Recently in imagoDei Category

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

Finding love...

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Code/Space, Story Telling, and Artificial Intelligence - we all just want to find love. :-)

A presentation by James Bridle at a recent Lift conference entitled, "WE FELL IN LOVE IN A CODED SPACE"

From an airport check-in space (just a warehouse with angry passengers if the software fails) to the fact that most of our culture and literature now abide/live in "coded spaces."

After giving a "canonical" example of an airport check-in space being turned into "warehouse of angry people if the software fails," James Bridle goes on to say:

I want to push the metaphor... I suggest that most of our cultures lives now and particularly our literatures are lived in code spaces.

We live in a world where we increasingly outsource our memories and experiences to the network; which is fine and good but it has these intensive consequence for us. Our time is spent in negotiation with the network in order to understand these memories and experiences that we have. Our experiences are co-created with these repositories of memory experiences and so on online and on.

The rise of...

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

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

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

-----------------

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

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

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

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

How We Live...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Find the book on Amazon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the whole article.

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

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

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

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

The Next Step...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JEFFBETHKE.COM

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

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


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

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

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

@daylife

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

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

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

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


Abstract conversations

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

(from EmergentVillage.com)

Change is afoot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



The Great Drop-Out

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





Here are a few paragraphs from the interview:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Here are a some additional information -

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

via @daylife

evious generations"

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

Read the whole thing here:

Smartphones, Smart Pastors, Smart Church 


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

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

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

So, were are we with respect to emerging culture?

Check out their APP on iTunes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Nothing else.

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

"Okay.

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

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

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

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

"That's all....

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

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

"Reach your arm out and put it around them.

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

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

"Every. Single. Time.

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

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

"I know I do."


Read all of the post.

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

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

New Order?

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

Henry Kissinger speaking with Chairman Mao.

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

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


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

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

Discovery

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

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

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. 

Primitive Tradition

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

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

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

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

5 Cultural Shifts

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

Five cultural shifts that should affect the way we do church

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

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

Read it all here

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

Faith was a gift...

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"He [Keble] was altogether out of sympathy with the school of rational theology which treated Christian truth as though it were a philosophy of life, God as though He were a theory to be demonstrated, and faith as though it were the assent of the mind to proven, or to highly probable, propositions.  Faith was a gift, its source the Holy Spirit acting through the authoritative teaching of the Church, its medium the sacraments of the Church."

- Owen Chadwick, "The Spirit of the Oxford Movement: Tractarian Essays;" 1990, p. 24.

Wither the Church

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

The Real Mission

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

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

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


George Parkin Atwater, "The Episcopal Church: Its Message for Men Today," 1950, pp. 167-168. (Originally published in 1917)
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I think we all too often let everything else usurp the "Real Mission." Frankly, the real mission isn't politically-correct and is disconcerting to many, yet life to so many others.  If we, as the Church, are a unique organization offering real and honest alternatives (not just for the sake of offering alternatives, for then we are resigning our responsibility), then there must be something alternative about us.

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

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

Is it real, this Kingdom, this life? Only our experiences within it and the image of God revealed through us by way of such experiences will tell.

Power to the People!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unwanted wisdom

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Richard Rohr

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


- Richard Rohr,
(Falling Upward; via MINemergent)




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

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

When we live within integrity, we then earn a hearing and garner respect from those who want nothing to do with the institutions to which we (I) belong - namely, the Church.
The new 2011 Beloit College Mindset List for the new freshmen class of 2015 is now out.

"This year's entering college class of 2015 was born just as the Internet took everyone onto the information highway and as Amazon began its relentless flow of books and everything else into their lives.  Members of this year's freshman class, most of them born in 1993, are the first generation to grow up taking the word "online" for granted and for whom crossing the digital divide has redefined research, original sources and access to information, changing the central experiences and methods in their lives. They have come of age as women assumed command of U.S. Navy ships, altar girls served routinely at Catholic Mass, and when everything from parents analyzing childhood maladies to their breaking up with boyfriends and girlfriends, sometimes quite publicly, have been accomplished on the Internet."

The whole list is below the jump.

