is constantly morphing, particularly when considering the advent of the Internet and the continual re-framing of what is and can be known as true or final or valid - all ideas, all theories, and all concepts are equal on the Internet. Generation X is the first generation to be raised with the growing sense of being unconnected to anything sure and trustworthy.

Research reveals that the Millennial Generation (those born after around 1982 until somewhere from 2001through 2004) is the first generation where social networking and technology predominate in their everyday lives. They have access to more information and the ability for connectivity than any other generation. Members express a strong sense of abandonment by adults. As a result, Millennials have created for themselves a hidden subculture that most adults do not see or understand.[vi] Their lives revolve around fast changing, capricious, and often-manipulative fads perpetuated through a pervasive media. Underneath all the hype and hoopla, our young people are weary and wary even as they express hope for the future.

Consider that in the aggregate, the parents of Millennials (generally Baby-Boomers) are not raising their children in any particular kind of faith.  Many parents do not want their kids to be unduly influenced by what they consider to be antiquated and confining past religious expectations. This generational sensibility continues to compel adults to want young people to develop their own personal religious faith in their own time, if any religious belief at all. Yet, parents do not give much guidance or instruction to their children with respect to spiritual development generally or Christian formation specifically. A consequence is that adolescents without any formal religious education or experience arrive on college campuses or into the adult world without an understanding for making sound judgments of what is a legitimate faith expression or what is cultic, spiritually manipulative, or emotionally harmful. Thus, it is reasonable that a default, culturally generated faith such as "Moralistic, Therapeutic, Deism"[vii] has developed to fill the void.

Consider that even for the Millennials who are being raised within institutional religious settings, particularly Mainline Protestantism, the general zeitgeist compels parents and adults to attempt to be more like coordinators who want to help young people discover their own beliefs rather than teachers of an enduring, consistent Christian faith. For their own good, we make our children take music lessons or attend athletic practices, but we do not make them be a part of the church. Thus, the example set by Baby-Boomer parents and adults generally does not convey to young people that this Christian Faith is important enough to teach and pass-on to the next generation. They believe Christian life is, therefore, not worthy enough for their consideration and involvement.

Consider that Millennials report having very good and important relationships with their parents. They believe in a positive future and have a sense of confidence in their abilities. They believe that the existence of the institutional Church is good and important, yet they do not believe that the Church has any relevance for their own lives. Ironically, part of the reason for this is that young people do not believe that most of those who go to church are in fact particularly Christian.[viii]

Adults rarely perceive their engagement with young people in these ways, but this is what younger people generally report experiencing.

Questions that might be helpful to ponder: Have parents abandoned their responsibility to be engaged as the primary movers in the spiritual formation of their children? Has the institutional Church relinquished its obligation to teach the enduring Christian Faith handed down from generation to generation? Has the institutional Church itself been overwhelmed and usurped by prevailing culture?  Why do we find ourselves in a situation where fewer people among the emerging generations find any relevance or alternative within the Church to what they experience in the world? 

 

The Cultural Dynamic:

The cultural environment within which Millennials have and are growing up is substantially different than any other generation in the history of the U.S. Family dynamics, the ubiquitous use of technology that enables instantaneous access to entertainment and communication, relationships that are not bound by geography or tactile presence, and the omnipresence of information and opinion are but a few significant considerations. There is the extension of the "latch-key" phenomenon of the 1980's and 90's where parents exert less and less formal oversight of and casual engagement with their children. For many Millennials, the parental project of raising their children and instilling an ethical system has been turned over to the schools. This same dynamic is occurring as parents turn over the Christian formation of their children to the institutional Church, if they engage any religious practice at all. Children are less likely to have family traditions, generational wisdom, or religious beliefs passed on to them by their parents. Finally, constant change has bred a sense of being disconnected to anything sure and a chaos that seems to rule their lives.

We are all enculturated from birth into ways of thinking and being within our social environs and within common culture. Enculturation normally occurs unconsciously as the prevailing social norms and expectations are conveyed through media, educational systems, family influence, and peer relationships. Religious institutions are playing far less of a positive role than in the past. Enculturation can "form" us positively and negatively. We are "formed" unknowingly, but for the Christian a process of intentional "re-formation" is important in order to identify and heal those aspects of enculturation that are negative and harmful to our individual and social good.

The reality we face as Christians living in the second decade of 21st Century America is that young people are "formed" by aspects of popular culture that work contrary to their spiritual health - the way of life we are called to by Jesus Christ that enables a sustainable society full of beauty and at peace. This is most significant because they lack basic understandings of Christian truths formerly communicated through the common culture of Christendom that mitigated aspects of negative enculturation.

Taking into account the coming and going of various Christian movements over the past sixty-odd years, we have seen great change in American Christianity. We are now reaping the results of Mainline Protestantism of the '60's through 70's and American-Evangelicalism of the 1980's with the resulting politicization and polarization of religion coupled with the ending of Christendom.[ix]  Church practice has developed into a kind of "therapy" church - within the churches it has become more important to try to make people feel good about themselves (and the Church) than to teach the enduring Faith tradition or challenge people to strive for the amendment of life through Christ. This kind of "church" has resulted in little Christian growth and maturation.[x]

We are well past the "Seeker/Church Growth Movement" of the 1990's as a phenomenon primarily among Baby-Boomers with its reaction against institutional Christianity and tradition. We are now beyond the "Emergent Movement" coming into its own during the 2000's, which was and continues to be a phenomenon among primarily GenX 'ers engaged in figuring out how to be the Church within Postmodernism, which among other things opens again an acceptance of mystery. 

Among Millennials, we are realizing the phenomenon of the end of the "Constantinian-Era" of Western Christianity - a "Post-Constantinianism." Aside from changes in technology and some social structures, we have entered into a social construct that has much in common with the way early Christians experienced life within prevailing cultures that were at best indifferent and at worst hostile to Christian faith and life.

The questions to ponder within current cultural contexts are these: How does the Church respond within a culture that no longer supports Christian notions of the human being, of ethics, of our world, and of our place in the world?  How does the Church respond to a generation of which the majority of members have no formal religious education and very little meaningful religious experience? How should the Church respond to younger people who seek a kind of "spirituality," but have little notion of what that means or how to attain it outside of cultural trend, whim, or fickle personal feelings?

 

The Default Faith of the Millennials:

The "National Study of Youth and Religion"[xi] reveals that younger people have developed a sense of spirituality that the authors define as "Moralistic, Therapeutic, Deism." This is not just another variant of the Christian Faith, the authors stress. It is an uncritical something-else that has developed among younger people as a result of their enculturation. They are usually not able to coherently articulate this as a spiritual belief-system, yet it well describes their sense of a supreme-being and how they engage with such a supreme-being and how that supreme-being engages them, including how they are to behave. This god is out there somewhere, doesn't really have concern for human affairs, but is expected to hopefully bail us out of trouble when we need it, and the highest moral ideal is to be nice (which is not the same as loving your neighbor as yourself).

Regrettably, the authors write that this default "faith" of younger people is not a result of churches teaching the Christian Faith badly. This is, in fact, the "faith" that primarily Mainline Protestantism is now teaching by example to its young people.[xii] As a priest recently said, "My church is full of unconverted people." It is very difficult for those who do not effectively know the Christian Faith and the life resulting from such a Faith to instill in the emerging generation a meaningful and consequential Christian understanding and experience. We are collectively living a deficient form of Christianity, and young people know it.

Consider that with respect to religious or spiritual beliefs, an understanding of the self, and knowledge of Christian faith and praxis among emerging generations, research reveals the dire need for clear and consistent teaching from the Church. We need to reengage our teaching ministry - the process of catechetical formation among people who know little about the Faith. In these days, an institution that cannot clearly articulate its beliefs, its purpose, and its uniqueness will quickly lose the interest of younger people. Too many other things are gaming for their attention.

Questions to ponder as we think about faith development among younger people: If the culturally inspired, default spiritual understanding of a growing majority of Millennials is no longer built upon a foundation of historic Christian thought and practice, how must the Church respond? What is the teaching responsibility of the Church when approached by those who know little or nothing about the Christian understanding of humanity, the world, and God's call to us? How do we live in ways that bear witness to a God who is personal and comes among us, who is engaged with us through history, and who desires us to come into the fullness of Christ?

 

Final Considerations:

Consider that there is a difference between respectful listening so to learn how to better engage and teach emerging generations and, alternately, a kind of listening that ends up relinquishing the obligation to teach so to avoid controversy or perceived affront. It is always easier and less controversial to be an impassive spiritual guild rather than a forthright teacher.  We tend to think that being less demanding and more vague will mean more interest and participation. This way of thinking is continually shown to be false.

Consider, too, that there is a difference between giving the consecrated elements of Holy Communion to unbaptized people for pastoral reasons and the giving of the elements to unbaptized people as a matter of course for reasons surrounding hospitality or inclusivity. As is evident in the aggregate, that emerging generations are not responding to an increased focus on "hospitality" and "inclusivity." There is a desire for community, fellowship, and diverse environments assuredly, but these things are not understood by Millennials within the same concept of "hospitality" or "inclusivity" that is proffered by many leaders within the Church at this time.

