Recently in thoughts from reading Category

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I've got to go to work.  No time, at the moment. to proof read and make corrections.  That comes later...

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.
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."


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.)



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?

Unwanted wisdom

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Richard Rohr

Image via Wikipedia


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

Image via Wikipedia

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

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

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

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

This is why, IMHO, the enduring Christian Church with two thousands years of history and experience behind it and informing those who will listen will far outlast the trendy Christian Church of the last one hundred years, and more particularly since the 1960's.  Even now, statistics suggest this to be the case.  Again, this does not mean that the Church does not or should not engage in change, but that which endures is what is reliable.
PASADENA, CA - OCTOBER 29:  Copies of The Chri...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?




A different religion?

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

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

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

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

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

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

"One more thing: we're responsible.

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

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

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

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

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

Regrettably, Newsweek (which I've subscribed to since high school - I'm a news geek) isn't posting online its most recent edition (which I received by mail on Tuesday). If it did, I would link the most recent "Scope" article by Lisa Miller. She writes about what is motivating the Religious Right leading up to the 2012 elections (already?).

Miller suggests that what is motivating Evangelical Christians in the USA of the Religious Right stripe is not the culture-war issues as in the last general election, like abortion or gay-marriage, but what is motivating them for the upcoming election "is a vision of America as God's own special country and a belief that free-market capitalism is crucial to its flourishing," according to Tony Campolo.


A quote by Tony Compolo from the article:

"The marriage between evangelicalism and patriotic nationalism is so strong... that anybody who is raising questions about loyalty to the old laissez-faire capitalist system - by, say, supporting bailouts - is unpatriotic, un-American, and, by association, non-Christian." This is a shame for the cause of Christ in the USA!"

This is a sad day for Christianity and the Cause of Christ in the United States.  We reduce the enduring and life-giving Gospel of to political and/or economic ideologies that are nothing more than the creations of Man, not God!  The Church and the Gospel are defamed and trivialized to the point of being nothing more than a reflection of the latest cultural trend. 

With respect to the Gospel and an eternal perspective there is no such thing as "American Exceptionalism."  There may well be exceptional things that have come out of the United States during its history, but that does not mean there is such a thing as a divinely established "American Exceptionalism."  A word for those who believe such a thing may be hubris or perhaps vainglory. 

We wouldn't be what we are today if it were not for the exceptional nature of the English contribution to world history.  Yet, I don't hear of an English Exceptionalism (of course, the colonized peoples of the world would certainly make exception to such a claim).

A little humility, please, and the acknowledgment that this culture is anything but Christian - as least as Scripture and the authors of it describe this thing called the life in Christ.  (All of this coming from a person, me, who truly believes that many very positive and creative things coming out of the United States have been valuable contributions to the world's well being, reflected in such things as American ingenuity and out of the Protestant Work Ethic, and from one who tends to be more philosophically conservative - which is different than the present neo-Conservative idiocy.)

So, there you go.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Song of Songs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the article:

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

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

and the conclusion:

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

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

Read the whole article!

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

This is your brain on iPad

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

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

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

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

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

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

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

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

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

The "E" word

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This was why I hated "evangelism."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Our Times

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Noble purpose

"And what if it was true that the Sisterhood no longer heard the music of life?" (p. 342)

"Without noble purpose we are nothing." (p. 344)

Quotes from "Heretics of Dune," part of the Dune series by Frank Herbert.

What is the Church? What is the noble purpose presented to the Church? Has the Church lost its ability to pursue the noble purpose? Does it no longer understand what resonates within the hearts and desires and pain of the world? Does the Church no longer hear the music of life?

Again and again, when we so entangle ourselves within the systems of the world, mistakenly thinking that they are the conveyors of the noble purpose, the justifications for the noble purpose, or the reasons to continue in the noble purpose, we have already lost, already failed.

It is first the discovery of the One behind the noble purpose, and in so discovering firstly we will understand true and not contrived justifications of, reasons for, and ways to convey the noble purpose that prove that we have not lost the ability to hear the music of life.

There is no real solace in thinking that our purpose rests in purely temporal form or purpose. The Cure of Souls is the first priority. All else, while vitally important to the noble path, are secondary. The second cannot occur without the first, and the first cannot be fully realized without the second. We try and try and try to reorder the process differently according to our own design born of limited understanding, but in the end we get no where. The noble purpose is clouded and diminished, stripped of its power, and we are left deaf.

Authentic service

I've heard from time-to-time that much of the "social justice" work done and the "social services" given by "White folks" to the "needy" (who in these instances generally mean Hispanics and African-Americans) are nothing much more than attempts at expunging their "liberal White guilt" and in the end accomplish not so much the "empowerment" of these groups but actually contribute to continued "dependence" on these "good White folks." The "good White folks" feel all good about themselves because they've helped the "poor people who cannot do it for themselves due to so much institutionalized injustice and oppression" (which does exist!, but perhaps not as the imaginations of those suffering from liberal White guilt conjure up).

As I've heard, what these "good White people" do is not so much enable poor or disadvantaged people to fish, but just give them fish so that the downtrodden people have to continue being dependent on and accept the "good White people's" pity. This kind of thing, this way of "helping the poor and disadvantaged," smacks too much of paternalism and "liberal White hubris!"

Is there truth in this kind of accusation? Well, that is debated, but when "good White people" suffering from "liberal White guilt" need ways to alleviate their guilt feelings and find ways to make themselves feel good about themselves, it isn't beyond the pale that even subconsciously there are devised methods of keeping the status quo as it is in order to continue to provide relief for "liberal White guilt" for those who suffer from it.

I really don't know, but I wonder! I have seen such things in action, particularly in Academia. I do think there is legitimacy in the idea, whether or not a majority of "Liberals White people" act out in this way is up for debate.

But, the question arises - What is authentic service, or Good Works, from an enduring Christian understanding? The following is quote out of the book I'm reading entitled, Growing Souls: Experiments in Contemplative Youth Ministry, by Mark Yaconelli. The particular chapter, thus the quote, is actually by Frank Rogers, Jr. as he details the real-life experience of the Youth and their sponsors from Lake Chelan Lutheran Church. They were on a youth ministry trip to Nicaragua.