Related articles

Slipping Back

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

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

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

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

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

Sparkhous

 

Translation

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"The Old Testament does communicate to us and it was written for us, and for all humankind. But it was not written to us. It was written to Israel. It is God's revelation of himself to Israel and secondarily through Israel to everyone else. As obvious as this is, we must be aware of the implications of that simple statement. Since it was written to Israel, it is in a language that most of us do not understand, and therefore it requires translation. But the language is not the only aspect that needs to be translated. Language assumes a culture, operates in a culture, serves a culture, and is designed to communicate into the framework of a culture. Consequently, when we read a text written in another language and addressed to another culture, we must translate the culture as well as the language if we hope to understand the text fully." [Italic emphasis the author's, Bold emphasis mine]

The Lost World of Genesis One, John H. Walton (Donners Grove: Intervarsity Press; 2009, p. 9)

I think, also, that when we consider passing on the Faith to new generations we must consider how best to translate the Faith, as well as the lessons of Scripture, to that new generation.  We have to understand the emerging culture in which these new generations reside - and the emerging culture is not the same as ours, the adults who are making the decisions.

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.


Woodcut of the Augsburg Confession, Article VI...

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Living in the past 

"One thing that tells me a company is in trouble is when they tell me how good they were in the past.  Same with countries.  You don't want to forget your identity.  I'm glad you were great in the fourteenth century, but that was then and this is now.  When memories exceed dreams, the end is near.  The hallmark of a truly successful organization is the willingness to abandon what made it successful and start fresh."

 -Michael Hammer  The World is Flat

 While I can certainly agree with the above statement, there are worthy and good things from the 14th Century that are worth keeping. I suspect what Hammer is getting at is what we might describe as "Tradition" as opposed to "traditionalism."

"Traditionalism" tends to be the clinging to ways of doing, being, or thinking as they have "always been" even when it is evident that those things, those traditions, no longer effectively engage the emerging culture and the emerging generations.

"Tradition" tends to be those things that endure from generation to generation and through multiple cultures and through trial and persecution. Those things or aspects as part of the Tradition prove their worth and pertinence through such challenge.

Within the Imago Dei Society, I and we continue to investigate emerging generations and culture because we need to understand how to translate the Gospel of Jesus Christ and how to pass on the Tradition to those who come after us. What we don't need to attempt to hold on to or pass on are those things that are tied closely to traditionalism.  The "fresh start" is something we need to be about, always.

Transitions

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These past couple of months have been a bit traumatic.  Thankfully, no one has died or been harmed in any way. I was called upon in November of 2009 to lead an effort to study, understand, and establish new ministries that are present with emerging generations and within emerging culture. The initial focus of the effort was the neighborhoods of Red Hook and Carroll Gardens in Brooklyn (the 11231 zip-code). I began the world on January 8, 2010. The sponsorship of the Red Hook Project and Imago Dei was to be for three years, after which we would be on our own.

I've spend the last year doing the hard work necessary to get this sort of thing going - an entrepreneur, a project manager, a researcher, a community organizer, etc. I've meet  and talked with numerous community and religious leaders.  I've conducted focus groups of current residence of the neighborhoods, particularly in Red Hook, of artists, of young people of various ages. I've interviewed students, and the list goes on.

I studied, read, and researched adolescent development, traits of the emerging generations, and the particulars of emerging culture. My goal/intent has always been to understand the contexts in which we live not just right now, but to also understand as best we can were things will be in the 2020's. I'm doing the work for the Church to be able to meet the culture and young people head on - to be present with them where they are - rather than trying to play catch up and doing a terrible job at it.

The Church has a terrible time being "on-time." We tend to always be 15-20 years behind the curve, yet we think these "new" things we are suddenly enamored with are cutting-edge, when they simply aren't. The positive side of the slow crawl of the Church is that it should be able to ride through in a good way the crass trendiness that simply overtakes everything for the moment and then is nothing, again. The is a difference in trying to be trendy in order to attract people and understanding where people are in their understanding of themselves, their world, and their place in the world and trying to be present with them in the mix. When the Church decides to ride the trend waves, all is lost. We stop being authentic to who we are and what we are.

The Church is always "other," with respect to the prevailing culture. Why are we afraid of that, unless we have lost confidence that we have anything worthwhile to say or contribute... let alone the whole stuff about the Cure of Souls and salvific relationships with God.

