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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!

I just came across the findings of the "2012 Millennial Values Survey" conducted by Georgetown University's Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs.  The title of the analysis paper is, "A Generation In Transition: Religion, Values, and Politics among College-Age Millennials."  I've just perused the 51-page document, but it looks very interesting!!

Download the .pdf file here: http://publicreligion.org/site/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Millennials-Survey-Report

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...

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"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."


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...

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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?

Primitive Tradition

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"Therefore the idea of primitive tradition is not only a preservative idea, but a quest for reform. It is a demand for the restoration of, or re-emphasis upon, those beliefs or practices approved or authorized by antiquity but wanting or fragmentary in the present age.

John Keble (* 25. April 1792 in Fairford (Glou...

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"'Is there not a hope', asked Keble, 'that by resolute self-denial and strict and calm fidelity to our ordination vows, we may not only aid in preserving that which remains but also may help to revive in some measure, in this or some other portion of the Christian world, more of the system and spirit of the apostolical age? New truths, in the proper sense of the word, we neither can nor wish to arrive at.  But the monuments of antiquity may disclose to our devout perusal much that will be to this age new, because it has been mislaid or forgotten, and we may attain to a light and clearness, which we now dream not of, in our comprehension of the faith and discipline of Christ.''

Writing about John Keble and the Tractarian movememt - Owen Chadwick, "The Spirit of the Oxford Movement: Tractarian Essays;" p.29. 

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 pass√©, 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.

Slipping Back

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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

 

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.


Where are we?

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coptic_web.jpgSometimes, groups within the Church (whether the larger Church universal or this Church, as in the Episcopal/Anglican Church), come to feel as if they are sitting by themselves in the midst of a wilderness.  Sometimes, the reasons for such feelings (or realities) are do to geography and location, sometimes are because of sociopolitical or theological issues of disagreement, sometimes they are because the greater organization just doesn't get what the groups are doing and to one degree or another ostracizes the various groups.

What can be done? There are a lot of things that can be done, but one of the "solutions" that is almost always and only destructive is separation. When a Church or parish or family or even friends separate, failure has already occurred.  We can attempt to clean up the mess by giving all kinds of justifications for why the separation, the split, is good or profitable or better than the alternative.  Well, we can try to spin the separation all we want, but we have already failed.

Within this new kind of ministry, the Imago Dei Initiative, outside the walls of current experiences of "church," it is too easy for people to attempt to force us into already established modes of operation and definition that are no longer working very well. These modes of operation and definition are tending to fail in these days because the center of gravity - the very purpose for the existence of Church - has been overwhelmed if not usurped by the prevailing culture. As the whelming continues and as we continue to lose members and lose the interest of growing percentages of the population as a result, we like to lob bombs of accusation against those "godless liberals" or those "fundamentalist conservatives" and spin, spin, spin how it is all those other peoples' fault.  But, the very act of conceiving of and wanting to throw bombs is, again, already a sign of failure.

Is it true - I mean truly true - that new wine cannot be poured into old wine skins? I want to think (believe) that there is a way, with God's help. I wonder - more than wonder at this point and suspect not. Not much of what I witness and experience leads me to believe that it is possible.  Where, then, does that leave "new wine" kind of Christian communities and ministries within the greater structures of the Church (and I'm specifically thinking about Episcopal/Anglican Churches)?

All I can say at this point is that we are called to be faithful. I content that that to which we are to be faithful firstly is God and the restorative, reconciling relationship made possible again through Jesus the Christ. We are able to do this by the enabling of the Comforter, the Holy Spirit. I find it quite true that we can take confidence in the "enduring Christian Tradition," and for us that enduring Tradition is in the Anglican form. 
 
I say "enduring" because it helps us jump out of the never-ending, swirling, swirling eddy of chaos that we find ourselves as we continually lob bombs and accusations about theology and politics and piety and all the rest.  That which is "enduring" is not bound by ideas that call themselves conservative or liberal.  It is apolitical, or should be.  For me, and for what I envision for the Imago Dei Initiative, "enduring" is that which has survived through 2,000 years of persecution, trial and tribulation, through countless cultures and languages.  That which has survived and continues to thrive is "enduring Christianity."

Our call to ourselves and to others is to begin to experience anew the Tradition - those aspects of the Faith that have gravity and traction in the tactile world which help people to experience their Christian faith as consequential. We call people with intention and persistence to give themselves to the practice of the enduring Christian Spiritual Disciplines.  These habits are simple and straightforward - the study of Scripture, the practice of prayer, the fellowship of believers, the worship of Almighty God transcendent and eminent, and the giving of ourselves for good works.
 
A problem we often run into is that we take up perhaps one or two of these and end up - even with only two - practicing them halfheartedly. Our busy world works against such discipline. When we do this, we end up experiencing a profoundly diminished form of the Christian faith. This is where much of American Christianity finds itself. All aspects of the Disciplines are important equally and need to be held in right balance, which means that as Christians our lives will by necessity look quite different from most other peoples' lives.

How do we avoid throwing bombs, becoming disillusioned, ending up angry, being ostracized? How do we avoid separation and splitting up? Commit to the development of the Disciplines. Love God with our entire being. Love our neighbors as ourselves. Profoundly difficult stuff to do, but with God's help we are able. Find like-mined people for support, encouragement, and accountability.

We want to find and bring together these kinds of people - these like-minded people who desire to be the imago Dei, the imago of God, where we work, play, study, help others, and have fun. The fields are ripe for harvest.  People everywhere are seeking God and the significance found in a restorative relationship with God. In the emerging culture, it will be this kind of witness by consequential Christians that will make a difference.

This is how and what we want to be.  God help us.

(Photo: The Coptic Christian chapel at Bethany-beyond-the-Jordan. @Copyrite 2011 by Bob Griffith, all rights reserved)

PASADENA, CA - OCTOBER 29:  Copies of The Chri...