Their first three days in the Nicaraguan capital only solidified their concern for the poor. They saw firsthand the insidious web of social structures, bureaucratic process, and cultural prejudice that conspired to bar the peasants form access to universities, opportunities in the business world, or voice in the government. By the youth were bused to the countryside for three days of living with peasants in their homes, their indignation was high and their sympathy deep as they burned to made a difference.

When they pulled into one struggling settlement, the teens were horrified to see a group of women, some pregnant, some elderly, hacking through hardened soil in the day's heat to dig trenches alongside withering coffee plants. Moved by their plight, the teens swarmed over and insisted that they relieve the women and dig the trenches themselves. The women, surprised at the youthful zeal of the Norte Americanos, stepped aside. Some of the teens were athletes strengthened by modern regimens of weight training, most were amply well-nourished on North American abundance; all were bolstered by the nobility of their Christian convictions and the invigorating rush when taking care of those in need. Within an hour they were ready to pass out. Exhausted by the labor and beaten down by the heat, they guzzled draughts of water, then napped in the afternoon shade. The peasant women smiled as they refilled the teen's buckets. They they retrieved their tools, and dug throughout the rest of the day.

Their discussion that evening reflected upon the paternalism that permeates U.S. attitudes toward the poor, particularly within the church. A conversion of thinking took place among the teens. Their notions of poor and wealthy, service and empowerment, were turned upside down. They saw how taking care of another, however well intentioned, can mask arrogance and reinforce dependency. For the rest of the trip, the young people allowed themselves to be served by the vibrant Nicaraguan people, sharing in the wealth of the Nicaraguans' culture and sense of community, their dreams for a better world, and their hopes fueled by festive faith and active organizing. The teems no longer tried to rescue the peasants. They simply asked how they might become their allies. They were learning about authentic action - action spurred by visions of justice and mutuality, chastened by the shadows that motivate us all, and energized by a commitment to birth power, not dependency. By maintaining hearts that were attentive, open, and vulnerable to the Nicaraguan people and their situation, the youth of Lake Chaelan gained a new awareness of both the struggles of the poor and their own privilege." [Yoconelli & Rogers, pp. 175-176]


What can and should we learn from this? When I think about Good Works for the Red Hook Project and the Imago Dei Society, it is authentic ministry coming from a Christian perspective - not fueled by "Americanisms" but as much removed from our American enculturation as possible. How are our Good Works to come out of the Kingdom of God rather than the Kingdom of Man?

I keep saying that in the coming decades our society will look far more pre-Constantinian than post. Actually, among emerging generations, particularly Millennials (those 29 years and younger) this is already the case for all practical purposes. Even though among Millennials there is not a call for persecution, their negative attitudes and perceptions of American Christianity and the institutional Church (even if justified in many ways) causes a culture predisposition against Christianity and the Church.

From this article entitled, "Fighting Words: the politics of the creeds," by Philip Jenkins in this month's issue of Christian Century (my first issue), I might more accurately say "other than Constantinian Christianity" rather than "pre-Constantinian."

"That story [history of persecution and growth of Churches in Egypt, Syria, etc., during the early Patristic period] tells us a great deal about the nature of Christian loyalties in the centuries after the Roman Empire's conversion. If your emperor or king was formally Christian, then self-preservation alone dictated following his lead, so that we need not think that church members actually had any high degree of knowledge or belief in the new faith. But if the church was itself in deadly opposition to the state and faced actual persecution, then people had no vested interest whatever in belonging to it - quite contrary. Why risk your life by Hobo Jake [Archbishop Jacobus Baradaeus]? Through most of the Middle East and for long centuries after Constantine's time, then, people followed these dissident churches for exactly the same reasons that their ancestors would have adhered to the beliefs of the earliest Christian communities. They followed because they thought they would obtain healing in this world and salvation in the next; because they wanted signs and wonders; and because the ascetic lives of church leaders gave these figures a potent aura of holiness and charisma. Ordinary Christians followed not because they were told, but because they believed."

(Philip Jenkins, The Christian Century, March 23, 2010, p.24)


As we continue into Post-Christendom, people will be drawn to Christ and the Church because of what they witness in the lives of those who claim Christ - in their strengths and weaknesses, in their honesty and integrity. We become the imago Dei for those we encounter in our everyday lives.

Kerygmatic Vocation

"Our Christian faith -- and correlatively, our account of apologetics -- is tainted by modernism when we fail to appreciate the effects of sin on reason. When this is ignored, we adopt an Enlightenment optimism about the role of a supposedly neutral reason in recognition of truth. (We also end up committed to 'Constantinain' strategies that, under the banner of natural law, seek to build a 'Christian America.'

"To put this in more familiar terms, classical apologetics operates with a very modern notion of reason; 'presuppositional' apologetics, on the other hand, is postmodern (and Augustinian!) insofar as it recognizes the role of presuppositions in both what counts as truth and what is recognized as true. For this reason, postmodernism can be a catalyst for the church to reclaim its faith not as a system of truth dictated by a neutral reason but rather as a story that requires 'eyes to see and ears to hear.' The primary responsibility of the church as witness, then, is not demonstration but rather proclamation -- the kerygmatic vocation of proclaiming the Word made flesh rather than the thin realities of theism that a supposedly neutral reason yields."

James K.A. Smith, PhD., Who's Afraid of Postmodernism?; p. 28.

I wonder whether a lot of this modern/postmodern stuff is a replying anew the differences between Platonic and Aristotelian thought? Between Augustinian and Thomistic thought?

The latter is being played out in this new world of Post-Christendom, particularly within the context of the American Culture-War dynamic. What do we make of this?

Frankly, as I continue to move into the idea of re-formation out of the "Systems" (City of the World) and into some sort of "other than" (City of God) -- perhaps a move out into the desert, metaphorically speaking -- the rethinking of how we perceive and live out this Christian Life in our changing national context (really this ground shift of perceptional foundations within the culture), the more I am drawn to pre-Constantinian examples of Christianity. A "kerygmatic vocation."

The future looks like the past...