Anyway, starting in January 2011, this past January, we began in earnest the doing of ministry. Because the genesis of the Red Hook Project came out of St. Paul's Church in Carroll Gardens, and because of the formation I received within this parish, and since St. Paul's has carried on ministry in Red Hook for over the last 18+ years since the diocese closed the parish in Red Hook (foolishly), the beginning efforts for new ministry starting out of St. Paul's.  In addition, since we are unable to afford a space in Red Hook (the foolish part mentioned above - selling property in New York City), St. Paul's provides the space we need to begin ministry and to experiment with what has been learned over the past year.

Currently, we have the "Imago Dei Sunday Evening Service" that is currently meeting at St. Paul's (which at times has a larger attendance than some of the established parishes in the area).  We have the "2nd Saturdays for Good Works" that began last August (our first ministry effort).  There is the monthly Imago Dei "Red Hook Gathering" at a local Red Hook eatery and pub (Rocky Sullivan's) where we have a bit of food, a little drink, and talk about life, faith, and how it all fits together. We have a "Home Group" meeting in Carroll Gardens with nine members.  By February, we had a very good start resulting from all the work beforehand that set the foundation upon which the new efforts rest. In addition, last month we started the "Faith meets Art meets Space" project for artists (another target group for the Red Hook Space) to intentionally investigate how their faith influences their art with the rich space of St. Paul's nave as their backdrop.  We intend on having the exhibition and performances the first of June.

Then, in February, I was told it was all ending.  Ending because of money issues, ending because of opposition to the effort others in the diocese, ending because the will to do something new outside the convention boxes was not there.

This is a very big blow.  There have been mixed signals since February about what exactly will be stopped and what might go forward. I've continued working as if the project would continue beyond the June 1st cut off date, hoping that they would find the money and have the will to continue. It hasn't happened. I was told that as of June 1st, it all ends.

What in the world do I do, now? I am fighting a real melancholy - a mix of disappointment, anxiousness about attempting to find a new place of ministry, real concern about the people who have a stake in this effort and now will be left high and dry, a profound sadness about suddenly leaving the people of St. Paul's and the lone priest for a growing congregation in a lurch (I've been ministering in this parish for 7 years). In a month and a half, I'm gone.

Ideally, I would love to continue working at St. Paul's to continuing implementing all that I've learned this past year, all the ideas and plans that have been developed and are ready for implementation, to continue ministry development in Red Hook, etc. But, the parish doesn't have the money for a second priest and the diocese will not "pay me to be at St. Paul's."

There are several of priests I am in conversation with who know that pouring new wine into old wine skins just doesn't work. I had great hope that this project might be an exception, but it is not. The Imago Dei Initiative and the Red Hook Project are new wine efforts, and the wine skins of the present institution will not make space for them at this time.  What then do we do?  Do I try to find a secular job to support myself and continue doing the work, anyway? I did that sort of thing for four years, and it is very unhealthy, but that may be the sacrifice. These priests (and lay people, too) know that we are going to have to do something on our own.  This is just the way the Church is and the lessons of history bear this out.  What am I willing to do?  Right now, I'm depressed and anxious. Do I just take anything that may come along, even if I sense that it wouldn't be right?

Another consideration is that I've made a life here in NYC.  It has only been the last several months that I've felt that I have friends with whom I have enough history and comfortableness to not feel terribly lonely. It has taken me six years to get to this point.  The prospects of moving to another city, another place where I will have to start all over again at this point in my life just is not something I want to do.

Yet, there may be a very good and real opportunity to put into place what I have been dreaming of and planning for over the last couple of years in another diocese, city, and state.  Is this of God?  Is this the next step? Do I simply forget about the relationship issue and go? I don't know.  Right now, I'm not emotionally in a particularly good place to be making these kinds of decisions.  I'm very thankful for the support of friends and family.  We shall see what happens over the next month and a half.


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)

"Blab-casting"

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

I love this paragraph:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lenten Discipline

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Blackfriars.jpgLent officially began last week, but today, Monday, March 14th, I embark on a personal (I don't know what word to use) Lenten discipline to find out what it is like to be focused on an identity as a "sacramental priest." 