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The Christian Science Monitor published an opinion piece online March 24th, 2011. The piece is by Jonathan Merritt and entitled,"Evangelical shift on gays: Why 'clobber scriptures' are losing ground."

I've been watching this shift over the last 20 odd years. I'm still amazed at the length certain anti-homosexual groups go to attempt to reinforce their positions, even while the arguments they use are constantly changing over time because their arguments of justification loose their persuasive force as the blanket exaggerations or misinformation of gay people become all too clear.  It does them no good nor their argument when what they say no longer seems to line up with what more and more people are experiencing in their day-to-day lives.

They've lost the emerging generations, already. In Barna Group's research project that resulted in the book "unChristian," one of their primary findings suggests that emerging young people find Christianity in the U.S. to be profoundly anti-homosexual, and it doesn't jib well with their own beliefs or experiences.

(Now, I will say that much depends on how one defines "homosexual" or how one believes homosexuals think or act in the aggregate. The primarily Religious Right anti-homosexual groups try to persuade people that most all homosexuals are sex-crazed alcoholics who will just as soon molest your young son as have a coke at the corner dinner. Spreading this kind of misinformation is simply baring false-witness against a whole class of people, whether one believes those people need saving, healing, or death or not.  As a Christian, I will say that much of what is presented as normative in the urban gay subculture by certain gay interests - hedonism - isn't the kind of life that is conducive to our own personal best interests.  But, the gay people involved in living their lives in such a way are no different than what I witnessed in my 20-years working in higher education with students who happen to be in the straight Greek system - unabashed hedonists.)

Back to the issue at hand and speaking of "clobber passages"... I've particularly noticed how Bible publishers have been dealing with the issue.  As might be known, the term "homosexual" never appeared in an English Bible until the mid-to-late 1950's - that's approximate 450 years without such a term in English Bibles. Over the years, as their arguments against all forms of homosexual relationships continue to gain less traction, the anti-homosexual groups attempt to reinforce their position by becoming even more specific and detailed in their demand of and translation of Scripture to attempt to bolster their failing arguments. 

For example, the length that the English Standard Bible goes to attempt to make specifically clear that the obscure Greek words found in I Corinthians 6:9 are absolutely about homosexuals, but not just homosexuals, but about men, and not just men, but in the footnote pertaining the to two Greek words, men who are the passive AND the active partners AND both giving consent.  The ESV translates the Greek words, "nor men who practice homosexuality," with the footnote clarifying the mean with, "The two Greek terms translated by this phrase refer to the passive and active partners in consensual homosexual acts." 

The King James version translates the words this way, "...nor effeminate, or abusers of themselves with mankind."  The New International Version translates the words this way, "...nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders."  The New American Standard Version translates the words this way, "...nor effeminate, nor homosexuals," with the footnote specifying, "I.e., effeminate by perversion."  (How is one "effeminate by perversion?")The New Revised Standard Version translates the words this way, "males prostitutes, sodomites..." 

The truth is, whether it supports a socio-political position or agenda or not (conservative or liberal), we simply do not know what Paul meant.  Yet, in order to tow the anti-homosexual line, Bible publishers cave into the demand by anti-gay Religious Right organizations to take a anti-gay stand in the translation of these words. (I Tim. 1:10, is another example) I've witnessed big campaigns that demand the Bible publishers publish the translation even more specific, as we witness in the EVS. 

After all, we have to make the Bible absolutely specific in order to keep ignorant people from being deceived by Satan (through the liberal Bible "scholars") trying to make homosexuality not a sin, make in normal and celebrated in the public mind, when we know that the end of this will be death and the end of Western Civilization by the punishing judgement of God.  Right?  You see why the anti-gay zealots have to exert a great deal of pressure on the Bible publishers to be absolutely specific that God condemns in no uncertain terms everything homosexual, whether we know the Greek words used by Paul actually mean "homosexuals" or not.

The problem, as the opinion piece details, these kinds of arguments are no longer persuading the emerging generations.  It isn't that the fags are winning in the deceiving of young, impressionable minds (although there is some truth in the assertion that the pro-gay message has more traction than the anti-gay message), but that the justifications and "proofs" for the anti-gay arguments are being shown to be fallacious.

I want to be clear, as a Christian and as a priest in this Church, our role and goal is not simply to affirm different groups of people, including homosexual people.  Our goal is always and for everyone - everyone - the cause of Christ for salvation, reconciliation, and restoration calling us into such a life that we become free of so much within our world that binds us, deadens us, enslaves us, deceives us, and causes our lives to be separated from God and estranged form one another.  This means that I call homosexual people as another other people into the reconciling relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  This will transform us and cause us to be different - not tied up in knots by giving ourselves to the hedonistic culture.  This does not mean, however, that homosexuals stop being homosexual.  Gay or straight, we are called to be with God according to God's ways and not simply according to the dictates of the prevailing culture or our own proclivities.

The anti-gay Religious Right will not win in their quest and crusade, because their positions cannot be sustained according to the truth that we know.  Yet, they will become even more demanding and stringent as they lose influence, as their arguments fail.  Unless, of course, as we are witnessing, people change their positions.  This has already happened for the majority of younger people.

