Recently in faith Category

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

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

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

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

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

Peterson writes,

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

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

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

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

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

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

For a Good Future

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We all have a part to play in the creation of a good world, a fair and just society - all for the emerging generations that are coming after us.  To be selfish, to be self-centered, to be arrogant in our assumptions that all revolves around "me" or "us" or "our generation" or for only "our people" or even for "our specific time in history" is ridiculous. It is self-deceptive and in the end self-defeating - as individuals, as a culture, as a people.

There is much to indicate that things are bad and getting worse.  If we learn from history and receive the wisdom of tradition, we know that this has always been the case.  What makes a one people different from another is, perhaps, that one dwells on the "bad and getting worse" and one dwells on "what can be." Another difference might be this - if a people reside within a collective hubris or whether within a collective humility.

While I do not believe the locus of "salvation" rests with human endeavor, I do believe that the way humanity works and believes and behaves will certainly lead to either a good or a terrible end.  Such potential in the faces of our young people, but we as adults have an obligation and a call to make sure that the potential is realized not for ourselves or for the here-and-now, but for a good future!

The Future is Ours from Michael Marantz on Vimeo.

Annihilation

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"Very few beings really seek knowledge in this world. Few really ask. On the contrary, they try to wring from the unknown the answers they have already shaped in their own minds -- justification, confirmation, forms of consolation without which they can't go on. To really ask is to open the door to a whirlwind. The answer may annihilate the question and the questioner."

- Anne Rice

I've posted this quote before. I want to assert that this both reflects a damning accusation against much of American religious experience and then presents what the Christian experience is all about.  If we truly ask and seek, the door will be opened. We experience God in the whirlwind, and we are annihilated. Then, perhaps, we can begin to gain wisdom and understanding beyond what is "normally" so or presumed to be known or commonly acknowledged as absolutely true.

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/

How We Live...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Find the book on Amazon.

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!

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

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

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

@daylife

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

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

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

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


Abstract conversations

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

(from EmergentVillage.com)

Change is afoot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



The Great Drop-Out

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





Here are a few paragraphs from the interview:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Here are a some additional information -

New Order?

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

Henry Kissinger speaking with Chairman Mao.

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

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


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

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

Discovery

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

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

Inner Man

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

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

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

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

Purpose

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Wither the Church

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

So much effort by the Religious Right has gone to trying to prove that this country of ours is God's divine creation and holds a special place in His heart and in His plans - akin to the way the Hebrew Nation was/is considered within the spectrum of the Hebrew Scriptures. This causes so much twisting of history and the writings of our Founders. This also fuels the demand that the geo-political and sociopolitical world of Neo-Conservative is actually what Christianity is all about. As I have often said, this harms the cause of Christ in the United States.

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

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

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

Read the entire article, here.


Creed or Chaos?

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

A couple paragraphs:

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

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

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

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

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


Religion vs. Faith

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

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

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

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

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

This from Fr. Tobias Haller:

No New Revelation

When addressing controverted subjects, we are called to look back on the Scriptural text for guidance in dealing with things about which those texts are themselves silent. The issue is not, "What would they have said?" on a topic about which they did not speak; but rather, "What do we say based on what those texts say about other things, using natural reason and knowledge gained since their writing to interpret old texts for new principles."

This is not about any new revelation. As one important story from rabbinic history shows: Revelation is now closed, but interpretation is open -- even a voice from heaven, even from God, cannot contravene the findings of the living interpretative community because, "It [i.e., the Law] is not in heaven" -- that is, God has given the Scripture to the people of God and it is up to us to wrestle with it.

People may well disagree about the outcomes of the wrestling match. And the question, "What Would Jesus Do?" is not entirely out of place, but has to be asked by positing Jesus not of his time, but as he is with us in our time -- as I believe he is, in his church, through his Spirit, which is now engaged in addressing challenges he did not address in those earlier days. There is no new revelation, but there is always new understanding.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

I truly like the way he put this.

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)

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.

Church and Sect

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The Scripture lessons for Sunday worship in the Revised Common Lectionary during this time after the Epiphany come from the Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Matthew, particularly focused on the Sermon on the Mount.