Consider that notions that emerging generations are not interested in their spiritual lives, in church attendance, or learning about the enduring Christian Faith are all simply myth, often used by leadership to make excuses for the absence of young people from the Church. There are a plethora of churches and Christian groups that are growing and thriving among Millennials. The problem is that our Church, along with many, have all lost the collective ability to not only experience the fullness of the Life in Christ among present members, but have relinquished the project of learning how to translate and pass on the enduring Christian Faith and practice to the next generation in ways that resonate with them.

Could it be that we no longer listen to learn, effectively? Could it be that we no longer are able to give comfort with a word in ways that emerging generations can receive?

 

Conclusion: Bringing it all together -

The churches in which I grew up considered both baptism and the Lord's Supper to be only symbolic. We were baptized at an age of accountability only as an outward sign of a decision already made. We received communion crackers and grape juice only as a remembrance of Jesus' sacrifice and resurrection. There was no sacramental understanding and no "means of grace" held within the elements. The church in which I spent eight years as a lay campus pastor before becoming an Episcopalian is growing with over a million more members in the U.S. than the Episcopal Church (with probably two million more showing up on Sundays) and approximately 70 million members worldwide - nearly as large as the entire Anglican Communion. Yet I can say authoritatively that the continued growth in these kinds of churches is not because people have a warm feeling of welcome as a result of being allowed to take communion regardless of where they are in their personal or spiritual lives. And, these are not churches where the members leave their brains at the door.

Most all indicators among younger people point in a direction where clear teaching, rigorous yet fair expectation, and deeply held beliefs-proven-over-time are what they are seeking. They do not want to be told what to believe out-of-hand. This can help explain their declining interest in Evangelical and Roman churches. Yet, they seek something efficacious by which to be challenged - not just the same, old thing they experience in a wearying common culture.

We know that there is an increasing sense of loneliness and narcissism among emerging generations.[xiii] Technology is passé. Moving forward, an important ministry of the Church will be to re-teach in word and by example how to have and maintain low-tech, tactile, supportive, and multigenerational relationships.

Millennials are seeking something that is not bound by the chaos of constant change. Those who are truly trying to find God and develop a spiritual understanding of life are seeking examples of real alternatives to the morass of prevailing culture among people who claim this enduring Faith. They are seeking something that is not trite or superficial and something that proves to be profoundly consequential.

Changing the Canons and teaching of this Church to provide as normative communion without baptism will have profound consequence concerning what this Church has taught and lived for centuries as part of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church and for our ecumenical relationships, but such change will not cause a re-engagement of Millennials with this Church. It will not provide for younger people collectively an example of vibrant and significant belief. It will have little consequence for the Church as it tries to attract a new generation of faithful Christians.

By providing an open invitation to come and explore this radical Christian reality, we give young people who have little real knowledge of Christian belief and practice the freedom to seek and question and wrestle with the implications of this Faith. When they believe themselves ready to heed the call of Jesus to enter into more formal relationships with God and other parishioners in the context of the mystical Body of Christ, we make available to them baptism - the initiation into the Church. Finally, when they believe that they are ready to take upon themselves the profound significance of Christ's death and resurrection through the reception of the consecrated elements of Holy Communion, they have a good understanding of what they are getting themselves into. They have then determined for themselves that this life in Christ is truly what they seek.  This is not an effort to usher them into an exclusive club, but to meet them where they are as they seek that which remains sure and true over time and demonstrates a way of being that is life altering, with immense and eternal consequences. Centered on Christ, this is a word that sustains the weary.

(Special thanks to The Rev. Amy Coultas for the beginning summation!)

Respectfully submitted for consideration by:
The Rev. Robert Griffith, SCP
Imago Dei Initiative
Brooklyn, NY



[i] By using the term "emerging," there is recognition and expectation that the process of understanding a new generation is forever a process in flux, always emerging along with the young people who are growing up.

[ii] By using the word "enduring," there is the recognition that within the deep and ancient stream of Christian Tradition are aspects that remain constant over time, through trial and persecution, within a plethora of cultures and languages, and that always inspire the worship of and relationship with Almighty God.

[iii] Research studies are numerous, but consider the "National Study of Youth and Religion" (NSYR) and the Barna Research Group findings as examples. For a brief list of research organizations and for a short bibliography of articles and books pertaining to changing culture and emerging generations, see http://imagodeiinitiative.org/inquiry.  (Last accessed April 19, 2012)

[iv] Dates based on Strauss-Howe Generational Theory. See for more information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strauss-Howe_generational_theory (Last accessed April 19, 2012)

[v] See the research findings reported in the books: Clark, Chap (2005). Hurt: Inside the World of Today's Teenagers; and (2011) Hurt 2.0. Grand Rapids: Backer Academic.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] See below for a fuller explanation of this default "faith."

[viii] See the report from the Barna Research Group: Kinnaman, David, & Lyons, Gabe (2007).  unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity and Why It Matters. Grand Rapids: Baker Books. See: http://www.unchristian.com/ (Last accessed April 19, 2012)

[ix] For our purposes, we are defining: "Post-Christendom" as the end of official social institutions supporting and encouraging a Christian worldview; "Postmodernism" as the philosophical system that has come to predominate educational and social understanding, but more specifically expressed on-the-ground and within everyday life; and "Post-Constantinianism" is recognized when even the culture and social-fabric no longer support or encourage a Christian worldview and when within local contexts Christianity becomes the minority belief system.

[x] See the article: "When Are We Going to Grow Up? The Juvenilization of American Christianity," Christianity Today Online; posted June 8, 2012. http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2012/june/when-are-we-going-to-grow-up.html?utm_source=connection-html&utm_medium=Newsletter&utm_term=2407189&utm_content=128084430&utm_campaign=2012 (Last accessed 6/16/12)

[xi] NSYR website: http://www.youthandreligion.org/ (Last accessed Apirl 19, 2012)

[xii] See - Dean, Kenda Creasey (2010). Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling the American Church. Oxford: Oxford University Press. For more information: http://kendadean.com/almost-christian/ (Last accessed April 19, 2012)

[xiii]Marche, S. (May 2012).  Is Facebook Making Us Lonely? Atlantic Magazine. Retrieved April 13, 2012, from http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/05/is-facebook-making-us-lonely/8930/

We keep hearing so often how we must change our structures - change our organizational, institutional way of being - because the structures of the organization are failing us.

I don't have a problem with organizational change, but it is too easy to believe that the problem is with the structure itself. Sometimes it is, but more often than not the problem comes down to the people inhabiting the structure! The problem is us!

WE have to change, and if we do change the old structures may well work just fine. If we don't change within ourselves, all the restructuring in the world will make little difference!

How We Live...

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We live in a cultural situation right now that looks far more similiar to the early Christian experience than for the past 1,000  years in the West. The following quote is an equally fit description of the American landscape with regard to living the Faith at the beginning of the second decade of 2012 as it is of their lives back then:

"Because the church in the second and third centuries maintained a parallel existence with other faiths in the multireligious culture, Christian identity depended upon a radical focus on Jesus, even while maintaining contact with people of other worldviews." (Kenda Creasy Dean, "Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling the American Church"; p. 91.)

Restructuring? Reorganizing? For the sake of the faith of the emerging generations, what we must remember to do is put all of our eggs in one basket - Jesus Christ. We must refocus and live in such ways individually and in community that no one can look at us and not notice the cruciform way we live that reflects our complete devotion to live as Jesus lived, even in suffering for the sack of others.

How we live makes a difference, but the difference begins with for whom we live!

"Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter - when you see the naked, to cloth them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?  Then your light will break forth like the dawn and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here I am."
(Isaiah 58:6-9)

In these days, I sometimes have knee jerk reactions toward the "social service crowd" or the "political activism group" within the Church. (I've done social service and political activism, BTW.) I do so, I believe, because there has been the tendency to replace relationship with God with the doing of things.  The way the institutional church, and here I'm thinking primarily of Mainline Protestantism, has gone about all of this is often far more anthropocentric than theocentric, and I think this has greatly lessened our intimacy in relationship with God and thus the power that should be behind our doing of stuff.

Another part of why I have this knee jerk reaction, and coming out of the anthropomorphizing of Christianity, comes out of the notion that if one overthrows systems or institutions or other such things that then the evil is put away and the people will flourish.  Overthrow evil, exploitative, unjust capitalism with egalitarian, virtuous, good socialism and all will be well.  Overthrow "godless Communism" with "God-ordained democracy" and a glorious future will be realized.  Any such things will work. 

The problem is that people believe that the system, the institution in and of itself is where the evil resides.  I content that it isn't any of that.  The evil resides in the hearts and minds of the people who inhabit the systems or the institutions or the bureaucracies.  Overthrow capitalistic systems with socialistic systems and you will still have just as much, if not more, corruption, injustice, greed, exploitation, etc. because the hearts and minds of the leadership, the workers, everyone, are still unmoved, unchanged, or unredeemed.