"The future is around all of us, and it looks very much like the past." - Mother Superior Sheeana, at the founding of the Orthodox School on Synchrony

[From: Sandworms of Dune, by Brian Herbert & Kevin Johnson; pg. 539.]

In the context of the book, the above is a positive statement. Again, in my mind, it brings up aspects of our present culture that work contrary to our future well-being. One of those aspects is a generation's disposition to believe that the past is bad or a least a negative. I keep coming back to this 2,009 year-old thing we call Christianity. The past is full of horrific atrocities and glorious accomplishments, but all that humanity has been through over these past millennia within the Christian experience presents to us today, from that which has survived and still speaks, a wisdom that we need to pay attention to.

In my context, with our gasping attempts to save this Church we flail around with the same attitudinal mistakes that led us to this place. We think that in our modern and sophisticated age we can create with our own new thoughts in our own way the solutions for a new dawn, a new order, a Utopian vision of our own making. We fail to realize that the Tradition provides us with what we need as a solid foundation upon which to build, because within the lived experiences of people over thousands of years is wisdom. That which speaks to the deepest part of us remains, survives, and calls out deep to deep despite our tendency to look upon past understanding and experience as pedestrian, antiquated, primitive, unenlightened, and not up to the challenges of 21st. century existence. What has survived for 2,000 years will survive another 2,000 years. Technology changes (and I'm glad of that), but the human "heart" remains the same.

Our challenge is to see the wisdom in and understand the ancient-future process of steady re-formation within ourselves as we give ourselves to this faith, die to ourselves and live to the life God sustains. How do we do it in this time, within this culture, recognizing that our lives are of an ancient-future dynamic - we receive from ages of ages and pass onto world without end.

Oh, those Moravians

The Episcopal Church's House of Bishops is meeting. On the agenda is the subject of full communion with the Moravian Church. They are an interesting Church. According to their history, they began 60 years before Martin Luther and 100 years before the establishment of the Anglican Church (CofE). I first remember seeing the Moravians when I helped a graduate school colleague move to Allentown/Bethlehem, PA. The Moravians have a school and seminary, as well as their U.S. headquarters, there.

Like religious Quakers and Anabaptists, there is something that I am drawn to in Moravian "systems" or disciplines or ways of thinking and doing.

From the Wikipedia entry for them:

Spirit of the Moravian Church

An account of the ethos of the Moravian Church is given by one of its British Bishops, C H Shawe. In a lecture series delivered at the Moravian Theological Seminary in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, Shawe described the Spirit of the Moravian Church as having five characteristics. These are simplicity, happiness, unintrusiveness, fellowship and the ideal of service.

Simplicity is a focus on the essentials of faith and a lack of interest in the niceties of doctrinal definition. Shawe quotes Zinzendorf's remark that 'The Apostles say: "We believe we have salvation through the grace of Jesus Christ ...." If I can only teach a person that catechism I have made him a divinity scholar for all time' (Shawe, 1977, p 9). From this simplicity flow secondary qualities of genuineness and practicality.

Happiness is the natural and spontaneous response to God's free and gracious gift of salvation. Again Shawe quotes Zinzendorf: 'There is a difference between a genuine Pietist and a genuine Moravian. The Pietist has his sin in the foreground and looks at the wounds of Jesus; the Moravian has the wounds in the forefront and looks from them upon his sin. The Pietist in his timidity is comforted by the wounds; the Moravian in his happiness is shamed by his sin' (p 13).

Unintrusiveness is based on the Moravian belief that God positively wills the existence of a variety of churches to cater for different spiritual needs. There is no need to win converts from other churches. The source of Christian unity is not legal form but everyone's heart-relationship with the Saviour.

Fellowship is based on this heart-relationship. Shawe says: 'The Moravian ideal has been to gather together kindred hearts ... Where there are "Christian hearts in love united", there fellowship is possible in spite of differences of intellect and intelligence, of thought, opinion, taste and outlook. ... Fellowship [in Zinzendorf's time] meant not only a bridging of theological differences but also of social differences; the artisan and aristocrat were brought together as brothers and sat as equal members on the same committee' (pp 21,22).

The ideal of service entails happily having the attitude of a servant. This shows itself partly in faithful service in various roles within congregations but more importantly in service of the world 'by the extension of the Kingdom of God'. Historically, this has been evident in educational and especially missionary work. Shawe remarks that none 'could give themselves more freely to the spread of the gospel than those Moravian emigrants who, by settling in Herrnhut [ie, on Zinzendorf's estate], had gained release from suppression and persecution' (p 26).

In all of our Episcopalian and Anglican fighting over the last 6 years, what battles within me comes from two angles. The first comes from my American-Evangelical-Holiness and Arminian upbringing that says that belief in what we know as traditional Christian teaching and concepts are vital to real faith and relationship with God. There can be corruption of belief and a self-caused falling away from grace and salvation. We must guard against such corruption and be holy as much as it is possible with us.

The second comes from my knowledge of the effects of cultural inculcation upon our ability to understand Scripture and God's instruction to us, and of the co-opting of the Way of Christ by the Systems-of-this-World. We so easily mistake cultural conviction for the Gospel. The Culture assimilates the profoundly contrary message and call of Jesus Christ and warps it so to justify its own existence. We fall prey to its allure. So, most of the Christian experience in most of our churches tends to be profoundly deficient. (And one wonders why fewer and fewer people find the Church to be compelling or a something worth much attention.) Given all that, our human fallibility, and our tendency to need to justify our own desires and proclivities, we tend to want to impose our myopic concepts upon all, demanding that all others capitulate to our sectarian theological precepts (or our national interests). We tend to loose trust that God will be God, God will be judge, God will be saviour, God will be sustainer, God is perfectly capable of managing His Church, and that the immediacy of NOW does not impinge upon God's ability to do as He pleases, when He pleases, how He pleases. We are so short-sighted. We are so insecure in our faith. We lack trust in the very God we proclaim.

I fight between wanting to demand people believe “this way” (force acceptance of a check-off list of doctrines or tenants that makes things nice and neat) and the freedom realized from a willingness to allow people their own way and for God to make His own judgments about who is in and who is out. (Surely, God does make decisions based on His criteria alone about who is in and out - the choice is given to us and by our decisions we opt out ourselves.)