I've been talking to my spiritual director about what it means to be priest.  When I finished seminary, I spent the next four years being a data analyst for a research project at the Church Pension Fund. It was a good job at a great place to work, but at the beginning of my priesthood my identity continued not as a sacramental presence within a community of people, but as a "company" man, a techno-geek, a secular person in the work-a-day world rather than the "God person" among people. My most productive time was spent playing with numbers in a cubical rather dealing with the cure and care of souls. Then, this past year I did work in ministry full-time, yet most of my time was taken up in the development of a new ministry - more organizational, more research oriented, and more financial than sacramental.

In addition, many of the models for "priest" lifted up in the Church have developed over the years to be more like a therapist-priest, or social-worker-priest, or political- or social-activist-priest, or corporate-manager-priest, but not a priest that is devoted to sacramental ministry - the Cure of Souls.  What does it mean to be a priest that is more sacramental and focused on "God-work" than a corporate executive, a social activist, a therapist, or a social worker?  I know that a priest in full-time ministry wears many hats, and I like that.  Yet, too often it seems that the sacramental presence is overwhelmed.

My spiritual director talks about the priest as the "God-person" in a community, a neighborhood, within a society. People need to know that there is someone present who is connected with God and is dedicated to be a helpful presence, an encouragement, an identifiable representative of God available to people, so my spiritual director says.  This really cuts at my Type-A, achievement compulsion. I don't know if I know how to be this kind of person.  I realize that my identity as a priest is not "what I do" or "how much I do" or "how well I do," even though those things are important considerations, but to be the God-person being about what God-people do - pray, worship, study Scripture, dispense the sacraments, and be about the Christian formation of God's people.

To that end, beginning today I am dedicating myself to a process that will lead to a deeper understanding of what it means to be the God-person, a sacramental priest, within a parish community and in my neighborhood community.  At St. Paul's Church (199 Carroll St., Brooklyn, NY) in the Red Hook and Carroll Gardens neighborhoods of Brooklyn, I will be a sacramental priest in the Anglo-Catholic tradition by engaging in:

+ Morning Prayer at 7:30 AM - Monday through Thursday (this is already an Office done at St. Paul's)
+ Evening Prayer at 6:00 PM - Monday through Thursday
+ Low Mass - 6:30 PM - Monday through Thursday
+ Meeting with one person each day
+ Guiding/coaching the people involved in Imago Dei Initiative's "Faith meets Art meets Space" project for artists

On Fridays, it is the custom at St. Paul's to have morning Mass at 9:00 AM and during Lent Sheila Reed conducts Stations of the Cross at 6:00 PM.  So, Fridays are already taken care of (this is also my weekly day off).  Saturdays will be "management" stuff and for the doing of Good Works.  Sundays, High Solemn Mass at 11:00 AM and the Imago Dei Evening Service at 5:00 PM.

I'm striving to live more fully into the Imago Dei Society's Rule-of-Life: http://imagodeiinitiative.org/life/rule-of-life/

This is my Lenten Discipline.  I'm not sure what will come of it, but I'm sure I will be changed. God always works in ways I just don't understand and can rarely anticipate.  I plan to blog the experience.  We shall see, by the mercy of our Lord.

Dabbling

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

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

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

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

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

Brain Freeze

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

"I don't know my best interest."

"It appears that way."

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

"What?"

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

"I'm sorry?"

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

"Slapping mobile devices out of your hand."

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

"Sounds like textration."

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

"Sounds like it includes table spoons of dramatic."

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

"OK. Your point?"

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

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

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

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

What happens when immediate trumps wise?




New or New Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How?  Well, here are a couple things:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is an interesting conversation in the New York Times "Room for Debate" section of the Opinion pages under the title, "The Dark Side of Young Adult Fiction."  The conversation is among several authors of young adult-literature and professors related to young adult development and culture concerning the trend in young-adult literature toward dark and dystopian themes.

Here are the two questions up for conversation:
  1. Why do bestselling young adult novels seem darker in theme now than in past years?
  2. What's behind this dystopian trend, and why is there so much demand for it?
Several people contribute their opinions.  I particularly like Paolo Bacigalupi's essay on "Craving Truth-Telling" and Maggie Stiefvater's "Pure Escapism."

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