If we want to overthrow evil, injustice, exploitation, and all the like, then we must change people - one heart, one mind at a time.  The kind of change we require as Christians is not attainable by our own effort, but by the renewing of our minds and hearts by the Spirit of God.  So, to protest against systems, to yell and scream for the downfall of the bureaucracy will get us no closer to a justice, peaceful society.  If successful, there will simply be a change in the group of people who do the exploiting, etc.

Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party Movement are all fine - people participating in our democracy, which as a former Social Studies teacher, I love.  But for the Christian, we fight against what Isaiah spells out as true fasting not by attempting to overthrow the system, but my working for the change of the individuals within the system.  If the people become virtuous, the system will be redeemed.

It is far easier to rail against the machine and raise a fist in protest that to come alongside another person who needs to know freedom and peace inside so that they have no need to exploit others.  It is very difficult to go about the long and hard work of helping people into new life. If is sometimes embarrassing to some when we say, and this is our job as Christians, that Jesus has enabled us to have that new kind of new life - of freedom, of generosity, of graciousness, of peace, and to acquire the ability to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. This is very messy work, this healing of the heart and soul and mind of individuals.  But only in this will our world be free of injustice, strife, and hatred.

Now, and here I'm thinking of my days in American-Evangelicalism, when we spend all our time praising Jesus and coming nosey/kneesy in prayer yet ignore the injustice, the homeless, the plight of the oppressed, then our oh so pious fasting means nothing.

I've got to go to work.  No time, at the moment. to proof read and make corrections.  That comes later...
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, spoke in Wales recently. On March 26th, 2012, the Archbishop visited the National Assembly of Wales and delivered a keynote address on the subject "For the common good: what is it that turns a society into a community?". Earlier in the day, the Archbishop joined a debate with a group of 14-18 year olds who were l
WADI KHARRAR, JORDAN - FEBRUARY 20: Archbishop...
looking at the theme of identity.  He summed up what he heard after a number of the young people gave speeches and presentations of their experiences and thoughts.

Below are a few paragraphs from his comments that deal with "identity politics." I particularly like his idea that the pendulum is swinging back to where we need to refocus on what we all have in common and how that shapes our identities and how it helps us live together in common concern...

"Identity is a very slippery word, as everybody has brought out.  I heard some voices raised, I think very importantly, against what people now often call 'identity politics': this is who I am, these are my rights, I demand that you recognise me.

"Identity politics, whether it's the politics of feminism, whether it's the politics of ethnic minorities, or the politics of sexual minorities, has been a very important part of the last ten or twenty years.  Because, before that, I think there was a sense that diversity was not really welcome.  And so minorities of various kinds and - not that it's a minority - particularly a group of women, began to say 'well, actually we need to say who we are in our terms, not yours'.  And that led to identity politics of a very strong kind and the legislation that followed it. 

"We're now, I think, beginning to see the pendulum swinging back, and saying: well, identity politics is all very well but we've got to have some way of putting all that together again, and discovering what's good for all of us, and, as I said at the beginning, sharing something of who we are with one another so as to discover more about who we are. 

"That's just one point that struck me in listening to this excellent conversation - identity isn't just something sealed off and finished with. Identity is something we bring to the task of building up a fuller identity all the time.  It's always a work in progress, always a project, never something done with.  Once we start saying 'This is my identity and that's it,' then I think we're in danger of really fragmenting the society we belong to."

For those who have ears to hear! The following quote comes by way of Kendra Creasy Dean in her book, "Almost Christan: What the Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling the American Church" (2010), p. 70. Dean was one of the researchers for the "National Study of Youth and Religion."

"Creeds are articulated beliefs. The theologian William Placher defends the importance of creeds by citing Lionel Trilling:

'It is probably true that when the dogmatic principle in religion is slighted, religion goes along for awhile on generalized emotion and ethical intention -- morality touched by emotion - [but] then it loses the force of Its impulse and even the essence of Its Being...

'Even if I have a warm personal relationship with Jesus, I also need an account of what's so special about Jesus to understand why my relationship with him is so important. If I think about dedicating my life to following him, I need an idea about why he's worth following. Without such accounts and ideas, Christian feeling and Christian behavior start to fade to generalized warm fuzziness and social conventions.'"

Find the book on Amazon.

An article on the HuffingtonPost, by Arianne Huffington, entitled, "Virality Uber Alles: What the Fetishization of Social Media Is Costing Us All."  Below are some paragraphs that I thought summarized the gist of the article...

Going viral has gone viral. Social media have become the obsession of the media. It's all about social now: What are the latest social tools? How can a company increase its social reach? Are reporters devoting enough time to social? Less discussed -- or not at all -- is the value of the thing going viral. Doesn't matter -- as long as it's social. And viral!

The media world's fetishization of social media has reached idol-worshipping proportions. Media conference agendas are filled with panels devoted to social media and how to use social tools to amplify coverage, but you rarely see one discussing what that coverage should actually be about. As Wadah Khanfar, former Director General of Al Jazeera, told our editors when he visited our newsroom last week, "The lack of contextualization and prioritization in the U.S. media makes it harder to know what the most important story is at any given time."

Our media culture is locked in the Perpetual Now, constantly chasing ephemeral scoops that last only seconds and that most often don't matter in the first place, even for the brief moment that they're "exclusive..."

Michael Calderone about the effect that social media have had on 2012 campaign coverage. "In a media landscape replete with Twitter, Facebook, personal blogs and myriad other digital, broadcast and print sources," he wrote, "nothing is too inconsequential to be made consequential...

"We are in great haste," wrote Thoreau in 1854, "to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate." And today, we are in great haste to celebrate something going viral, but seem completely unconcerned whether the thing that went viral added one iota of anything good -- including even just simple amusement -- to our lives.... We're treating virality as a good in and of itself, moving forward for the sake of moving. "Hey," someone might ask, "where are you going?" "I don't know -- but as long as I'm moving it doesn't matter!" Not a very effective way to end up in a better place...

"But as Twitter's Rachael Horwitz wrote to me in an email, "Twitter's algorithm favors novelty over popularity."

"Indeed, to further complicate the science of trending topics, a subject can be too popular to trend: In December of 2010, just after Julian Assange began releasing U.S. diplomatic cables, about 1 percent of all tweets (at the time, that would have been roughly a million tweets a day) were about WikiLeaks, and yet #wikileaks trended so rarely that people accused Twitter of censorship. In fact, the opposite was true: there were too many tweets about WikiLeaks, and they were so constant that Twitter started treating WikiLeaks as the new normal."

So, the question remains: as we adopt new and better ways to help people communicate, can we keep asking what is really being communicated? And what's the opportunity cost of what is not being communicated while we're all locked in the perpetual present chasing whatever is trending?...

These days every company is hungry to embrace social media and virality, even if they're not exactly sure what that means, and even if they're not prepared to really deal with it once they've achieved it.

Or as Sheryl Sandberg put it, "What it means to be social is if you want to talk to me, you have to listen to me as well." A lot of brands want to be social, but they don't want to listen, because much of what they're hearing is quite simply not to their liking, and, just as in relationships in the offline world, engaging with your customers or your readers in a transparent and authentic way is not all sweetness and light. So simply issuing a statement saying you're committed to listening isn't the same thing as listening. And as in any human relationship, there is a dark side to intimacy.

"The campaigns can sort of distract reporters throughout the day by helping fuel these mini-stories, mini-controversies," said the New York Times' Jeff Zeleny. Mini-stories. Mini-controversies. Just the sort of Twitter-friendly morsels that many in the media think are best-suited to the new social media landscape. But that conflates the form with the substance, and we miss the desperate need for more than snackable, here-now-gone-in-15-minutes scoops. So we end up with a system in which the media are being willingly led by the campaigns away from the issues that matter and the solutions that will actually make a difference in people's lives.  [emphsis mine]

Read the whole article.

What might this say for the Church and its obsessive, and at times pathological, preoccupation with social media?  Are the same observations written in this article true for us?  I hear from so many sources of younger people that older leadership in charge simply do not and will not listen (see the bold paragraph, above).

The enduring aspects of the Church in her liturgies, her patterns-of-life, and her foci mitigates against such trendy irrelevancies, yet many of us seem to think that everything must change now, often, and quickly, for its own sake, or we will be become irrelevant. Too often we think that which has endured must be sacrificed for the sake of trendy popularity. We willingly sell our patrimony for a bowl of desperately sought affirmation.

If you pay attention to what younger people are actually saying (in the aggregate), even if it isn't what we want to hear, we might learn something that actually helps our situation. What I hear and see in the arrogate, and tell me otherwise form sources other than your own opinion, is that younger people are seeking after time-tested substance that is proven by its ability to endure and survive over time (and over time doesn't mean over the last 30 years). We are tired of the chaos of constant change devoid of substance.  What is sought are examples of real lives that demonstrate a sense of proven surety built on consequential relationships focused on something other than self.

Virality doesn't give such things - the type of things that give meaning to one's life and a sense of true accomplishment and worth.

The Next Step...