What do I want to say? I find it hard to let go! To let go of the fear I have of being wrong, the fear I have of the corruption of the Gospel, the fear I have that other souls will be lost because false teachings concerning the necessities of the Gospel overwhelm us. There are reasons for such fear, truly. But the question is the response to the reasons! The battle for the right response rages within me. Sign this covenant, this declaration, use these exact words, accept this precept, or else... or realizing that God works beyond my ability to rightly categorize, philosophize, theologize, and all that.

Beyond my Evangelical background and the experience of God I discovered through it, I have learned of the vital importance of the Tradition. That which survives over time, over millennia, among a vast array of cultures, can be trusted. I am becoming a Traditionalist, not because I demand conservation of prior institutional systems and doctrines of the Church catholic, but because that which lasts and changes lives is worthy to be proclaimed and intensely listened to.

We are too American. We are too haughty. We are too insecure. So, of the details of the Moravians above, I draw into myself ideas of a quite simplicity, happiness, un-intrusiveness, fellowship, and add to it Anglican comprehensiveness and a willingness to trust God that He will sort out our differences - differences that are probably based on internal stuff that doesn't really come close to Jesus' simple and profoundly difficult command to love God with all of my being and to love my neighbor as God enables me to love myself.

It isn't that I have a problem with the traditional beliefs of the conservatives or the latitude and rebelliousness of the liberals, but I have a problem with either side demanding that they "really know," that they are "absolutely right," and their propensity to condemn outright the other side. The joy of the Lord is my strength, not my ascendancy to the 39-Articles or the Jesus Seminar. Anglicans used to strongly believe that "fellowship is possible in spite of differences of intellect and intelligence, of thought, opinion, taste and outlook." We are loosing our ability to be in the via media. I fear that in full-communion with the Episcopal Church, we may infect the Moravians with our disease of vainglory, division, and hatred.

The Noble Purpose

"And what if it was true that the Sisterhood no longer heard the music of life?" (342)

"Without noble purpose we are nothing." (344)

Quotes from "Heretics of Dune," part of the Dune series by Frank Herbert.

What is the Church? What is the noble purpose presented to the Church? Has the Church lost its ability to pursue the noble purpose? Does it no longer understand what resonates within the hearts and desires and pain of the world? Does the Church no longer hear the music of life?

Again and again, when we so entangle ourselves within the systems of the world, mistakenly thinking that they are the conveyors of the noble purpose, the justifications for the noble purpose, or the reasons to continue in the noble purpose, we have already lost, already failed.

It is first the discovery of the One behind the noble purpose, and in so discovering firstly we will understand true and not contrived justifications of, reasons for, and ways for conveying the noble purpose that prove that we have not lost the ability to hear the music of life.

There is no real solace in thinking that our purpose rests in purely temporal form or purpose. The Cure of Souls is the first priority. All else, while vitally important to the noble path, are secondary. The second cannot occur without the first, and the first cannot be fully realized without the second. We try and try and try to reorder the process differently according to our own design born of limited understanding, but in the end we get no where. The noble purpose is clouded and diminished, stripped of its power, and we are left deaf.

The Paths We Take

Thoughts from reading, quoting:

"I wish I'd had your head at my age; I would have spared myself many mistaken turns," said my father.

"You, mistaken turns, Pro? Frankly, I can't picture you ever imagining a mistaken turn." [said Oliver]

"That's because you see me as a figure, not a human being. Worse yet: as an old figure. But there were. Mistaken turns, that is. Everyone goes through a period of traviamento - when we take, say, a different turn in life, the other via. Dante himself did. Some recover, some pretend to recover, some never come back, some chicken out before even starting, and some, for fear of taking any turns, find themselves leading the wrong life all life long." (call me by your name, by Andre Aciman, p. 99)

I fear for those I know that never come back or that lead wrong lives all life long. My heart aches for some... I know. Then, I wonder about myself - what turns, wrong turns, unrecognized beacons, misplaced enchiridion. What might have been, and what will be. One only knows...

Then, how many parishioners and general people view those in Holy Orders as... figures, not human beings? Sets up a dynamic that when reality encroaches, disappointment and disillusionment set in. It doesn't make life easy for the cleric, either. It can be a lonely life.

A good foundation

This morning, I attempted to read through a biblical commentary covering John, chapter 17, for our Home Group meeting, tonight. I came across a piece of paper with names and phone messages written on the outside - from my time as an undergraduate at Bowling Green State University. Inside, the sheet of paper was a bible-study outline neatly printed by one of my roommates who lead a small-group for our campus ministry at BGSU - Active Christians Today (ACT). ACT is a ministry of the Christian Churches/Churches of Christ fellowship/denomination, one of the historic results of the Campbellite movement.

So, as ease as it is to become distracted from one's original intent when the Web is involved, I searched for "Cambellite" on google and came up with a website that dealt with a poster's question of whether the Cambellite churches are cults or not. The person asked the question because Cambellite churches believe in a form of baptismal regeneration (as well as taking communion every week).

Then, an advert appeared at the top of the page: "Because a modest woman is a beautiful women." It is an ad for "Modest Apparel" for women. I suspect a man could dress immodestly and get away with it??? Can we become any more distracted???

Anyway, back to the bible-study notes from college I discovered. A couple posts ago, "What the heck," I woefully attempted to put into words thoughts about strong beliefs, about what Anglicanism or Christianity is not with regard to the prevailing culture (liberal or conservative) and all that. A train wreck, but I "process out loud" and it was yet another attempt to get at what I believe as I figure out what I believe.

On this bible-study outline was a verse from I Corn. 3:11:

"For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ."

Perhaps, all the stuff from "What the heck..." dealt with the question of foundations. What is our foundation upon which we build our organizations and our own faith?