"Blab-casting"

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I recently read an essay by Elizabeth Drescher on the "rd Magazine" website entitled "Turn Off, Slow Down, Drop In: The Digital Generation Reinvents the Sabbath"

I love this paragraph:

At the other end of the spectrum, fantasies that the application of new technologies to traditional practices will, in themselves, enrich life in general and spirituality in particular are no less misguided. Take a recent blog post on the U.S. Congregational Life Survey, which shared with italicized surprise the utterly unremarkable finding that "use of visual projection equipment in worship is not related to church growth." No kidding? Survey says: a dull video or lame music is just dull as a preacher blah-blah-blah-ing on in person with no relational interest in or connection to the people to whom they are blab-casting. So, too, an engaging, interactive minister who genuinely connects to people and encourages their connection to one another is going to be compelling face-to-face and in technologically-enabled engagements (see, for example, @texasbishop, @MeredithGould, @jaweedkaleem).  [emphasis mine]

For some reason, and this gets to some of the other stuff in the article and in the life of the Church in general (particularly the Mainline denominations and more particularly the Episcopal Church, of which I am a priest), we think we must manage God.  After all, if we don't manage God everything will just fall apart and we will devolve into nothingness. (Yeah, and how is that going for us?)

The Episcopal Church is in crisis because we are a dying institution (has little to do with the gay-issue or the conservatives leaving the Church - although it has a whole lot to do with it... irony).  So many people are rushing to do triage and to save this venerable national treasure, but the ways and means they are trying to save it are little more than the same old things that have been going on for the last 40 years that have gotten us into the mess to begin with.  They dress up these tired old ways and means in hipster clothing or Emergent garb thinking that things like PowerPoint presentations, bad rock-ish music, hip-cool candles and flashy lights, casting off vestments, or better yet taking out pews, sidelining the Prayer Book, explaining away Scripture, or outlawing Rite I language will magically make the Church all rad (yes, I know) so that streams of young people will suddenly fill the empty spaces. What they end up doing is just another form of blab-casting. 

What we so often forget is that Jesus is the one that builds the Church, and if we so manage affairs of the Church according to trendy culture dictates that Jesus is nicely tucked away out of site, well, we have already failed.

There are streams of young people filling churches. Just not our churches.  Around where I live (Brooklyn, NY), within an 1/2-hour walk I can take you to at least 5 churches that are in the hundreds of members each and are made up almost exclusively with those under, say, 32 years of age.  They beg for people over 40 to come to their churches.  St. Paul's, where I serve, has a very close relationship with a few of these churches.  You know what they are doing in their services?  Old Hymns song out of hymnals. Traditional liturgies (they are rediscovering the significance of liturgy).  We use Rite I at St. Paul's for our principle liturgy (Rite II other times - we aren't protesting anything), but when we talk about changing to Rite II, it is the 20-somethings  who have been coming in greater numbers over the last 5 years who protest the loudest.

This is why my work in the Imago Dei Society/Initiative isn't focused on being trendy, but on understanding emerging generations and emerging culture to find out not how to become like them, but to discover how to translate the Faith to them in ways they can understand, form them into consequential Christians, and learn how to receive, living into and pass on the enduring Tradition in its Anglican form. This doesn't play too well when those attempting triage are bent on re-hashing the latest hip-cool thing the culture throws at us (even when all the evidence shows that what younger people are looking for is something substantially different from all that hype and manipulation). 

Dabbling

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From a short article in Newsweek (Feb. 14th edition, pg. 6) dealing with e-books and the future of print books into the future.

"The Future of the Book" - from James Billington, librarian of Congress:

"The new immigrants don't shoot the old inhabitants when they come in. Our technology tends to supplement rather than supplant.  How you read is not as important as: will you read? And will you read something that's a book - the sustained train of thought of one person speaking to another? Search techniques are embedded in e-books that invite people to dabble rather than follow a full train of thought. This is part of a general cultural problem." (emphasis mine)

What impact might this "dabbling" have on the "train of thought" of the Gospel? What impact might this development have on already short attention spans?  How might this impact our engagement with knowledge, that requires sustained and perhaps linear processes? How might this change teaching and learning?

I believe this is an important idea or consequence to investigate.

Brain Freeze

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I was looking through Flickr.com this morning.  I'm in the process of uploading my Israel/Jordan photographs to my account.  I noticed a couple photographs from people I follow and ended up on this guys website.  "Mer" is his moniker, perhaps his real name... I'm not sure.  Anyway, one post on his blog caught my attention.  It is entitled, "Anthony's computer is giving him diverticulitis."  The post is presented as a conversation - whether actual or as commentary I don't know - between I suspect Mer and Anthony.

"I don't know my best interest."

"It appears that way."

"No I need someone to come into my life....someone maybe hired that comes in and protects me from this culture."

"What?"

"That person would put me on a cultural diet."

"I'm sorry?"

"I would have to go into texting or cable news deprivation for months. That person would demand me to use a land line for a prescribed amount of time. Putting a lap band around my laptop use."

"Slapping mobile devices out of your hand."

"This person would come into my life and begin cutting away at the obesity of distraction."

"Sounds like textration."

"I need this. I love this sort of socialist counselor. I have ran amok. Gorged myself on the hedonistic part of the culture and come away with diseases. All because I like a big bowl of societal High Fructose Corn Syrup."

"Sounds like it includes table spoons of dramatic."

"It is me. I wasn't built for this society. As a kid I sat with my on internet; my imagination. Using Army men as play station. I should be 90 already and getting ready to die soon. This disdain for life is coming too early. I just need prescriptions of hand written letters, socializing without cellphones and news deprivation."

"OK. Your point?"

"I can't do it alone. Somebody has to come in. I need a trainer."

"You think you could find someone online?"
Consider the article in this week's Newsweek entitled, "The Science of Making Decisions," or "Brain Freeze," concerning what the constant barrage of input into our brains does to our brains and our ability to make good decisions:

"The Twitterization of our culture has revolutionized our lives, but with an unintended consequence--our overloaded brains freeze when we have to make decisions."
There are diminishing returns to the constantly plugged in society.

So, Mer's post concerning Anthony's statement, or conflict with himself - does this present a coming state of mind of many of us?  Everything I read tells me that we need to give our brains a rest.  By doing so, we are able to assimilate, contemplate, and make much more wise and satisfying decisions.