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As we continue along the societal path leading us further into the "Post-Constantinian-Era" of the Church and society in the West - and I'm thinking primarily of those in the U.S., in more urban areas, and substantially those under 30-years of age - the way we go about doing church, the way we go about influencing society for the good and the beautiful, the way we go about the doing of Jesus' two Great Commands, and particularly the way we go about evangelism/witness - by necessity will and must adapt and change.  This isn't change for the sake of change, change to attempt to be all hipster-like, change to be on the presumed cutting-edge, or change to accomplish personal or group agendas, but rather change that should naturally come from careful observation, study, participation, and discernment with regard to the dynamic morphing of generational, cultural, perceptual, and/or ambition-al sensibilities and understandings we have of ourselves, our cohorts, and our world. After all, while we are called not to be of the world, we are certainly not called to be other than or out of the world!

So, what does this all mean?  Since we have entered into the cultural milieu where a Judeo-Christian understanding of humanity, our world, and our place in it is no longer the foundation upon which our society revolves with regard to so many things - ethics, morals, sense of purpose, how we relate to other people(s), concepts of freedom and integrity, material things, and our inner-selves - let along God - we must understand and re-engage the central purposes of the Church - the institutions that embody the Mystical Body of Christ in the world.  What are the purposes of the Church to be re-engaged?

I posit this: to begin, that which has endured through the centuries of testing - there is gravity here.  What purposes have been tested and shown to endure? The primary purpose of the Church is to worship God and be present with God in His desire for the good of the created order.  Secondly, the Church is to be the primary conduit through which people come into a salvific relationship with God through Jesus Christ, period.  Thirdly, the Church is to be the place where people are formed and re-formed into the Life-in-Christ by way of the transformative working of the Holy Spirit in our individual and collective lives. This happens as we give ourselves individually to the practice of the enduring Christians Spiritual Disciplines and as we collectively provide place for the learning of, the habitation of, and the practice of such disciplines. The Church provides for the practice of these disciplines. Once these three enduring proposes of the Church are engaged heartily, even if imperfectly (which is inevitable), then we become the image of God and go about being a witness for Christ's desire among the people we engage every day.  The way we are a witness - doing evangelism - changes, naturally.  The way we care for the poor and needy will change, organically.  The way we campaign against injustice changes, fundamentally.

The authentic Christian response to the profound needs of the outcasts and marginalized and the way to come against injustice can only happen after we come to love God with all of our being - then we are able to love our neighbor as ourselves.  The central purposes of the Church are not social work and political activism - sorry.  Those things are born authentically for the Christian out of worship, formation, and self-denial. Frankly, the world does not need the Church to care for the needy or to champion justice.  There are plenty of NGO's and non-profits (religious or secular) that are very good at this. The world does need the Church to know God and to be transformed for living "life to the full."

Worship/Prayer, Formation/Discipleship, Selflessness/Self-Denial, Witness/Evangelism are the watchwords, and IMHO the more helpful progression for action.

I am convinced that once we re-engage the core practices of the Faith, we will realize again the Church's positive influence for the shaping of the world by God's design, which is good, beautiful, and peaceful. Although, for the time being as we rebuild trust and authentic alternatives to the prevailing world systems to which we have become beholden, growth will be small and under the radar (because we need to regain our sense of purpose, value, and worth not born out of the seeking of societal approval and affirmation).  For those of us who are after such things, we will need to stay under the radar to a degree because such challenges to the status-quo always gather together those who oppose and resist.  So be it. We work with and along-side all who wish God's purposes to be realized, but the next step in the reshaping and reforming of the Church will take place with or without us - I want to be part of the reshaping!

I think here, in this messiness, is where I want to find situated the Imago Dei Initiative!

JEFFBETHKE.COM

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Another Spoken Word video poem from Jeff Bethke: http://jeffbethke.com/

I really like the line, "...if our dollars were honest they would say, 'in pleasure we trust.'"


A colleague of mine, Fr. Robert Hendrickson, writes in his blog, The Curate's Desk, about the recent phenomena of "Ashes-to-Go" that seems to have caught on in our Church. I think he is correct in asserting that this type of quick and temporary experience does not actually allow people to experience the power behind the form, or the act of having ashes placed on one's forehead. The power comes from the fullness of the RIte, from the intentional, persistent, and slow working within us by the Holy Spirit as we give ourselves to the effort.  Without such intention and effort, having ashes placed on one's forehead can be simply an activity, like putting on blush, although for a presumably understood (but not likely so) different purpose.  Here are a few paragraphs from his blog... a full read is well worth it!

"I worry that we are sharing only the mark of our separation from God rather than our conviction that God dwells ever with us and that this very dust that we are may be hallowed, sanctified, blessed, and even assumed. This reconciliation of ourselves to God brings with it the welcome to live in the fullness of the Christian life. We are given the hope that "being reconciled with one another," we may "come to the banquet of that most heavenly Food" and receive all of the benefits of Christ's Passion and Resurrection. Ash Wednesday is not about our sins alone but about our life in and with the Triune God who calls us into true life - a life free of the mark of death.

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 22:  Marked with a c...

@daylife

"This simply cannot be communicated in a drive-by encounter. The sign of death is decisively stripped away in the Sacrament - it is that encounter with the Christ made known in the Body at the Altar and in the Church that is the point of Lent as we are brought into Communion and community.

"My worry about Ashes-to-Go is that it reinforces the privatized spirituality that plagues much of the Church. "I" do not get ashes. "We" get ashes so that we may know ourselves, as a Body, to be marked for a moment but saved, together, forever...

"On the plus side, I think it is absolutely vital for the Church to find ways to engage the changing world. This may be one such way - yet I cannot quite get comfortable with it. I am increasingly leery of the Church's desire to find ways to make the work of the Christian life easier or faster - especially as it pertains to this most sombre and needful of seasons.

"My hope though is that Ashes-to-Go really can become an entry point and that those who receive these ashes will be drawn to the Church in a fuller and deeper way. Perhaps this brief encounter can catalyze some movement of the Spirit that calls the recipients to newness of life. I look forward to talking with my friends about their experience of the day and pray that their efforts have shared something of the fullness of the Christian life."


Abstract conversations

"Instead of telling our vulnerable stories, we seek safety in abstractions, speaking to each other about our opinions, ideas and beliefs rather than about our lives. Academic culture blesses this practice by insisting that the more abstract our speech, the more likely we are to touch the universal truths that unite us. But what happens is exactly the reverse: as our discourse becomes more abstract, the less connected we feel. There is less sense of community among  intellectuals than in the most 'primitive' society of storytellers."
Parker J. Palmer
A hidden wholeness

(from EmergentVillage.com)

Change is afoot

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An interesting article/book review the Guardian (UK) - see below.  Some may say what is described in the review isn't an encouraging phenomena, but for me I see it as the continued, subtle change beginning and progressing within the culture.  The realization of the eventual outcome is still years off, I think.

As I continue to watch the forward movement of our culture (in all its current horrendous and glorious states), I can't help but notice subtle changes in the persistent assumption by so many is that religion is doomed, that it is only truly believed among the uneducated and emotionally challenged, or some such assertion. I can't help but notice signs that counter these anti-religious attitudes.

Taking a long view of history and trying to learn from it, there is always a waxing and waning of religious belief and action that involves that bastardization of and reclamation of honest Christian belief and practice.  In places like the "Western" world, the active belief in and practice of religion in on the wane - we are in the midst of a period of bastardization of the Faith that has progressed in earnest over the last 100-years or so., and profoundly so in the U.S. over the past few decades. Much of the misgivings among the general population toward organized religion is the fault of those who claim to believe, even as their example fails terribly, say, of Christ's call to believe and live a certain kind of life reality.

Yet, here and there there are signs that this is changing, not because suddenly the example of Christians in places like the United States have suddenly become all virtuous and full of integrity - at least in this country we are at the height of religious hypocrisy and disingenuous-ness - but because people are beginning to look beyond the ridiculous people who claim they perfectly embody the Faith that God dictates.  They are looking back to the historical figures of Faith who lived out lives that do seem to be examples of the kind of life and belief that Christ calls us to. They seek out current figures who strive to live out such lives, even as they don't gain headlines and notoriety. The current leadership in most Christian denominations, and this is a generalization, are now irrelevant to the furtherance of the Cause of Christ in the United States.  The institutions will be reformed, but by the force of the "market place" - by which I mean people will vote with their feet and will be drawn to that which is authentic and real. Once the people leave and all the money is gone, things will change.