It is easy to say, of course, "Jesus Christ." Yet, I sense that for too many people in certain segments of The Episcopal Church and within parts of Anglicanism (and Christianity all together), we are attempting to lay a new and different foundation in reality. Subtly similiar, yet profoundly askew. On the ground, when most of what we hear comes along the lines of a Christianity or a Jesus that aligns with either, 1. materialism/consumerism, nationalism, and hyper-individuality or 2. the "inclusiveness" or "diversity" mantras born out of political-correctness and identity-politics, then it seems a new foundation is being constructed. These new foundations, at least with regard to living out the Kingdom of God as Jesus described bringing us "life to the full," will, well... fail. And, they are failing. We see the results all around us as we attempt to justify our culturally subordinate religious opinions about what is and isn't "Christian." We see the results particularly at present as more and more people find nothing worthwhile in our organized religion.

When our modus operandi is to point accusing fingers at anyone other than our group and our determination to rebel and our demand for self, I don't blame people for wanting to stay away. If we lived as Christians, in whatever knowable sense God might intend for those claiming his Son, I would guess that far more people might see something far more compelling in this thing called the Christian life than they do now. Those who do claim Christ just might find themselves living a far less deficient life in the Spirit, also.

What is our foundation? The more I think about it, really, the more I come back to the simple, yet profoundly befuddling, two commands of Jesus. Frankly, this is one of my favorite parts of Rite I and I am glad I get to say it so often,

"Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ saith: 'Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.' This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it: 'Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.' On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."
So simple, yet so profoundly difficult that we chose to build other foundations so to attempt to justify our religion and our dogmatism. What shall come of the cause of Christ? What shall become of us?

Each One of Us

From "A Thomas Merton Reader," edited by Thomas P. McDonnell.

Background - Thomas Merton had just arrived at Gethsemane, the Trappist monetary in Kentucky, as a postulant.

"In any case, the Father Abbott turned to us with just as much ease and facility as if he had nothing else whatever to do but to give the first words of advise to two postulants leaving the world to become Trappists.

"'Each one of you,' he said, 'will make the community either better or worse. Everything you do will have an influence upon others. It can be a good influence or a bad one. It all depends on you. Our Lord will never refuse you grace...'" (p. 143)

In all of our communities, we must make a decision of whether we will be a good influence or a bad one, whether we will make the place we find ourselves better or worse. Our dispositions, our attitude, our words along with our actions will all contribute to whether we are a "smell of life" or a "smell of death."

Which will it be? In all of our politicking, moralizing, and pontificating, what will it be? Are we an element that uplifts and encourages or an element that speeds the decent into banality, superficiality, hypocrisy, and idiocy?

Despite our person foibles and problems, we still have the ability to decide! Which will it be? How will we be known?

The coming confrontation

Here is the problem: Within the youth of this nation there is developing two distinct groups fundamentally different than the way these groups have been construed in the past, primarily due to the influence of adults (parents, youth leaders, the media). I starting thinking about this a bit more while reading an article in Rolling Stone entitled "Teen Holy War" about BattleCry - a radicalized movement focused on Christian youth for the purpose of compelling them be at war (literally) with those forces opposed to their understanding of the Christian faith and American society.

The first group comprises those who are "secular" in the sense that they have not been raised in any faith tradition. I've known many parents who claim that they do not want to involved their children in any particular faith tradition when the kids are young because they want their kids to be able to choose for themselves what faith to adhere to when they are adults. (It sounds all altruistic and modern on the surface, but it is a cop-out, generally, for lazy parents. Sorry, but that is my experience.) Then, there are those parents who themselves are "secular" whether due to being atheists or being honest and admitting that they just have no real interest in faith development. I have to say, I have more respect for the second group than the first, but that's just me and it doesn't matter who I respect or not.

These "secular" kids grow up not knowing the conceptual frameworks of "faith" in general and religious faith in particular. What they know comes from the media and perhaps some few friends who are able to talk about their own faith experience/expression. (One downside of this way of raising children is that it gives the kids no foundation upon which to make judgments about what is or is not legitimate religious expression, opening them to exploitation and recruitment by cults, which are still quite active on college campuses). Enabling kids to make sound judgments as adults does not mean we do not expose them to something while they are children.

The second group are those who might be called "religionists" and who are the type of youth that are raised within the radicalized segments of American Christianity, BattleCry being the prime example. I went to BattleCry's website right before the official launch. At the time, I thought this may be an interesting and productive effort, but I think I'm changing my mind. While I don't think there are any like groups on the radical-left side of the Christian faith, the same way of thinking is certainly evident among many “liberal” groups and people.

I understand the primary instincts and emotions of the adults who propagate this way of thinking and being concerning the faith, culture, economics, politics, and other religious expressions outside of Christianity. At the base level, the reasons are good - giving the kids the tools they need to be open and honest about their faith, protecting them from exploitation by unscrupulous marketeers and the like, giving them a sense of self-esteem even when ridiculed within the general culture, exercising their Constitutional freedoms of speech and religion, and passing on the faith to the next generation. All good things, frankly.

The problem is that the adults of groups that include the politicized Religious Right, radicalized leftist groups, and youth ministries such as BattleCry, is that they demand a form of the faith that is confrontational in the extreme, very narrow in its thinking, fundamentalist in its view and practice of the faith, uncompromising with anyone who holds differing viewpoints and beliefs, and then taking the next step of demonizing the other and declaring them "enemies" that must be properly dealt with.

So, in the coming years we will be confronted with the battle between these two groups as they grow into young adults. Of course, numbers of them will moderate their way of thinking and being and some will even crossover to the "other side." Yet, patterns of understanding, thinking, and behaving will have already been imprinted. If something doesn't change, and soon, the current "Culture Wars" will seem like a garden party in comparison. Radicalized Secularists vs. Radicalized Religionists. (Or, in the case of BattleCry, radicalized Christian Religionists vs. Everyone else) What will be lost is civility, the ability to live peacefully in a democratic society, loving one's neighbor as oneself, and a culture that is free and respectful of difference.

What is lost is the middle group of balance and thoughtfulness. What will be/is being lost is the ability of the two extremes - "secular" young people growing into adulthood and the "religionist" young people growing into adulthood - to understand each other, to work together, and the ability to compromise within the over all system so to build a respective and civil society where freedom of thought, speech, and action are still considered inalienable rights.