What happens when immediate trumps wise?




New or New Again

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Part of the mandate of the Imago Dei Initiative is to understand emerging culture and emerging generations so that the Church can meet people where they are - outside the prevailing, some call "normal," walls of the Church and ways of thinking about life and faith.

This isn't easy, often times, because pouring new wine into old wine skins more-often-than-not results in the rupturing of the old wine skin.  This makes people nervous!  This makes institutions nervous, even while the people that are the institutions know that change will occur regardless of thought, comfort, or even permission.

Currently, the Imago Dei Initiative is experimenting with a few different things under a tag-line that goes something like this: "Finding new ways of living a profound Faith in simple ways."  Again, more-often-than-not, these "new" ways are really the discovery again of the ways that have resonated with the human heart and soul from generation-to-generation.  All things are made new again.

If we pay attention to the demographic data, emerging generations are seeking out those kinds of faith expressions that demonstrate something that is tried, is proven, is not trendy, that actually proclaims a belief in something specific, and is lasting.  There is an expectation for questioning and wrestling with the issues, but there is an appreciation for honesty and being up-front about what is believed and proclaim to be true.

For example, churches all over the place that are full of young folks are picking up the Book of Common Prayer and are finding in its ancient forms and liturgies something intriguing, life-giving, and that has been missing in most of their faith experiences.  The Anglican Tradition of the Christian faith is well situated for this generation - an openness to difference, debate, and questions; simple belief assertions that get at the core of the Faith; and the slow, formative elements of ancient liturgies.  Although, the preoccupation of political and theological warfare going on in the Episcopal Church (and the break-way new "Anglican" denominations) right now does little to draw younger folks to the institution that is supposed to be the  holders of the Anglican Tradition in the U.S. - the Episcopal Church.  We've got to experience again is not politics or social-agendas, but the experience of God in relationship.

Younger folks also think very differently about pet issues that the Church has been wrestling with for the last 40 years (since the rise of the 1960's/Baby Boomer mentality).  Younger folks don't look with disdain and mistrust upon institutions.  There is a draw to that which is ancient in the Tradition.  Younger folks do not think the same way about issues of race, sexism, homophobia, political and social liberalism or conservatism.  These are not the issues most younger folks dwell on (with exceptions, of course) - and not that these issues are unimportant.  

For example, most younger women I've encountered and talked with don't have the same issues with gender-inclusive language as do Baby Boomers.  Younger women realize that the Scriptures and the Tradition were developed in a different time under different circumstances, so if male pronouns are used today (in accordance with the actual Greek or Hebrew word in Scripture that is male) there isn't the same feeling of disenfranchisement or diminishment or exclusion or an expectation of subservience to males.  Their womanhood is not threatened by male language or imagery in their original forms.

So, considering all this, how does the Church do things differently without a preoccupation with trendiness?  We focus on Christian formation within our relationships with God and one another.  Another way is to rediscover or relearn the ancient forms of the Tradition - that which has survived through persecution and trial among a multitude of cultures throughout the past 2,000 years.  This is what we are trying to do. 

How?  Well, here are a couple things:

1. The Imago Dei Sunday Evening Service at St. Paul's Church - we are a new and still small gathering of people who wish to experience the presence of God in contemplative and meditative ways.  We use the tried and true form of Evening Prayer (perhaps Evensong at some point) with lots of time for silent/quiet contemplation.  We hear the Word of God, we pray for our needs - most importantly we desire to grow closer to God.  We end our time together with the celebration of Holy Communion in a very simply form.  We meet Sunday evenings at 5:00 PM and the service lasts almost an hour.  We attempt to form a spiritually conducive atmosphere with candles, bells, incense, quiet, and a beautifully rich physical space.

2. The Imago Dei Red Hook Gathering - we are organizing a small group of folks in the Red Hook neighborhood that come together to support and challenge one another to live more fully into our Christian Faith in simple ways.  The main purposes of this kind of gathering is to build relationships, to hear how we are growing in our Faith, and to support one another in all the challenges we face in our chaotic world.  We are meeting in a more public space twice a month for about an hour and a half.

3. The Imago Dei Home Group in Carroll Gardens - this is similiar to the "Gathering" mentioned above, but we meet in a member's home.  This affords us the ability for a little more privacy and intimacy.  We spend time catching up on each others' lives as we gather together, we transition into a time of quiet, of prayer, and then we discuss how Scripture interacts with our lives.

4. 2nd Saturdays for Good Works Initiative - every second Saturday of the month (well, almost every one - see the Events page for updates) we come together to do some sort of good work as we give of our time and talents to serve others.  Fundamentally, the purpose is to help us grow in our own faith by better understanding God's will for our lives, but other people receive the benefit of our work.  This past year, we adopted Coffey Park in Red Hook as our project.  We helped the permanent gardener (John Clarke) and community folks who volunteer to help keep the park in good shape.  It is great exercise, a good time to meet new people and grow closer to people we know, and it is good for the soul.

5. The "Faith meets Art meets Space" project - this is a formation project for artists of all kinds that focuses on how our Christian Faith influences our creative impulse. How does our faith and the physical space influence our art?  The goal is for the artist to create something new while investigating how faith and space inspire them.  There will be during May 13-15, 2011 exhibits and performances at St. Paul's Church that presents our new art.

6. "The Church and 'Post-Constantinian' Society?" The Imago Dei Society in cooperation with other groups is planning a conference during the late-fall of 2011 to discuss how we live as individuals and the Church within a culture and society that is becoming "Post-Constantian" - a culture that no longer supports a common Christian understanding of life and our place in the world.  More info coming...

These are just a few things that we are doing and would like to do.  The goal of an intentional-community where residents live for a time to help develop the habits of the Christian Spiritual Disciplines is in the works.  Anyone is welcome to help in this project of discovering new ways of living the profound Faith in simply ways.