So, I came across this book review in the Guardian (UK) by entitled, "Religion for Atheists by Alain de Botton - review: A banal and impudent argument for the uses of religion". While the presumption of those who deign to the supposed usefulness of religion, yet do not believe, gain a little more attention it is a sign to me that the crass anti-religious force is waning. In its place will be a slow realization among many that religious faith, that the Christian Faith, may have something to offer other than social control of the masses.  Anyway, here is a couple paragraphs from the review:

"God may be dead, but Alain de Botton's Religion for Atheists is a sign that the tradition from Voltaire to Arnold lives on. The book assumes that religious beliefs are a lot of nonsense, but that they remain indispensible to civilised existence. One wonders how this impeccably liberal author would react to being told that free speech and civil rights were all bunkum, but that they had their social uses and so shouldn't be knocked. Perhaps he might have the faintest sense of being patronised. De Botton claims that one can be an atheist while still finding religion "sporadically useful, interesting and consoling", which makes it sound rather like knocking up a bookcase when you are feeling a bit low. Since Christianity requires one, if need be, to lay down one's life for a stranger, he must have a strange idea of consolation. Like many an atheist, his theology is rather conservative and old-fashioned.

"De Botton does not want people literally to believe, but he remains a latter-day Matthew Arnold, as his high Victorian language makes plain. Religion "teaches us to be polite, to honour one another, to be faithful and sober", as well as instructing us in "the charms of community". It all sounds tediously neat and civilised. This is not quite the gospel of a preacher who was tortured and executed for speaking up for justice, and who warned his comrades that if they followed his example they would meet with the same fate. In De Botton's well-manicured hands, this bloody business becomes a soothing form of spiritual therapy, able to "promote morality (and) engender a spirit of community". It is really a version of the Big Society.

"Like Comte, De Botton believes in the need for a host of "consoling, subtle or just charming rituals" to restore a sense of community in a fractured society. He even envisages a new kind of restaurant in which strangers would be forced to sit together and open up their hearts to one another. There would be a Book of Agape on hand, which would instruct diners to speak to each other for prescribed lengths of time on prescribed topics. Quite how this will prevent looting and rioting is not entirely clear."

(Religion for Atheists by Alain de Botton - review: A banal and impudent argument for the uses of religion by of the Guardian UK.)



The Great Drop-Out

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Very interesting interview on NPR with Barna Research's David Kinnaman on why so many young people are dropping out of the institutional Church. Give a listen!





Here are a few paragraphs from the interview:

MARTIN: What are the young people telling you about? Whether they're taking a break, a temporary break or dropping out altogether, what are they telling you about why?

KINNAMEN: What we really boil it down to - you know, each person that we interviewed had very specific experiences and challenges and the church was, in some way, inadequate in their mind to that. And yet, when we looked at it from a broad perspective, the way I would conclude this is that we're living in a more complicated age, more complicated questions about marriage and the diversity of this generation, the technology used in social media

And, in a nutshell, what we learned is that churches aren't really giving them an answer to these complicated questions that they're facing, these lifestyle issues and challenges that they're facing. And it's not really a deep or thoughtful or challenging response that most churches are providing to them.

MARTIN: And are you finding this phenomenon across what people consider liberal and conservative churches or do you find it concentrated in one side or the other?

KINNAMEN: Well, one of the surprises for me was I figured that we would see some differences between young Catholics, for instance, and young Protestants and young mainline versus young evangelicals. But I think the overriding theme was that this generation, in so many ways, is post-institutional, regardless of their traditions. So many similarities in their reasons and their reactions to the church and to Christianity.

Some of the things that were different was I think many churches that deal well with complexity didn't give a sufficient amount of conviction or commitment required of the young people that they work with. And then, conversely, those that had a strong degree of commitment and sort of emotional connection with the church didn't deal well with the complexity. So it was sort of a double-edged sword for many of these churches.

Much of this is coming from this much viewed recent YouTube video:




Here are a some additional information -

"The dining scene hints at the fact that many youth and young adults today have a relationship with technology and social media that is core to their formation. With this access to the Internet and, through it, the world, their worldview is significantly different than that of pr
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - NOVEMBER 28:  A woman hol...

via @daylife

evious generations"

This is an important article and commentary by Adam K. Copeland that anyone... everyone... who has a desire to impact the lives of emerging generations should read!

Read the whole thing here:

Smartphones, Smart Pastors, Smart Church 


It isn't a matter of just employing technology, but understanding how emerging generations are integrating with changing technology. Current technology, in and of itself, is always passe among emerging generations.

I made a Facebook post a while ago about the passe nature of the World Wide Web among younger people with respect to APPS on smartphones and tablets and how they are usurping the Web. I believing that in the coming decade everything will change, again. As today's emerging generation moves into their 20's and 30's, they will access information and engage their social networks not from the World Wide Web, but they will interact with the world and get their information through APPS rather than the WWW.

Anyway, way back when I started our new campus ministry at Bowling Green State Univ., (Dunamis Outreach, part of Chi Alpha Campus Ministries) we were a part of a new church in Bowling Green, "Dayspring Church" (we had four hundred attending on Sundays in just four years). Well, I came across Dayspring's APP on iTunes.

So, were are we with respect to emerging culture?

Check out their APP on iTunes:

http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/dayspring-church/id476240885?mt=8

Dan Pearce writes this piece on his blog, "sdl." It is worth reading!  It is about, after all is said and done, how we live out the calling of Jesus Christ - how we are and are not living up to the example and commands of Jesus. Here are a couple paragraphs to give you a taste.

"Why is it that sometimes the most Christlike people are they who have no religion at all?

"I have known a lot of people in my life, and I can tell you this... Some of the ones who understood love better than anyone else were those who the rest of the world had long before measured as lost or gone. Some of the people who were able to look at the dirtiest, the poorest, the gays, the straights, the drug users, those in recovery, the basest of sinners, and those who were just... plain... different...

"They were able to look at them all and only see strength. Beauty. Potential. Hope.

"And if we boil it down, isn't that what love actually is?

"Don't get me wrong. I know a lot of incredible Christians, too. I know some incredible Buddhists and Muslims and Hindus and Jews. I know a lot of amazing people, devout in their various religions, who truly love the people around them.

"I also know some atheist, agnostic, or religionless people who are absolutely hateful of believers. They loathe their religious counterparts. They love only those who believe (or don't believe) the same things they do.

"In truth, having a religion doesn't make a person love or not love others. It doesn't make a person accept or not accept others. It doesn't make a person befriend or not befriend others.

"Being without a religion doesn't make somebody do or be any of that either.

"No, what makes somebody love, accept, and befriend their fellow man is letting go of a need to be better than others.

"Nothing else.

"I know there are many here who believe that living a homosexual life is a sin.

"Okay.

"But, what does that have to do with love?

"I repeat... what does that have to do with love?

"Come on. Don't we understand? Don't we get it? To put our arm around someone who is gay, someone who has an addiction, somebody who lives a different lifestyle, someone who is not what we think they should be... doing that has nothing to do with enabling them or accepting what they do as okay by us. It has nothing to do with encouraging them in their practice of what you or I might feel or believe is wrong vs right.

"It has everything to do with being a good human being. A good person. A good friend.

"That's all....

"My request today is simple. Today. Tomorrow. Next week. Find somebody, anybody, that's different than you. Somebody that has made you feel ill-will or even [gulp...] hateful. Somebody whose life decisions have made you uncomfortable. Somebody who practices a different religion than you do. Somebody who has been lost to addiction. Somebody with a criminal past. Somebody who dresses "below" you. Somebody with disabilities. Somebody who lives an alternative lifestyle. Somebody without a home.

"Somebody that you, until now, would always avoid, always look down on, and always be disgusted by.

"Reach your arm out and put it around them.

"And then, tell them they're all right. Tell them they have a friend. Tell them you love them.

"If you or I wanna make a change in this world, that's where we're gonna be able to do it. That's where we'll start.

"Every. Single. Time.

"Because what you'll find, and I promise you this, is that the more you put your arm around those that you might naturally look down on, the more you will love yourself. And the more you love yourself, the less need you'll ever have to find fault or be better than others.  And the less we all find fault or have a need to be better than others, the quicker this world becomes a far better place to live.

"And don't we all want to live in a better world? Don't we all want our kids to grow up in a better, less hateful, more beautiful "world?

"I know I do."


Read all of the post.

Think on such things - try to come into the idea that the Way of Jesus Christ is so contrary to this American culture of ours! It matters not how much the left or right or liberal or conservative or Roman Catholic or Evangelical or Anglican or Protestant or Independent wants us all to believe that THEY (their group, their belief system, their denomination, their church) have it all exactly right and so lovingly warn everyone else that if they don't get on board they are going straight to the Lake of Burning Fire for all eternity -crispy critters.

We are blind. Why? Because we are fallible, because we see in part, because we know in part, and because we will not know fully until we get on to the other side.  Why, then do we have to pretend that we or I or s/he or us are exactly right?

New Order?

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Henry Kissinger and Chairman Mao, with Zhou En...

Henry Kissinger speaking with Chairman Mao.

The following quote by Henry Kissinger in his recent book, "On China," relates to the reasons for the profound one year change from near-war animosity between China & the U.S. to both governments preparing for Nixon's historic first visit to Mao's China. This is the "It" that begins the quote.  What lessons can we learn for our dealings with the prevalent proclivities we find in our antagonistic and animosity filled culture and the Church's engagement with it?

"It did so by sidestepping the rhetoric of two decades & staying focused on the fundamental strategic objective of a geopolitical dialogue leading to a recasting of the Cold War international order." (On China, Kissinger; p. 234).