Reading through a commentary yesterday, I came across this description of the difference between a "Church" and a "Sect."  Here are a couple paragraphs:

"In spite of the need for many corrections in his details, my [Ulrich Luz, the author of this commentary] most helpful conversation partner has been Ernst Troeltsch.  He makes a sociological distinction between church and sect.  They are characterized by certain types of piety and theology.  While the 'church' as an institution of salvation and grace is characterized by s piety of redemption and a religion of grace, the 'sect' is a 'voluntary society, composed of strict and definite Christian believers,' who emphasize 'the law instead of grace, and in varying degrees within their own circle set up the Christian order based on love.'  In the sect Christ is 'the Lord, the example and lawgiver of Divine authority and dignity,' rather than primarily the redeemer.  Realizing holiness is central for the sect; 'the real work of redemption' takes place only in the future through  judgement, 'when He will establish the kingdom of God.' Very often the piety of the sect is Jesus piety, while Paul is decisive for the church type."

- Ulrick Luz; Matthew 1-7, Hermeneia Series; Editor, Helmut Koester, James E. Crouch, Translator; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, p. 178.

I suspect that using these definitions by Troeltsch, one might make the argument that the new "Anglican Church in North America,"  the break-away group from the Episcopal Church USA and the Anglican Church of Canada made up primarily of American style Evangelicals (as opposed to Anglican-Evangelicals) and Charismatics (with lessening numbers of more strict Anglo-Catholic types), is a "sect" and no longer a "church."  Their reason for being is to become more "pure," according to their own definitions, and a piety that is far more strict.   Sociologically speaking, this Troeltsch fits, I think.

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.

What "fundies' do...

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The funny thing is, this list of supposed contradictions in the Bible support the notion that there is little difference between fundie Christians and fundie atheists.  Both are so desperate to prove or disprove God that they distort and manipulate for their own ends Scripture that was never intended to be used or understood in such ways.  The graphic is fantastic, but the "scholarship" is more than questionable - certainly not reasonable.

See "Contradictions in the Bible" from "Project Reason."  See here for an example list.  I don't think this chart and the examples given are very reasonable - not that there are not issues in the consistency of Scripture, but most of these imagined contradictions simply do not hold up when one spends a bit of time actually investigating what is going on in the text and context.  Yet, fundamentalist atheists are as blinded by their determination to disprove as are fundamentalist religious people of whatever religion to prove.  Both come to no good end, I'm afraid.

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To be the imago Dei

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Thomas Merton

Image via Wikipedia

"Men have not become Trappists merely out of a hope for peace in the next world: something has told them, with unshakable conviction, that the next world begins in this world and that heaven can be theirs now, very truly, even though imperfectly, if they give their lives to the one activity which is the beatitude of heaven.


"That activity is love: the clean, unselfish love that does not live on what it gets but on what it gives; a love that increases by pouring itself out for others, that grows by self-sacrifice and becomes mighty by throwing itself away.


"But there is something very special about the love which is the beatitude of heaven: it makes us resemble God, because God Himself is love. Deus caritas est. The more we love Him as He loves us, the more we resemble Him; and the more we resemble Him, the more we come to know Him."

-- Thomas Merton, The Waters of Siloe
There is a new Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life reports on new survey results, "U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey."  It doesn't look very pretty, frankly.

How much do you know about religion?  Click and take the 15-question survey.  I got 14 out of 15, scoring quite high.  I should have - there might be a little problem if I didn't!


Glenn Beck of FoxNews and Jim Wallis of Sojourners have been in a battle of words of late. This is a recent post from Sojourners responding to another rant by Best, "We Won't Back Down from Beck."

The controversy has even made the Daily Show and the Cobert Report. Glenn Beck, on his FoxNews program and his syndicated radio show, over the last several months has taken to trash talk about any religious institution or leader that advocates for "social justice."  He recommended that anyone who attends a church that talks about social justice needs to leave that church right away.  Of course, even his church (he is Mormon) has publicly stated that Beck does not reflect the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints position on justice.  Yet, he continues on.

All economic systems in this world come from theories of Man.  They all look good on paper, but on the group, well, not so good.  They all fail at one point or another.  When Christians decide that God sanctions one or another of these Systems of Man and demand that all others are therefore ungodly or evil, we get ourselves into all kinds of trouble. Wars, rumors of wars, greed, hording, violence, retribution, ad nauseum, result, despite that each of the Systems during certain periods of time and under certain conditions might actually be the best System to benefit the most people. We tend to attribute to God what fallible people create, and that never ends well.