Reality...

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Increasingly, this is our reality...



via: Nick

A different religion?

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"We have come with some confidence to believe that a significant part of Christianity in the United States is actually only tenuously Christian in any sense that it is seriously connected to the actual historical Christian tradition... It is not so much that U.S. Christianity is being secularized.  Rather, more subtly, Christianity is either degenerating into a pathetic version of itself or, more significantly, Christianity is actively being colonized and displaced by quite a different religious faith."

-Christian Smith with Melinda Denten; quote from: Almost Christian: what the faith of our teenagers is telling the American Church, by Kendra Creasy Dean (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010; p.3)

I'm very interested in reading this book.  The quote above fits very well with what I have been observing and experiencing over the last decade, at least.  Much of the "Christianity" I witness from both the supposed "Left" and "Right" are combining into something that is only vaguely recognizable as Christianity when couched within the historic tradition of the Faith.

I believe this is one of many reasons, albeit a more prominent reason, for the distrust and poor image the U.S. Church in general has among younger people.  I believe this is one reason for the decline in the success of the Church in the U.S. to truthfully engage the emerging culture and emerging generations in ways that resonate with them - ways that actually smack of Jesus' example and his teachings.

Here are excerpts from the opening page from Kendra Dean, the author:

"Let me save you some trouble.  Here is the gist of what you are about to read: American young people are, theoretically, fine with religious faith - but it does not concern them very much, and it is not durable enough to survive long after they graduate from high school.

"One more thing: we're responsible.

"...the religiosity of American teenagers must be read as a reflection of their parents' religious devotion (or lack thereof) and, by extension, that of their congregations. Teenagers themselves consistently demonstrate an openness to religion, but few of them are deeply committed to one."

What in the world are we doing with this ancient faith in these days that makes this faith that has endured 2,000 years of trial, persecution, within a multitude of cultures and languages, so "not durable" among our young? 

I agree with Dean, but we have to face squarely that we (those who are currently leading or moving into leadership) are failing the One-Who-Came-to-Gives-Us-Life-to-the-Full among the young.  I don't blame them; the fault is ours - "by our fault, by our own fault, by our most grievous fault."

Is it really the case that we would rather justify our own selves (all of our pet and "insightful" theories) while our actions speak volumes of faithlessness, neglect, polarization, hubris, greed, hypocrisy?  I think so.  Read the results of Barna's research in their book, "unChristian."

We've got to end this. Lord, make speed to help us!

Form the blog, Blatant Careerist, comes this article by Ryan Healy entitled, "Twentysomething: Why I don't want Life/Work Balance," on attitudes concerning work/life blending, older people, liking one's career, and the like.

He writes:

I wholeheartedly believe that my life has a purpose. My purpose is to be successful, genuinely happy and to make a difference in this world somewhere along the way. Not a single one of these values can take a backseat to another. The balance doesn't work, we already know this. I don't want to choose. I want a blended life...

The lines between work and life have been blurred for years. I have decided to embrace this fact and work on the best blend for my life. Whether this means working hours that fit around my schedule or being paid for results rather than the amount of hours worked, I'm not sure. I will leave that question to the management consultants and human resource experts. In the meantime my peers and I will keep searching for this blended life, while everyone else continues to run in circles failing to achieve their so-called balance.

His attitude on enjoying work is positive and he doesn't seem to so easily compartmentalize his life.  Plus, his comment on the reality of those who try to find balance in life and work are true, for the most part.  Really, that comment is a commentary on the failure of most to find such a balance and there are many reasons for this.  It does not, of course, negative the healthy benefits of balance in life! Yet...

The alternative or difference given to our society by the teachings of Christ present the concept of Sabbath rest - a time apart. This in no way negates life/work blending, but the possibility of self-expansion and intentional self-reflection in realms and ways not generally supported by our culture any longer (aside from just giving our brains a rest).

I wonder if there will be substantial change when family, particularly children, come into play?  I know that many childless couples relationships are far less "traditional" in terms of communication, time spent together, work and life, etc.  Yet, kids have a way of changing one profoundly and one's view, attitudes, and actions on all manner of things.  If extended adolescents is really what is going on here, when Ryan and others really do enter into adulthood (and, of course, that whole statement is up for grabs) will all this change?  Will he end up taking on more of an attitude of the "older people" who value their "home time" that he is so careful not to interrupt?

Here is an article from the New York Times by Marci Alborher entitled, "Blurring by Choice and Passion," in the "Small Business" section on job shifting.  She begins by writing about growing up and the blurring that seemed to take place between the life and work of her parents, who owned a string of shore-side motels along the Jersey shore.

She then writes about her shift in careers from being a lawyer (as a protest against her parents' blurred lifestyle) to being a journalist, and finds that she has returned to the "blended" or "blurred" work/life lifestyle.  As she writes, as a blurring or blending takes place, it has a lot to do with how much you enjoy your work - seems obvious.

She writes:

"But somehow, I have found my way back to a life with few boundaries. And I rarely complain about it. Whether you see yourself as a workaholic or as someone who merely blurs the line between work and play has lot to do with whether you like your work... Could it be that blurring and blending are the new work/life balance? ...In addition to entrepreneurs like my parents, blurring is rampant among those who fashion a career out of a passion..."

Yet, I wonder how an effect balance is reached and kept that mitigates against burnout or obsession?  It can be hard to keep oneself balanced, at least that is what I find in my own life.

Yes, my work and life are just about completely blurred and blended.  Perhaps that is the nature of being a priest, where the passion for God's people and Kingdom is blatant.  I find recognizing (really recognizing, not just knowing about) that place of healthy work/life balance and staying there is really tough. That became painfully clear during my self-evaluations during my recent CREDO experience.