Is such a reordering possible in our two-decades old U.S. Culture War that has perverted our governmental processes and the Christian Faith in the U.S.? 

What should we sidestep? How do we do it?  What remains of the enduring "strategic objective" of the Church - for those who claim Christ who desire to find a way beyond the hubris, the anger, the bitterness, the spitefulness, the willful ignorance, the vengeful attitudes and actions that subsume so much of what is the Body of Christ, today?

Discovery

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It seems, and I experience, that within the Christian Faith, which is by nature relational (contra to the religion that developed around it), the more questions that are answered or settled the more we realize what we don't know and what is yet to be understood and discovered! It is invigorating and confounding at the same time. It is infinite.

This, I think, is a similarity to the exercise of science.  Together, these both are the seeking of truth and knowledge, even though on different plains of experience, explanation, and understanding.

The New "Anglicans"?

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When I was in seminary (2002-2005), Gene Robinson was consecrated the new Bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire. I don't believe this was any kind of "political move" or a decision by the diocese for reasons of political-correctness, but the people of the diocese voting for a priest they knew, had faith in, and considered to be faithful to the Gospel. The fact that he was gay and had a partner didn't keep them from voting for him. There are, of course, lots of opinions about him, the diocese, and act of consecrating him a bishop in The Episcopal Church.  A whole lot has happened since then.

One aspect of the outcome has been the leaving of many Episcopalians to other Christian bodies and the creation of the Anglican Church of North America - a place where disaffected Episcopalians could flee and where some of the other "Continuing Anglican" bodies could affiliate. The hope was/is that this new church would replace the Episcopal Church as the official Anglican Provencal institution. This hasn't happened. IMHO, many of the actions taken by the four dioceses, the parishes, clergy, and people who left the Episcopal Church and their motivation proves to be very American, but not very Anglican.

One such new institution is the Anglican Mission in America (AMiA). This group actually left the Episcopal Church earlier, over women's ordination, I think.  They ended up being under the authority of the Anglican Church in Rwanda.  The Rwandan Church consecrated new bishops to oversee this new church institution.  The Rev. Church Murphy, former Episcopalian, was one of these new bishops.  He now leads/led this group of churches.

So, now, some things have happened between the House of Bishops of the Rwandan Church and now-bishop Murphy that raises the ire of Murphy and some others in the AMiA.  The Primate of Rwanda went about disciplining Murphy, which, of course, Murphy didn't like.  An ultimative was give to Murphy and the consequences for non-compliance were spelled out. A couple days ago, Murphy and the other AMiA American bishops affiliated with the Rwandan Church have announced that they are splitting with the Rwandan Church. Who knows what will finally play out, but it seems that Murphy and company may end up creating yet another Protestant denomination in the U.S. - another sect.

When I moved out of American-Evangelicalism and into Anglicanism (via TEC) in the mid-1990's, I recognized that there was a great deal in common between American-Evangelicalism and Anglican-Evangelicalism. One issue that wasn't really dealt with in my parish was the difference between the two. I've come to learn the difference. There was a real failure among priests to teach "Anglicanism" - whether Evangelical, Anglo-Catholic, or Broad Church - and how it is distinct and different (yet similiar) to the other traditions. I think this is an underlying issue among a lot of folks who left, who stayed, who broke-off, etc. It is my opinion that this is a primary reason underlying the actions of Murphy and others.

Anglican-Evangelicals are Catholic! American-Evangelicals (within which I was raised) are not.  As a matter of fact, they are often anti-Catholic (both in polity and with respect to the Roman Catholic Church). I think many American-Evangelicals who came into Anglicanism through the Episcopal Church, like myself, never learned the difference between Anglican- and American-Evangelicalism. When the going got tough within the Episcopal Church, many of us reacted just like American-Evangelicals, which means there was no issue or problem believing we could simply break-off and start our own thing, since to divide is the time-honored American-Evangelical way of "solving" or avoiding problems. They, we, I, didn't act like Anglican-Evangelicals, who because we are Catholic, simply don't separate, break-off, or form a whole new church. There are times when conservatives are in the ascendency and times when liberals are, but it seems to me that a fundamental difference within Anglicanism is that we suffer through if we have to because the Church is the Church Catholic, period, and cannot be divided.

Chuck Murphy and those of the AMiA who now spurn Rwanda are simply following the path they set out on and doing the very American-Evangelical thing. It is expected.  That is how American-Evangelicals react to so many of the interpersonal and authoritarian problems. I say this not out of anger or bitterness toward my former tradition, because I am very glad of it, but out of a real desire to be authentically "Anglican."



Inner Man

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"But even if one is content with a certain high usefulness in his chosen field, there is another phase of the whole matter. The Church has some useful information for that man which his inner being craves.

"The Church believes that the man wishes to know why the great gift of life was given him, how he may see beyond the affairs of the moment, what is expected of one so richly endowed in mind and heart, what shares he has in the improvement of the race, what  he must do to enrich his own living, what thoughts he must think to understand his own relation to God and the world, what efforts he must make to gain real and durable satisfaction, what he may do to avoid the devastating sins, to whom he may appeal to quiet his conscience, how he may gain comfort in time of loss, how he must estimate necessary sacrifices, what powers he may appropriate to expand life and purpose, what unfading compensations there are for righteous effort and finally what his destiny is to be. 

"The Church is the guardian of all this knowledge. Imperfectly as it may teach such traits, nevertheless that truth is its treasure."

- George P. Atwater, "The Episcopal Church: It's Message For Men Of Today;" pp 175-176. 

Purpose

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In the continuing saga that is this book I'm dipping my foot into from time-to-time, the author picks up the ideas of the Church needing men and men needing the Church - the why, how, for what purpose, and all that.  Here is a bit from the author concerning what the Episcopal Church in its Anglican Faith has to offer men for today (well, "today," as the author wrote, was 1917 through the final publishing date of the book, which was into the 1940's) and why men should be a part of the Church:

Recessional at St. Mary's Episcopal Cathedral,...

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"...And because, if they do not [participate], they will lose sight of the central fact of Christianity and that is the life, work, and death of Jesus Christ, who reveals God to man.

"The Church believes that the man wishes to know why the great gift of life was given him, how he  may see beyond the affairs of the moment, what is expected of one so richly endowed in mind and heart, what share he has in the improvement of the race, what he must do to enrich his own living, what thoughts he must think in order to understand his own relation to God and the world, what
efforts he must make to gain real and durable satisfaction, what he may do to avoid the devastating sines, to whom he may appeal to quiet his conscience, how he may gain comfort in time of loss, how he must estimate necessary sacrifices, what powers he may appropriate to expand life and purpose, what unfading compensations there are for righteous effort and finally what his destiny is to be.

"The Church is the guardian of all this knowledge. Imperfectly as it may teach such truths,
nevertheless that truth is its treasure.

"If this treasure of truth is drawn upon, men will enlarge their vision and fortify their lives."


Now, I will certainly say that all the above is as appropriate and applicable for women as for men, but this book is addressed to men, specifically. 

I will also say - which will be a bit of a counter to so much of what I experienced in my career in higher-education working with those enthralled with and dominated by identity-politics - that if we are to know fully how all this works and to realize it all in our lives truly, we need to admit that there are unique ways of appropriation and experience for men and for women.  The sexes do not experience things the same and if we demand that they do then we lesson the full human experience.

Split Ends...

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"A church split builds self-righteousness into the fabric of every new splinter group., whose only reason for existence is that they decide they are more moral and pure than other brethren. This explains my childhood, and perhaps a lot about America, too.

"The United States is a country with a national character of a newly formed church splinter group. This is not surprising. Our country started as a church splinter group. The Puritans left England because they believed they were more enlightened than members of the Church of England, and they were eager to form a perfect earthly community following a pure theology. They also had every intention of some day returning to England, once they had proved that something close to heaven on earth could work, and reforming their "heretical" fellow citizens.

"America still sees itself as essential and as destiny's instrument. And each splinter group within our culture - left, right, conservative, liberal, religious, secular - sees itself as morally, even "theologically," superior to it's rivals. It is not just about politics. It is about being better than one's evil opponent. We don't just disagree, we demonize the 'other.' And we don't compromise."

Frank Schaeffer, "Crazy for God;" pp 30-31

5 Cultural Shifts

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Interesting, and short, article on cultural changes that we need to pay attention to, particularly if we care about emerging generations and their interest in and involvement in their own spiritual lives and our worshiping communities.  Here are a couple paragraphs...

Five cultural shifts that should affect the way we do church

"It's probably good that most churches aren't all wrapped up in the latest fads. We don't have the cash to keep up with most of it, and if we do, we're probably better off spending that money on feeding the homeless rather than making sure the youth room has the newest flat-screen TV...

"But there are cultural shifts that congregations and church leaders need to track and respond to sensibly. Here are five of them."