What must be done, frankly and regrettably, is that the "middle-way" must be asserted forcefully enough to be heard and recognized but not so much as to become a third group within the radicalization. What must be done, too, is support for those forms of the Christian faith that promote intentional maturity into adulthood, intentional faith development and maturation, intentional programs that encourage respect and understanding of differences (without political correctness or identity politics), and those programs that allow students to have a firm foundation build strongly and yet allows them to question and search for themselves. This is readily possible within Conservative Christianity and within Liberal Christianity, but rarely possible in Anti-Liberal Christianity or Anti-Conservative Christianity (and this is where we are in most of American faith-politics right now).

Here is a YouTube video produced by BattleCry, and I think the message itself is important and good - we need to do something to reach our young people.

Here is a Nightline piece on "Teen Mania" and "BattleCry"

The Word of the Lod

Quoting Habakkuk 1:5, in The Acts of the Apostles 13:41 -

" ' Look, you scoffers, wonder and perish, for I am going to do something in your days that you would never believe, even if someone told you.' "

What may be the "something in our days" that the Lord is doing - something that we might hardly believe?

The exact quote from Habakkuk reads as follows:
"Look at the nations and watch—
and be utterly amazed.
For I am going to do something in your days
that you would not believe,
even if you were told."

One might find it interesting to read further on in Habakkuk. My question above isn't meant to follow the course of action found in Habakkuk, but to simply ask us to think about what God might have up-his-sleeve for our time - beyond what we can think or believe, beyond our wildest imaginations. God usually works beyond our imaginations, I think. We need to expand our expectations and hopes - to begin to understand and see through the perspective of God's Way of things. There is another verse in the O.T. (don't remember where right this moment) that says something like, "God's eyes go to and fro looking for someone to prosper."

Another Athanasius quote

Anthanasius, in On the Incarnation:

"But since the will of man could turn either way, God secured this grace that He had given by making it conditional from the first upon two things - namely a law and a place. He sat them in His own paradise, and laid upon them a single prohibition. If they guarded the grace and retained the loveliness of their origional innocence, then the life of paradise should be theirs without sorrow, pain or care, and after it the assurance of immortality in heaven. But if they went astray and became vile, throwing away their birthright of beauty, then they would come under the natural law of death and live no longer in paradise, but dying outside of it, continue in death and corruption. This is what holy scripture tells us, proclaiming the command of God, 'Of every tree in the Garden thou shalt surely eat, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil ye shall not eat, but in that day that ye do eat, thou shalt surely die.' [Gen. 2:16f] 'Ye shall surely die...' - not just die only, but remain in a state of death and corruption."

Was the plan all along that man and woman would eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and learn what it means to face the consequences of one's actions - thus being truly able to choose competently between one thing and another? Was this all a part of learning what it meant to be made in the very image of God, who can create freely and choose freely? Or, did we truly thwart God's will for us as His creation, defying His good will and His command?

Why the Word made flesh

From "On The Incarnation" by Athanasius:

"You [Macarius] must understand why it is that the Word of the Father, so great and so high, has been made manifest in bodily form. He has not assumed a body as proper to His own nature, far from it, for as the Word He is without body. He has been manifested in a human body for this reason only, out of the love an goodness of His Father, for the salvation of us men. We will begin, then with the creation of the world and with God its Maker, for the first fact that you must grasp is this: the renewal of creation has been wrought by the Self-same Word Who made it in the beginning. There is thus no inconsistency between creation and salvation; for the One Father has employed the same Agent for both works, effecting the salvation of the world through the same Word Who made it in the beginning."

I just wonder about the development of the concept of the Trinity of God. How much of our acceptance of God as Trinity today carries a stigma or the weight (wrong word?) of coming from the very difficult endeavor of attempting to explain and make palpable to a Hellenistic society then such a very strange idea of a god being made real but different within a human - a composite? - and how much of it is accurate in today's way of thinking?

In common life, are we really tri-theists (the egg example)? Are we really modalists (the 'man' example - father, son, brother)? Does "Trinity" of hypostases and ousia explain anything, really? Or, do we just throw up our hands and say it is beyond us? I accept the doctrine of the Trinity because it is accepted in the common life of the Church, but it is easier for me to believe in a tri-theistic God of complete unity of purpose and relationship or in Modalism. (I am Trinitarian, just in case someone later in life wants to accuse me of being a heretic!)

("It was mainly under the influence of the Cappadocian Fathers that the terminology was clarified and standardized, so that the formula "Three Hypostases in one Ousia" came to be everywhere accepted as an epitome of the orthodox doctrine of the Holy Trinity." - Wikipedia)

'do not be'

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I'm reading a book by James Alison, a British theologian in the 'Catholic' tradition, entitled Faith Beyond Resentment: fragments catholic and gay. Alison's approach to theology and Scripture, particularly related to how it is all actually lived out, amazes and challenges me. I heard him speak at last year's Trinity Institute. The one thing I truly appreciate about him is that he admits he could be wrong - and that fact can has significant consequences. In fact, that is one reason he converted to Roman Catholicism from British Evangelicalism - within the Catholic theological make-up, there is the freedom to be wrong.

This quote comes from his personal experience in dealing with false accusations from some Roman church authorities as they tried to get him expelled from a theology teaching position in Brazil over his honesty about being gay and his calling upon the church to begin an honest and open conversation about this issue. He then recognized his own complicity in the "mechanisms" that lead the whole affair. (There was never any accusation of behavioral problems. He remained chaste. It all revolved around hearsay and the openness of his beliefs.) What follows is his reflection and change of mind and heart that came during a Jesuit retreat right after the incident. What he describes happening to him and his way of thinking and being can be applied to any of us, gay or straight, for it is the process of dying and of rebirth within God's way of being.

Here is a quote:

"Where denial, mendacity and cover up are forces which structure a reality, the search for honest conversation is, of itself, the worst from of militancy...