I just finished watching a video from 60-Minutes on the Millennial generation and their life/work habits and attitudes, entitled, "The Millennials Are Coming." From this video piece, it could be argued that the whole generation (in the aggregate, of course) has developed a work/life blurring/blending lifestyle.  I wonder what the percentage might be among the whole population of those who are actually able to do this sort of thing?  Consider, also, that this video what shot before the economic downturn.  I wonder what might be said, now?  Extended adolescents and moving back home with the parents may only be compounded.

But, I want to pick up on this idea of life/work blurring and blending.  I'm wondering how this might transfer over to our efforts in finding new ways of translating the enduring Faith to emerging generations and the emerging culture.  The concept of blurring life and faith - one's everyday life experiences with the reality of one's faith/religious life - might be something to consider and expand. If this kind of concept caught on, there might be fewer attempts to compartmentalize one's life, thus alienating huge parts of one's life - actions, thoughts, and beliefs - from what goes on any given "Sunday morning." The reality of the Life in Christ, the ability to live out as fully as possible Christ with us, should reflect a complete blending and blurring of life/faith.

If the trend of life-work blurring and blending is the new norm, will it be easier to convey the life-faith blurring and blending that really is a better understanding of the Christian life?  After all, such passion certainly is a descriptive of those whose lives reflect the image of God in profound ways.  To be the imago Dei, how could there not be a blurring and blending of life, work, faith, play, relationships, and all else that we encounter?

The CBS, 60-Minutes video from 2007:

Differences

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So, I'm attending the Episcopal Village East (EVE) conference in Baltimore.  I attended the TransFORM East Coast conference in May. I said to a few people as I left Brooklyn that I wanted to see how the two conferences compared with each other.  Here is a first observation: People at TransFORM where tweeting and blogging all through the conference - and it was encouraged by the leadership - while at the first pre-conference session for EVE everyone was writing with pens and pencils on notebook paper.

The people at TransFORM, which describes itself as a "missional community formation network," seemed to be people of and ensconced in the communities they are trying to reach. The people at this EVE session seem to be those who are trying to learn about the same demographic group of people, but are not of them. Does that make sense?

It is terribly difficult and takes an immense amount of energy to try to understand the constitutional make-up of a different group of people.

On Social Media!

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On Social Media. This is the reality, where are we as the Church in the mix? Do we understand (I mean honesty, really understand) the fundamental shift that is happening and the right and good role the Church can play in both the digital and tactile worlds? For the Cure of Souls? For peace? For an alternative?  How can we be the imago Dei among all of this?

How it's done!

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stthomas-250.jpgFrom this month's issue of the Living Church, an article on St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Hollywood, CA.  As the article says, the only Anglo-Catholic parish in Los Angeles.  The article, "Apolitical Inclusion at St. Thomas the Apostle, Hollywood, CA"

In terms of reviving a parish in the Anglo-Catholic tradition (and I simply love the "apolitical inclusion" bit), a couple paragraphs from the article:

"The Rector, The Rev. Elliott Davies, restored the altar to an eastward facing position and celebrates Mass with his back to the congregation in lieu of 'the bartending position.'"  I love that - "the bartending position." Continuing, "Ensign recalls UCLA students fascinated by the celebration [Gregorian chant, lots of incenses, etc.]  - as opposed to 'that old hippy crap our parents like.'"  Out of the mouths of babes. And, continuing, "'One guy had never seen a pipe organ,' Ensign said. 'For us baby boomers what was so meaningful, relevant, and rebellious is so old hat. What's old is new again.'" [emphasis mine]

"St. Thomas has a tradition of social activism in the surrounding area, including among the homeless in Hollywood and gay and lesbian residents in West Hollywood... But Proposition 8 [California's marriage amendment] has never been preached about,' Ensign said. 'Preaching is always gospel-centered and Scripture-based.  We're here to worship Almighty God.  If you want to be political, join a political group.'" Did we hear this!  In the Anglo-Catholic tradition of social activism, the parish tends to the needs of those disadvantaged and marginalized, yet they recognize that their focus is to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to worship Almighty God, not to be a political action committee or a social service organization.  The Good Works happen because the people are taught to love neighbor as the love themselves, but tend to their relationship with God first.

"'I got suckered in by Fr. Carroll Barbour,' Ensign admitted.  'Urban legend goes: in the early 1980's St. Thomas was downgraded to mission status.  The bishop called Fr. Barbour in - then in his late 50s, and serving in Long Beach, with a checkered past, a history of alcoholism - and said, basically, it was make or break for both.'

"'He took the parish Anglo-Catholic in theology, teaching, and ritual, and threw the doors wide open,' Ensign said. 'He held his ground when parishioners left, then went to work.  There was little money, no answering machine, let alone a secretary.  No organ, no choir.  Just a mock English gothic building in a so-so location.'

"'He was a little guy from North Carolina; a real jackass,' Ensign said. 'But he was no-nonsense, and a real priest.  Not a social worker, or politician; always humble by the altar.  The priesthood was most important in his life.'
"'He was a broken man.  He often said, 'God loves broken things. We break bread, and broken people are ready to listen,' Ensign recalled.'"

Mindset of the Class of 2014

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Every year for some time now, a couple professors at Beloit College compile a list of characteristics of the new incoming freshman class.  This list gives insight into the cultural events and social influences that contribute to the way of thinking and the way of seeing the world and their place in it of the Class of 2014.  It is interesting to read - some years the lists are better than others.

Beloit College Mindset List for the Class of 2014

Here is the list:

The Beloit College Mindset List for the Class of 2014

Most students entering college for the first time this fall--the Class of 2014--were born in 1992.

For these students, Benny Hill, Sam Kinison, Sam Walton, Bert Parks and Tony Perkins have always been dead.