So, when a Christian-Liberationists demand Socialism or Prosperity-Gospel people demand a form of Laisse-faire Capitalism (and I don't think Wallis or Beck go to either of these extremes), we are off track.  When someone like Beck demonizes religious institutions and leaders who advocate for justice, he is off track.

What does God require of us, really?  Micah 6:8 gives us a clue:

He has showed you, O man, what is good.
       And what does the LORD require of you?
       To act justly and to love mercy
       and to walk humbly with your God.

I think somewhere in there is a call for Christians to be concerned about justice issues, but that does not mean that we equate an economic or social system devised by Man with God's will.  The approach we take being in the Kingdom of God is different.  What does Jesus call us to?  Jesus' call goes something like this (Matthew 22:36-40):

Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus replied: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

We can believe in Socialism or Capitalism, we can be a liberal or conservative - I don't care what.  What I care about is whether I and all of us who claim Christ love God, love our neighbor (even our enemy), do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.

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?

Song of Songs

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In my Carroll Gardens Home Group, we are reading through the Song of Songs attributed to King Solomon, one of the great rulers of ancient days.  Solomon was known to have loads of wives and concubines during his reign as King of the united kingdom of Israel.  Solomon, full of wisdom and its seems virility, had a profound effect on the Jewish nation then and for us, today - Christian or Jew.

The Church (as well as the Rabbis) tend to read the Song of Songs in an allegorical sense.  The passionate descriptions of love and devotion are said to represent God's love (the lover) and God's chosen people, Israel (the beloved), or in the Christian interpretation of Christ (the lover) and the Church (the beloved).  Or, perhaps, the poetry of this book truly does describe the abandonment two people can find in passionate love for one another - glorious in its reality.  We truly don't know why the early Jewish religious leaders declared this book to be a part of the canon of Holy Scripture, but regardless of why or whether it should be allegorically or literally understood, it presents to us a wonderful depiction of love.

If we read through the writings of the ancient Christian religious or mystics, we see in their writings vivid and passionate language when they refer to their experience with and love for God.  In some of the writings, these depictions seem almost erotic in nature. The ecstatic feeling of love and fulfillment and comfort when enveloped in God's love is wonderful.  I can see why such love language is used to describe it.

Here is a quote from the Interpreter's Bible commentary on the Song of Songs

"Some importance, in other words, attaches to the fact that the Song of Songs has enjoyed a virtually uncontested place among the books of the Bible.  This does not mean that we are necessarily bound to the traditional allegorical method of interpretation, but it does lay upon us the responsibility of discovering what the biblical view of love is, its content and the language in which it is expressed. We may also discover, incidentally, that the biblical view of love gives a deeper meaning to the Song of Songs even when it is taken to be no more than the passionate, sensual love associated with physical attraction - that the Bible here, as in other ways, redeems and baptizes what otherwise is vulgar, common, and prurient." (Vol.5, p. 110)
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]

Christianity = Truth? Really?

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

This is your brain on iPad

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H
Image representing iPhone as depicted in Crunc...

Image via CrunchBase

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

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

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

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

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

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

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

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

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

The "E" word

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This was why I hated "evangelism."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.


An interesting little piece in the Huffington Post - Why It's Cook to Go to Church.  In addition, it is interesting that he went to Union and seems to have such an attitude toward the ancient and enduring Traditions - Catholic and Apostolic.  These are generally not the norm for Union students.  I wonder why he attended a seminary for his degree?  What initially brought him even that far?

"Then, in seminary, taking classes on monasticism and ancient Christianity, I began to strongly feel the presence of God. I got inspired to visit monasteries and very ancient churches, first in the U.S., then researching and filming hermits in Egypt, then in Greece and Eastern Europe, and finally in Russia. I met hermits and monks, and they let me film their descriptions of the inner Christian life. They took me to their monastery churches. My studies in Christian mysticism and ancient texts grew deeper and deeper. I discovered a prayer, the Jesus Prayer, or Kyrie Eleison -- "Lord have mercy," or "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me." (Some add "a sinner" at the end.) I loved ancient church so much that I'm making a movie and writing a book about them, coming early next year (Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer is a not-for-profit feature film, the result of my studies and renewed love-affair with Jesus Christ and church)."
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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. 

August 2012

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