"Well, my reply, while formally correct, allowed me to hide from myself something which my various accusers had perceived perfectly clearly: that I was myself on a sort of crusade, that I had a zeal, and that this zeal of a prodigiously violent force, powered by a deep resentment. In fact, I was wanting to create for myself, taking advantage of the ecclesiastical structures which sustained me, a space of security and peace, of survival. Thus I hoped to avoid what I had seen happen to gay people in country after country: social marginalization, destruction of life projects, emotional and spiritual annihilation. That is to say, my brave discourse was a mask which hid from me my absolute cowardice of soul, for I was not prepared to identify myself fully with that reality, which I knew to be mine, with all its consequences. At root, I myself believe that God was on the side of ecclesiastical violence directed at gay people, and couldn't believe that God loves us just as we are. The profound 'do not be' which the social and ecclesiastical voice speaks to us, and which forms the soul of so many gay people, was profoundly rooted in my own being, so that, au fond I felt myself damned. In my violent zeal I was fighting so that the ecclesiastical structure might speak to me a 'Yes', a 'Flourish, son', precisely because I feared that, should I stand alone before God, God himself would be part of the 'do not be'. Thus I was absolutely dependent on the same mechanism against which I was fighting. Hiding from myself the fact of having despaired of God, I wanted to manipulate the ecclesiastical structure so that it might give me a 'self', that it might speak to me a 'Yes' at a level of profundity of which the ecclesiastic structure, like any human structure, is incapable. For the 'Yes' which creates and recreates the 'self' of son, only God can pronounce. In this I discovered myself to be an idolater. I had been wanting to negotiate my survival in the midst of violent structures, and negotiation in the midst of violent structures can only be done by violence. The non-violent, the blessed of the gospels, simply suffer violence and parish, either physically or morally...

"And then, at root, what began this whole process of beginning to untie myself from the idols I had so assiduously cultivated, what I had never dared to image, the profound 'Yes' of God, the 'Yes' spoken to the little gay boy who had despaired of ever hearing it. And there, indeed, I found myself absolutely caught, because this 'Yes' does not take the form of a pretty consolation for a spoiled child. Rather, from the moment it reached me, the whole psychological and mental structure by which I had built myself up over all the previous years began to enter into a complete collapse. For the whole structure was based on the presupposition of a 'No' at the center of my being, and because of that, of the need to wage a violent war so as to cover up a fathomless hole. The 'I', the 'self' of the child of God, is born in the midst of the ruins of repeated idolatry...

"But it was exactly this that, at last, I was learning. [from Col. 3:1-3] The whole of my previous life had been marked by an absolute refusal to die."


Oh, if we all would be willing to die to self and to die to the systems of this world, and to allow God to bring rebirth and renewal to our souls, to our ways of being, to our voices and lives, we might truly be able to change the world - or at least be a sweet smelling fragrance to the stench of a pain-filled and dying world.

Resentment?

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I wonder how significant is the sense of resentment in all the troubles we find in the Episcopal Church and Anglicanism these days? If it is, what is the cause of the feelings of resentment? What can be done to change the situation?

James Alison, theologian, writes,

"Yet it was in the midst of these experiences that Joseph developed an awareness of being loved such that he recognized that none of the people against whom he might justly feel resentment were really worthy of his dedicating to them that weight of emotional involvement. And he moved beyond even that, to a position of such freedom that he began to be able to plot not vengeance, but sustained forgiveness as the gift of humanizing others."
(From Faith beyond resentment, p. x)

Then, if resentment is significant, how much does vengeance play in the posturing and threats of schism and the demonizing of others?

Simplicity

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"She spun away, lost in the place where kids don't even know their feet are moving."*

Thought by the narrator after 83 year old Eddie, the protagonist, made a pipe-cleaner animal for a little girl.

The innocence and carefree-ness of children. The image, the feeling, the idea of that place where we are so involved, so rapturously involved, that our minds know nothing else. Our bodies do what they are supposed to do - we spin away - but we are completely unaware of those bodily movements. Imagine, or remember if we can. The simple joy of a pipe-cleaner animal, of running to who-knows-where but running nevertheless, of not worrying - oh, that all encompassing freedom enveloping us as we swim in the sense of what is possible.

God says to not worry, to be childlike in our faith, to know the sense of security in that He will care for our needs, to move in the peace that surpasses all understanding and the joy that knows no bounds, in all of this is our privilege - like being lost in that place were our feet don't know they are moving.

Mitch Albom, the five people you meet in heaven, Hyperion: New York, 2003; 13.

Our Future

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There was an interesting article in last Sunday's New York Time's Magazine dealing with virtual reality and our probable decline into fantasy worlds. Virtual reality is becoming so good and the machine-brain interface so sophisticated that in a few short years the connection will be so complete that a person could conceivably live his or her entire life in a virtual world. For many people, this will be preferable. Just thank of a mother who loses a child being able to continue “living with that child.”

Once I get a few moments, I want to deal with this more completely (or, as completely as comments on a newspaper article permit). As the Church, as a representative of the Church, we will have to deal with people who lose the ability to form and maintain tactile relationships. We also will have to deal with people who would rather live in fantasy than in the real world (not including those who have diagnosed mental disorders).

What impact will this have on the Church and our mission? Think of the Church as a bastion of people who desire to live tactilely with one another. We will be the "new" Amish. Think of the Church as a devise/place that teaches people how to once again live in physical community. The Church will have to help people re-learn the art of dealing with other "real" people not dependent on pre-programmed outcomes.

A friend of mine at Kent State (my former place of learning and employment) finished her PhD a couple years ago. Her dissertation topic dealt with brain patterning/synaptic pathway development and pedagogy. One of her hypotheses dealt with what students are really saying when they complain, "I'm bored. I'm bored. I'm bored!" She suspects that over the last 20 years (post-MTV) that younger peoples' brain development has actually changed - synaptic pathways and brain patterning has shifted to such a degree that younger generations actually acquire and assimilate knowledge differently than in times past. She suggests that when students in classrooms say, "I am bored," what is actually occurring is that they cannot receive the information being dispensed by an instructor because of these changes in brain development. Our prevailing pedagogies rely on a certain commonly understood “pattern,” but these students have brains that are simply wired differently. She is working with professors at Kent State to develop new pedagogies that may enable younger people to "not be bored." This has nothing to do with just including "power-point" presentations or adapting to an "entertainment" model for teaching. These are fundamental changes that require a fundamental rethinking of how we give and receive information.