Read it all here

By: Carol Howard Merritt on the Duke Divinity School blog, "Call & Response blog"

Wither the Church

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I contend that a primary reason for the withering of the Church within the public mind is resultant of the Church - liberal and conservative - capitulating to the zeitgeist. When we simply mirror the prevailing culture or system whether political, economic, philosophical, whatever, we lose our significance, our voice, our purpose, our justifiable reason to be noticed.

The Real Mission

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"It must not be supposed that the Church considers this the fulfillment of its mission [providing good, wholesome opportunities for entertainment, diversion, and leisure in Christian fellowship to help provide for the natural desires and for the benefit of the people]. It is but one of the attempts of the Church to serve the real needs of the community. The real mission of the Church is
WAVELAND, MS - APRIL 17:  Worshipers gather in...

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

never lost sight of, that is, to bring individuals into the Kingdom of God and to make them realize their personal relationship with Jesus Christ as their Saviour. The Episcopal Church is not apprehensive of the effect of its social emphasis because it has its foundation most firmly rooted and does not distrust its people.  It believes that social service is a natural outcome of its fundamental principles. Its whole structure is comprehensive and not exclusive.

"The Church's message truly presents vision of that greater democracy for which the righteous nations of the earth are yearning. It is a democracy whose fundamentals are justice, righteousness and the abundant spirit of service that will secure for the people what no form of economic democracy will ever achieve. For nations seeking national and social salvation from the ills that afflict them, as well as for individuals, Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. The Gospel of Christ is the only national Character of Liberty that can guarantee national salvation, the only power equal to the task of exalting a nation.  The Church presents this Gospel."


George Parkin Atwater, "The Episcopal Church: Its Message for Men Today," 1950, pp. 167-168. (Originally published in 1917)
-------------------------------------------

I think we all too often let everything else usurp the "Real Mission." Frankly, the real mission isn't politically-correct and is disconcerting to many, yet life to so many others.  If we, as the Church, are a unique organization offering real and honest alternatives (not just for the sake of offering alternatives, for then we are resigning our responsibility), then there must be something alternative about us.

If the "Kingdom of God" is a real thing, it must be evident in the lives of those who claim to be citizens of such a Kingdom. If the image of such a Kingdom is not evident in the lives of the citizens of the Kingdom, then what use is it as a real alternative? It isn't, and that's why far too many people - particularly younger people - no longer consider the Church or Christianity as viable for or pertinent to their own lives.  We too often give up our real mission for the sake of expediency or popularity. As a result, all too often those who claim to be citizens of the Kingdom of God no longer reflect the high values of the Kingdom. Too often, we are usurped by socio-political ideology whether conservative or liberal, the lust for power, and greed (among lots of other things).

The way to realize such an alternative for the good is not easy, is not particularly popular, and as such is ignored, ridiculed, and rejected by many.  Yet, the real mission of the Church is to call people to this Kingdom recognizing that we are imperfect, but our own imperfection does not change the way for realization of the Kingdom. Here, we proclaim, is the path to the Kingdom of God, born by the work of Jesus Christ, already realized by multitudes from the vast array of cultures and peoples over centuries - we proclaim this truth to all who wish to follow.  We are on our way and extend the invitation to all who wish to join us.

Is it real, this Kingdom, this life? Only our experiences within it and the image of God revealed through us by way of such experiences will tell.
OWS_001.jpg I've spent time with people in Zuccotti Park. I walked along with the marchers from the Park to Washington Square.

I hear and see religious leaders marching, making pronouncements, building a golden calf. Do we have anything unique to say to a frustrated society other than jumping on yet another bandwagon?

Does Jesus really love an unemployed person more than a corporate CEO? Or, does Jesus wish both to reconciliation and transformation for the benefit of their own souls and society.

Do we honesty believe that Jesus is superficial enough to proclaim that he loves the fallible, humanly created Socialist economic system more than the fallible, humanly created Capitalist economic system or visa-versa? Or, might Jesus rather wish that no matter what economic system a society decides, that the people leading and inhabiting that system live such lives that the image of God is evident, regardless?  Yet, this requires a way of ordering our lives, with Jesus at the center of our personal perception, that many people have a hard time accepting. (There is nothing new under the sun.)

If we have nothing more to say to society than what people hear on Fox News or MSMBC, then no wonder fewer and fewer people find anything compelling in the Church.

What we proclaim and assert may not be what people wish to hear - that which scratches their itching ears - but we do have a unique message, if only we are secure enough and confident enough to say so.

The unemployed, the poor, the wealthy are all in need to redemption and reconciliation. Evil and good are found in all groups of people and in all systems.  This should be our beginning point, rather than jumping on bandwagons that promote social, political, or economic ideologies.

Occupy Wall Street

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On Thursday, October 6th, John Mertz (priest-in-charge of the Greenpoint parish) went down to Zuccotti Park (Liberty Park) to see what was going on at the Occupy Wall Street protest site.  John wanted to attend the second of two daily "General Assembly" meetings where organization is arrived at and announcements and decisions are made.

I was, frankly, quite impressed with what I say and experienced.  Yes, of course, there are the fringe people, but for the most part these where normal young folks who for perhaps the first time where engaging in the democratic process.  Being trained as a Social Studies teacher and seeing all the young people at the site, well, this whole affair is thrilling (just like the Tea Party phenomena is thrilling, but with a different perspective).

I was impressed with the organizers at the General Assembly.  Their calm, reason, and organizational skills were apparent.  I "spirit" of the whole thing was, in fact, respectful, even with a decided point of view expressed freely.  They are very conscious of the neighbors (the babies that have to go to sleep), the businesses in the area, the sanitation issues, and of their relationship with the police (they are civil servants who are part of the 99%... they are not the enemy).  These people know what they are doing.

Yet, there are those who are provocateurs.  There are anarchists.  There are the glommers-on who have no real interest in the cause (as undefined as it is), but only want to stir up trouble.  These people are present, and they are ready.  The struggle will be for the organizers how to mitigate these people so that they do not spoil the whole enterprise.

John and I both wore clericals. I was surprised at the expression of desire among many people that the clergy get involved and that the Church (whatever church) make a statement. This is a nod to whatever residual authority the Church may still hold within the younger demographic of American society.  Gen Y is so very different than the Baby-Boomers, yet they can at times look very similiar.  This is a problem for the Baby Boomers - they see Gen Y and think that they are like themselves.  This is clearly seen who Baby-Boomer commentators write or speak about how this protest is like the 1960's or the aging hippies in Zuccotti Park. 

Here is the thing:  As a Christian, I am compelled to regard both sides as having the need to redemption and in the need of reconciliation.  Neither side is all evil or all virtuous! 

No social, political, or economic systems will achieve what most people are seeking.  All the "systems" are temporal and fallible - they look great on paper but don't work in real life.  All systems presume something about the human creature that is invalid.  From the start, then, the systems that look great on paper do not work when the rubber-hits-the-road. 

So, what I will say will not please anyone, frankly.  Capitalism and Socialism are neutral systems - both can work or not depending on the people who lead and the people who inhabit the system.  As a Christian, I focus on the people and not so much the system (even though I have my own opinions on what system seems to work best based on data as much as possible).

The Church needs to understand that we don't simply jump on a bandwagon... we offer an alternative that begins with Jesus Christ.  That, frankly, is the problem within a society that is increasingly post-Christian and demands that everything be considered and treated equally without critical evaluation and where any opinion anyone holds must be esteemed as valid.  It is also a problem for those in the Church - particularity the leadership - who are so insecure that they are afraid to proclaim anything that might bring about opposition or ridicule or condescension.

Power to the People!

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When Scripture and the liturgies were first presented in the language of the people, and for our Church that occurred with the Church in England broke with Rome and the first 1549 Book of Common Prayer, it was vigorously opposed by the Roman Church authorities because of the presumed loss of control of the Church over the people.  There were legitimate concerns that the common folk, who were by in large uneducated, would not understand the intent and meaning of Scripture (determined by the Church, of course).  Yet, much of the opposition to Scripture and liturgies in the vernacular had to do with control.

When the people do not have access to Scripture, the worship of the Church, and the Church's documents in a language they understand, they by default are subservient to the hierarchs.

Considering the Church's current drive to go further down the path of full-liturgy bulletins, projection or display of hymns/songs, liturgies, and prayers overhead, even if justified by making it easier for new people or suffering from the assumption that books are passé, what actually ends up happening is the dumbing down of the people.  Perhaps, what actually happens is the making of the people subservient to the priestly cast! Does this end up being an issue of control?

If people are able to read Scripture for themselves, they are empowered!  If people are introduced to, taught how to use, and encouraged to engage with the Book of Common Prayer (BCP), for themselves, even if in the pews on Sunday morning, they are empowered!  They learn for themselves the liturgies, the prayers, the theology that is actually espoused and maintained in the BCP.  They are able to then hold accountable the clergy cast who find it far too interesting and edgy to play around with time-honed and tested liturgies for the sake of being novel or out of their own boredom.