1. Few in the class know how to write in cursive.

2. Email is just too slow, and they seldom if ever use snail mail.

3. "Go West, Young College Grad" has always implied "and don't stop until you get to Asia...and learn Chinese along the way."

4. Al Gore has always been animated.

5. Los Angelenos have always been trying to get along.

6. Buffy has always been meeting her obligations to hunt down Lothos and the other blood-suckers at Hemery High.

7. "Caramel macchiato" and "venti half-caf vanilla latte" have always been street corner lingo.

8. With increasing numbers of ramps, Braille signs, and handicapped parking spaces, the world has always been trying harder to accommodate people with disabilities.

9. Had it remained operational, the villainous computer HAL could be their college classmate this fall, but they have a better chance of running into Miley Cyrus's folks on Parents' Weekend.

10. Entering college this fall in a country where a quarter of young people under 18 have at least one immigrant parent, they aren't afraid of immigration...unless it involves "real" aliens from another planet.

11. John McEnroe has never played professional tennis.

12. Clint Eastwood is better known as a sensitive director than as Dirty Harry.

13. Parents and teachers feared that Beavis and Butt-head might be the voice of a lost generation.

14. Doctor Kevorkian has never been licensed to practice medicine.

15. Colorful lapel ribbons have always been worn to indicate support for a cause.

16. Korean cars have always been a staple on American highways.

17. Trading Chocolate the Moose for Patti the Platypus helped build their Beanie Baby collection.

18. Fergie is a pop singer, not a princess.

19. They never twisted the coiled handset wire aimlessly around their wrists while chatting on the phone.

20. DNA fingerprinting and maps of the human genome have always existed.

21. Woody Allen, whose heart has wanted what it wanted, has always been with Soon-Yi Previn.

22. Cross-burning has always been deemed protected speech.

23. Leasing has always allowed the folks to upgrade their tastes in cars.

24. "Cop Killer" by rapper Ice-T has never been available on a recording.

25. Leno and Letterman have always been trading insults on opposing networks.

26. Unless they found one in their grandparents' closet, they have never seen a carousel of Kodachrome slides.

27. Computers have never lacked a CD-ROM disk drive.

28. They've never recognized that pointing to their wrists was a request for the time of day.

29. Reggie Jackson has always been enshrined in Cooperstown.

30. "Viewer Discretion" has always been an available warning on TV shows.

31. The first home computer they probably touched was an Apple II or Mac II; they are now in a museum.

32. Czechoslovakia has never existed.

33. Second-hand smoke has always been an official carcinogen.

34. "Assisted Living" has always been replacing nursing homes, while Hospice has always offered an alternative to the hospital.

35. Once they got through security, going to the airport has always resembled going to the mall.

36. Adhesive strips have always been available in varying skin tones.

37. Whatever their parents may have thought about the year they were born, Queen Elizabeth declared it an "Annus Horribilis."

38. Bud Selig has always been the Commissioner of Major League Baseball.

39. Pizza jockeys from Domino's have never killed themselves to get your pizza there in under 30 minutes.

40. There have always been HIV positive athletes in the Olympics.

41. American companies have always done business in Vietnam.

42. Potato has always ended in an "e" in New Jersey per vice presidential edict.

43. Russians and Americans have always been living together in space.

44. The dominance of television news by the three networks passed while they were still in their cribs.

45. They have always had a chance to do community service with local and federal programs to earn money for college.

46. Nirvana is on the classic oldies station.

47. Children have always been trying to divorce their parents.

48. Someone has always gotten married in space.

49. While they were babbling in strollers, there was already a female Poet Laureate of the United States.

50. Toothpaste tubes have always stood up on their caps.

51.  Food has always been irradiated.

52. There have always been women priests in the Anglican Church.

53. J.R. Ewing has always been dead and gone. Hasn't he? 

54. The historic bridge at Mostar in Bosnia has always been a copy.

55. Rock bands have always played at presidential inaugural parties.

56. They may have assumed that parents' complaints about Black Monday had to do with punk rockers from L.A., not Wall Street.

57. A purple dinosaur has always supplanted Barney Google and Barney Fife. 

58. Beethoven has always been a good name for a dog.

59. By the time their folks might have noticed Coca Cola's new Tab Clear, it was gone.

60. Walmart has never sold handguns over the counter in the lower 48.

61. Presidential appointees have always been required to be more precise about paying their nannies' withholding tax, or else.

62. Having hundreds of cable channels but nothing to watch has always been routine. 

63. Their parents' favorite TV sitcoms have always been showing up as movies.

64. The U.S, Canada, and Mexico have always agreed to trade freely.

65. They first met Michelangelo when he was just a computer virus.

66. Galileo is forgiven and welcome back into the Roman Catholic Church.

67. Ruth Bader Ginsburg has always sat on the Supreme Court.

68. They have never worried about a Russian missile strike on the U.S.

69. It seems the Post Office has always been going broke.

70. The artist formerly known as Snoop Doggy Dogg has always been rapping.

71. The nation has never approved of the job Congress is doing.

72. One way or another, "It's the economy, stupid" and always has been.

73. Silicone-gel breast implants have always been regulated.

74. They've always been able to blast off with the Sci-Fi (SYFY) Channel.

75. Honda has always been a major competitor on Memorial Day at Indianapolis.

Here is a pertinent paragraph from the Wikipedia entry for "Millennial Generation."  This observation/assertion is that the Millennial's generational thinking and attitude and ascetics that run quite counter to the whole counterculture and anti-establishment nature of the Baby Boomers. 

For the Church, this means that those who are still convinced that to save the Church is to get rid of everything that was (standard theology, doctrine, traditional architecture or music or language or liturgies and on and on) are now acting not for the future welfare of the Church, but for the perpetuation of their generational ideology.  My experience with younger people suggests that even things like "inclusive language" is passe - particularly among the women.   When we think about how to form or re-form the emphases or methodologies of the Church for future generations, we must do our best to truly understand emerging generations.  If not, we will once again "miss the boat."  We've missed the boat so often... 