What does this suggest concerning a person's connection with God, with other believers, with the "doing" of Church?

In addition, I recently read another article concerning the shift in learning patterns. We have entered the beginnings of an "image-based" system of learning. This is more than "I am a visual learner" or an "aerial learner." This is acquiring information and making sense of that information strictly through imagery, not words. We could talk about being "image-illiterate/literate" in the same was we might talk about being "word-illiterate/literate."

What does this suggest for Church, for liturgy, for preaching, for discipleship? I cannot help but think of a return to High-Church liturgy that includes all the senses and where the images we see convey meaning going back thousands of years. Images don’t just represent something, but they _are_ meaning. How might the Orthodox deal with this in the use of icons? What would an iconoclast say? I cannot help thinking about stained-glass which was used to teach the word-illiterate masses. The Church that depends entirely on the "word" may find itself using an educational pedagogy, a spiritual-pedagogy that just doesn't work anymore.

Once the machine-brain interface becomes complete, the virtual world can enable us to "smell" and "hear" and "feel" and "experience" anything. Yet, it will not be real. How important will the "real" be in the next one hundred years? Honestly, what will "real" even mean? What will an “experience” of God suggest?

Throw in post-modernism and we have a lot of work to do. We have a lot of explaining to do!

The Disappearance

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"As we don't know what we are living, we don't know what we are losing."

Genevieve Jurgensen The Disappearance: A Primer of Loss

The implications of this little statement: Consider how far we fall away from our ability and potential as we insist on continuing in the "way of the world" rather than living fully into the Kingdom of God.

We do not know how to live the life God calls us to, therefore we completely miss the life offered to us by God through Jesus Christ. We do not even realize what we are missing - we do not know what we are losing every moment of every day.

I am taking a class that deals with suffering, evil (really Theodicy), and how we respond to such things in liturgy.

One of our required texts is a thin volume entitle, simply, Evil, part of the Problems in Theology2 series. A segment from Elie Wiesel's book Night is included. Wiesel retells an experience of his as a prisoner in Auschwitz. As he and other prisoners where coming back into the camp, they saw a gallows with three ropes. One of the three to be hanged was a young boy. As the prisoners walked by the gallows, they saw that the young boy squirming and struggling for breath the whole while, it took him half an hour to die. It seems he was too light to be effectively hanged.

Wiesel writes, "Behind me, I heard the same man asking: 'Where is God now?' And I heard a voice within me answer him: 'Where is He? Here He is - He is hanging here on this gallows...'"

As I read this, the movie The Passion of the Christ came to mind. So many people have condemned Gibson and this movie for the incredibly gory depiction of the Passion. No man could withstand such torture, they say. It was gratuitous violence, blood, and gore by a sick-minded man, say others.

If we think of a single man enduring this torture until his death on the cross because of his radical message, then I agree. The movie was horrific. Yet, if we stop to think of God the Son/Jesus the Christ taking upon himself all the sin and suffering of the world - time past, present, and future, then the image depicted in Gibson's movie is profoundly accurate. As Wiesel writes of Him hanging on the gallows with that little boy - present, there, simply and profoundly with and in and surrounding that boy - there we might see what was accomplished by the self-sacrifice of God for all of humanity.

Jesus took upon himself the Holocaust of the Jews. Jesus took upon himself the millions killed under Pol Pot. Jesus took upon himself the Tutsi and Hutu millions which were slaughtered. God was there hanging on the gallows of Auschwitz; God was there as the Tutsi was hacked to death by a machette; God was there as the poor Cambodian attempting to hold onto life was brutally murdered by someone half his age in the name of ideology. All the brutal, slaughterous, heinous, vile, and unspeakable actions humans have perpetuated upon other humans - if all this God took upon Himself during those final hours of the Christ's Passion, then Gibson's image of the suffering Christ was absolutely accurate.

In The Passion of the Christ, we see what we have done as all is taken by Jesus upon his body. Truly, if an accurate picture were to be portrayed, it would be far beyond what Mel Gibson displayed in his movie.

Now, we enter into Lent. It is a time when we are reminded that we are dust, and unto dust we shall return. A time to reflect on what we do that is not according to God's desire and contrary to our best interests. We sin. We sin horrifically. Humanity does not deserve the love and compassion of a God who hangs with us on the gallows, a God who hangs on a tree, yet God so loved us that He took upon Himself all of human sin so that we might be reconciled, justified, made new.

From N.T. Wright (Christian Origins and the Question of God, Vol. III)


"Proposing that Jesus of Nazareth was raised from the dead was just as controversial nineteen hundred years ago as it is today." (10)

"There was once a king who commanded his archers to shoot at the sun. His strongest bowmen, using their finest equipment tried all day; but their arrows fell short, and the sun continued unaffected on its course. All night the archers polished and refeathered their arrows, and the next day they tried again, with renewed zeal; but still their efforts were in vain. The king became angry, and uttered dark threats. On the third day the youngest archer, with the smallest bow, came at noon to where the king sat before a pond in his garden. There was the sun, a golden ball reflected in the still water. With a single shot the lad pierced it at its heart. The sun splintered into a thousand glittering fragments.

"All the arrows of history cannot reach God. There may, of course, be some meanings of the word 'god' that would allow such a being to be set up like a target in a shooting-gallery, for historians to take pot-shots at. The more serious a pantheist someone is, the more likely they will be to suppose that in studying the course of events within the natural world they are studying their god. But the god of Jewish tradition, the god of Christian faith, and indeed the god of Muslim devotion (whether these be three or one does not presently concern us) are simply not that kind of god. The transcendence of the god(s) of Judaism, Christianity and Islam provides the theological equivalent of the force of gravity. The arrows of history are doomed to fall short.

"And yet. Deep within both Jewish and Christian tradition there lies a rumour that an image, a reflection, of the one true god has appeared within the gravitational field of history. This rumour, running from Genesis through the Wisdom tradition, and then into Jewish beliefs about Torah on the one hand and Christian beliefs about Jesus on the other, may yet offer a way for the circle to be squared, for the cake to be both eaten and possessed, for the transcendence of this god to come within bowshot." (11)

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