In the parish I've been a part of, a several years ago a bishop was conducting his episcopal visit.  The bishop was in the pulpit preaching when on of the matrons of the parish stood up, in the midst of him speaking, and said, "Bishop, that is not the teaching of the Catholic Church."  She challenged some "edgy," novel teaching he was espousing.  He stopped, turned around, exited the pulpit, and his sermon ended then and there.  If this woman had not been taught the Faith, if she did not engage with the BCP regularly, if she did not know Scripture for herself, she would not be able to hold accountable those who are supposed to guard the Faith.  She was empowered!  She challenged the hierarchy when they deviated.

Change will always occur, and there is nothing intrinsically wrong with change.  There is nothing wrong with LCD screens projecting everything.  Yet, the reasons for change whether in theology, use of technology, or praxis are very important.  The more we encourage, teach, and bring people to engage for themselves Scripture, the Book of Common Prayer, and the documents that inform our faith and life in Christ, the more empowered the people are to take control of their own faith and life in Christ.

My desire is to work myself out of a job, our of a position, out of a place of a determining authority by teaching people to think for themselves, to know their own texts (whether a physical book in the pew, on an iPad, or whatever).  In so doing, I provide for them the knowledge and ability to know for themselves.  There are specific acts and responsibilities that are given to me by virtue of my priesthood and will only be done by a priest, yet the more I enable people to be independent (in the context of community) in their thinking the more able they are to live a full Christian life.

I've come to believe that doing it all for the people ends in the impoverishment of the people, a dumbing down of the people, and a renewed control of the clergy cast over the people. My experience tells me that people are more attracted to a way of living the Faith when they know as much as they can, not in an deluded attempt by the clergy cast to make them feel welcome by doing it all for them.

Unwanted wisdom

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Richard Rohr

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"If you try to assert wisdom before people have themselves walked it, be prepared for much resistance, denial, push-back, and verbal debate."


- Richard Rohr,
(Falling Upward; via MINemergent)




This is very true.
There is also the reality that people who speak truth in these days, whose "yes" is yes and whose "no" is no, who and actually deal with the issues that become big, white elephants in the room, well these people are going to be resisted, are going to be accused, and are going to be opposed. (The vested interests of the status-quo will not recuse themselves easily, even as their failure is imminent.)

This is too bad, because when we speak truthfully, with consistency, and actually deal squarely with the real problems we face, then real, positive, and workable change for the better can occur.  This is, of course, called integrity. 

When we live within integrity, we then earn a hearing and garner respect from those who want nothing to do with the institutions to which we (I) belong - namely, the Church.

Stop the hating...

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This is a great little video by Gungor.... has a should very similar to Sufjan.  Hum.

Craven

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"Attentiveness to peculiar narrative identity seems to me an urgent practical enterprise for a religious community that is often so bland that it loses its raison d'etre. The issue is to practice a peculiar identity that is not craven in the face of the moralisms of the right or the left."

- Walter Brueggemann, quoted in "Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church"; by Kenda Creasy Dean; p. 61.

Slipping Back

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WADI KHARRAR, JORDAN - FEBRUARY 20: Archbishop...

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"Because in fact, we are slipping back fast into something like the ancient world.  We are slipping back towards a world of narrow tunnel vision of religions and superstitious practice, a world where lots and lots of people have their lords and god, their practices and their mysticisms, that do not really relate to each other.  We are slipping away from the idea that there might be a faith that would bring all human beings together. We are slipping back socially and internationally into the assumption that there really are such differences in human beings that we can forget about God's universal righteousness."

Dr. Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, during Bible studies delivered at the 13th meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council, Nottingham 2005

Kenda Creasy Dean in her new-ish book, Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling the American Church, describes the primary "faith" of American teenagers as "Therapeutic, Moralistic, Deism" rather than a form of the enduring Christian Faith.  This description of the faith-system (as much as it can be a formal "system" at this point) comes out of the results and analysis of the National Study of Youth and Religion project.

Both with Rowan and Kenda, these are pictures of where we are culturally, particularly among the emerging generations, and what is to come within the culture and within our individual lives as believers or not.  How are we ready?

Sparkhous

 

For Christianity to offer a true alternative in society, it does NOT mean that we mimic back to the culture itself, though dressed up in churchy garb or verbiage, in order to try to make people feel good about themselves or out of the Church's collective insecurity regarding the culture.
Th
Henry Kissinger and Chairman Mao, with Zhou En...

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ere is an interesting review of Henry Kissinger's new book, On China, in this past week's edition of Newsweek, entitled, "Dr. K's RX for China."  (Accessed 5/31/2011)  (NYT's Book Review)

A comment made by the review out of Kissinger's book is that the leadership in China has many millennia of history and experience to draw from when sociological, political, military, and economic decisions are made and strategic plans are developed for dealing with interior and exterior issues and problems.  Whereas, the U.S. has only a couple hundred years of such experience - barely a ripple. 

If there were to be real conflict between the U.S. and China (which, sadly, almost seems inevitable), I suspect that in the long run the winner will be those for whom exists a deep well of wisdom and patience born of hundreds of centuries and who actually pay attention to it - they will probably prevail.  It is not simply that China has such an overwhelming population three times that of the U.S., but that they way they think and the patience that is realized will provide for them, well.  Of course, there is also negatives with this way of thinking, being, and acting.

This is the case for anyone or any nation that is patient and has a clear understanding of where it has been, where it now is, what it is, and where it is going.

This is why, IMHO, the enduring Christian Church with two thousands years of history and experience behind it and informing those who will listen will far outlast the trendy Christian Church of the last one hundred years, and more particularly since the 1960's.  Even now, statistics suggest this to be the case.  Again, this does not mean that the Church does not or should not engage in change, but that which endures is what is reliable.
So much effort by the Religious Right has gone to trying to prove that this country of ours is God's divine creation and holds a special place in His heart and in His plans - akin to the way the Hebrew Nation was/is considered within the spectrum of the Hebrew Scriptures. This causes so much twisting of history and the writings of our Founders. This also fuels the demand that the geo-political and sociopolitical world of Neo-Conservative is actually what Christianity is all about. As I have often said, this harms the cause of Christ in the United States.

Here is a book that may well bring perspective to such claims by the Religious Right.  Christianity Today has a review of "Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? A Historical Introduction" by John Fea (Westminster John Knox Press, 2011)

Fea also sketches a helpful history of the Christian nation narrative, showing how feuding factions--northern abolitionists and southern slaveholders, fundamentalists and Social Gospellers, contemporary conservatives and progressives--have defined and appropriated America's contested religious heritage.

In presenting the past disinterestedly, Fea rebukes the habit of "cherry-picking from the past as a means of promoting a political or cultural agenda in the present." Washington's Farewell Address doesn't validate the Religious Right's blueprint for society, any more than Jefferson's bowdlerized Bible validates the Left's alternative.

Read the entire article, here.


Creed or Chaos?

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Very good opinion piece by David Brooks in the New York Times.  He uses the new musical, "The Book of Mormon," as his backdrop. This notion of speeding away from anything that distinguishes us or makes us peculiar or diminishes the rigors of the Faith will in the end result in nothing but decline and a faith that has little real impact on the world, particularly for the cause of Christ. 

A couple paragraphs:

The only problem with "The Book of Mormon" (you realize when thinking about it later) is that its theme is not quite true. Vague, uplifting, nondoctrinal religiosity doesn't actually last. The religions that grow, succor and motivate people to perform heroic acts of service are usually theologically rigorous, arduous in practice and definite in their convictions about what is True and False.

That's because people are not gods. No matter how special some individuals may think they are, they don't have the ability to understand the world on their own, establish rules of good conduct on their own, impose the highest standards of conduct on their own, or avoid the temptations of laziness on their own.

The religions that thrive have exactly what "The Book of Mormon" ridicules: communal theologies, doctrines and codes of conduct rooted in claims of absolute truth.

Rigorous theology provides believers with a map of reality. These maps may seem dry and schematic -- most maps do compared with reality -- but they contain the accumulated wisdom of thousands of co-believers who through the centuries have faced similar journeys and trials.

Rigorous theology allows believers to examine the world intellectually as well as emotionally. Many people want to understand the eternal logic of the universe, using reason and logic to wrestle with concrete assertions and teachings.


Religion vs. Faith

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I'm starting to make a distinction between the "Christian Faith" and the "Christian Religion."

The "Religion" deals more with cultic practices and asking what I must know about stuff. The "Faith" deals with being - who must I be & how must I be with God, with one another, and with myself.

Perhaps, too, this deals with a too intense focus on "revelation" in our understanding of God's dealing with humanity (or even if there is anything to such statements). Too much of a focus on revelation can too easily lead us to simply asking the question of what we must know in order to be right with God, rather than how we must be or what we must do to be right with God. I think the focus on being is much more in line with the great commands of Jesus - and even the Law.

"I am a practitioner of the Christian Faith," which in my mind places the emphasis on being and relationship. I don't think it is the same as saying, "I am a practitioner of the Christian Religion," with all is rituals, dogmas, etc.  (Believe me, this is not an attempt to downplay the importance of such things as ritual or doctrine, etc., in human life or in the practice of the Faith.)

This may touch on the divide between being "spiritual" vs. being "religious."

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