Here is the paragraph:

In some ways, the Millennials have become seen as the ultimate rejection of the counterculture that began in the 1960s and persisted in the subsequent decades through the 1990s.[62][63] This is further documented in Strauss & Howe's book titled Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation, which describes the Millennial generation as "civic minded," rejecting the attitudes of the Baby Boomers and Generation X.[64] Kurt Andersen, the prize-winning contributor to Vanity Fair writes in his book Reset: How This Crisis Can Restore Our Values and Renew America that many among the Millennial Generation view the 2008 election of Barack Obama as uniquely theirs and describes this generational consensus building as being more healthy and useful than the counterculture protests of the late 1960s and early 1970s, going as far to say that if Millennials can "keep their sense of entitlement in check, they might just turn out to be the next Greatest Generation."[65] However, due to the global financial crisis of 2008-2009, at least one journalist has expressed fears of permanently losing a substantial amount of Generation Y's earning potential.[66]

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

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

From the article:

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

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

and the conclusion:

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

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

Read the whole article!

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

An article in the Sunday New York Times on intentional-communities of faith in NYC.  This is my intent.

Sharing the Faith, Splitting the Rent


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

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

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

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


In the "Inventive Age"

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Here is the quote:

"I think there is something much bigger going on than finding a niche market and asking how should we position this product of the gospel so that those people will appreciate it, and will like it, and will accept it. We're really asking a deeper question about who we are in a changing cultural environment when it comes to the way think, the values we hold, the tools that we use, and the aesthetics that are meaningful to us." -Doug Pragitt (describing the concepts behind his new book, "Church in the Inventive Age")   Pagitt is the pastor of Salomon's Porch Church.

This is the melee in which I desire to be and where the Imago Dei Society has a real place within the greater arena of Anglicanism. Well, actually, this whole way of considering and thinking has had a place within Anglicanism, but to understand how we continue to do this thing called Anglicanism (this Christianity) in emerging cultures and with emerging generations are the questions we need to continually ask!

I came across one of the ministries that has as its purpose (or its obsession) the condemning of the "Emergent" side of the Church as being heretical. I don't know whether it is simply their inability to understand enculturation and that we are all raised within a cultural system that forms us in the ways we collectively think, the way we understand the world around us and our place it in, what we consider to be aesthetically pleasing or appropriate, and even what we consider to be moral and ethical.  I don't know whether they are simply ignorant of disciplines like anthropology, sociology, etc., or what is really going on within them.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ and the divine Logos do not change, but we certainly do, our cultures certainly do, and what we consider to be self-evident truth certainly does.  So, groups like this, I suppose, either honestly not to understand, are being willfully ignorant (and as a former teacher, this is an astounding tragedy), or are intransigent in their beliefs - fundamentalists, in other words. 

What is this particular ministry, you might ask?  Apprising Ministries.  I don't know anything about this, really, and perhaps much of what they do is really good, but with regard to Emergent stuff, they have a thorn in their craw!  So, make up your own mind. 

Our Times

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Thomas Chatterton Williams in his book, Losing My Cool: How a Father's Love and 15,00 Books Beat Hip-Hop Culture, wrote: "Nietzsche believed the greatest deeds are thoughts. 'The world revolves around the inventors of new values,' he wrote.  For more than thirty years the black world has revolved around the inventors of hip-hop values, and this has been a decisive step backward." (p. 218)

In his book, Williams describes his experiences growing up with increasing allegiance to those inventors and the hip-hop culture, until discovering a much broader world when he went off to college - and more importantly due to his father's constant influence and love.  Certainly, not all of hip-hop is negative, but much of it is.  For many, many black people, according to their own testimony, the more gangsta forms have had a devastating effect on black culture and those forms are the "new values" taken up decisively by a generation.

Williams goes on to write that his generation, in order to pay the debt they owe their ancestors for all they suffered through in order to make possible in his generation a black President, who is a counter example as a "nuanced thinker" of hip-hop culture, his generation must take up the challenge to do things differently and make things right for the sake of the new generations coming.

I see in Williams' description of his experience and the "new values" of the hip-hop phenomina a similiar experience of another generation and another racial group - the overwhelmingly white Baby Boomer generation.  The "1960's" generation proclaimed a new morality with a whole set of "new values."  In their belief that their generation's purpose was to usher in a Brave New World, the age of Aquarius, they have been relentless in overturning anything they perceive as getting in their way.   As Nietzsche said, the world has revolved around this new morality and their new values.

Like hip-hop, not all that this generation has done is wrong or bad.  Many aspects of white, 1950's culture needed to be upended - racism, the "Stepford Wives" expectation of women are examples.  The proverbial baby was thrown out with the bathwater, however, because of an unnuanced rejection of all that came before them.  We are beginning to reap the whirlwind. 

One predominate characteristic of this generation is their rejection of the notion that their ancestors, or even their parents' generation, have anything worthwhile to say to them or to teach them, and as a result their generation is known as the first one to cast off history and lessons from the past as informants of how things should be. This may be a bit of overstatement, but not by much.  What is even more sad is that the generation in the aggregate does not acknowledge or perhaps even realize the tremendous sacrifice and denial of self past generations have endured for their generation's existence.

I am hopeful when I read the demographic trends of younger generations.  They will have their own problems, of course, but there seems to be a reclaiming of history and past experience as informants for figuring out how to live life.  As Williams claims it is up to his generation to overturn the very negative influences of hip-hop on African-American culture, so is it up to his generation, including all races, to overturn the negative aspects of the Baby Boomer zeitgeist for all Americans.

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