Can hipster Christianity save churches from decline?

“Christianity’s true relevance lies not in the gospel’s comfortable trendiness but in its uncomfortable transcendence, as a truth with the power to rebuff, renew and restore wayward humanity at every epoch in history.

“Research also indicates that millennials do prefer ‘real’ churches over ‘cool’ ones. Contrary to the belief that churches must downplay their churchiness and meet in breweries or warehouses in order to appeal to millennials, a 2014 Barna study showed that millennials actually prefer church spaces that are straightforward and overtly Christian. The same study reported that when millennials described their ‘ideal church,’ they preferred ‘classic’ (67 percent) over ‘trendy’ (33 percent).”

Read the entire article: Can hipster Christianity save churches from decline? (source: Washington Post)

Can hipster Christianity save the church?

Can hipster Christianity save the church?

5 reasons why young people are seeking old ways of doing church

This migration began in earnest back in the 1990’s and is not coming into its own. I look at my own experience and understand that those of us, back then, were on the forefront of this migration among X-er’s, and now even more so among Millennial’s.

These are the general 5 reasons:

  1. Authenticity
  2. Rootedness
  3. Mystery
  4. Icons & Symbolism
  5. Participation

From the article:

“The departure of young people from “new” churches to “old” ones can be deeply confusing to many who grew up with strict denominational boundaries. However, it has the potential to lead to healthy, restorative spaces for many of God’s people. After all, we are all one church. As Brian Zhand expresses it; ‘we need the whole body of Christ to properly form the body of Christ. This much I’m sure of: Orthodox mystery, Catholic beauty, Anglican liturgy, Protestant audacity, Evangelical energy, Charismatic reality — I need it all!’

Read the post, here

http://www.churchinacircle.com/2015/03/31/why-young-people-are-seeking-old-ways-of-doing-church/

Deep Trends & Christian Institutions

For those who have ears to hear… What do you think?  It is my experience, and from what I witness and read concerning leadership in many denominational and even “emergent” structures, that we honestly only want to gather around us those who scratch our itching ears… we don’t want to step back and carefully consider what is going on around us and what then is necessary to do.  If it fits our preconception and personal want, fine, but it if doesn’t, we ignore or reject it – to our own peril.  Click on the link, below, for the article.

Deep trends affecting Christian institutions

What do you think?

The Church

“The Church, in common with the whole redemptive process, does not exist as the fruit of human endeavour, which has shown time and again by the bloody collapse of ‘civilized’ rationality to be incapable of attaining anything that is lastingly healing. Thus the Church cannot be reformed by human effort and ingenuity, any more than sin can be reformed by good will. We must hear the gospel of the incarnation as a summons to self-abandonment before all else, not as a reassuring endorsement of the best we can humanity do.”

– Rowan Williams in his book, “Anglican Identities”, p. 89-90, writing on on Michael Ramsey’s theology of the Church.

This is the problem we have today – those who still rely on Modernist notions for their base foundation of what can be known for sure are still trying to reform the Church by human endeavor and some kind of human ingenuity – and it isn’t working. There is too often a reliance on late 20th-Century American socio-political ideology (of the Left or Right) rather than what the enduring Tradition reveals to be the ways-and-means of the Kingdom of God. For example, demanding “rights” is not at all the same as living into “loving your neighbor as yourself.”

With respect to the “reform” of our Church (in this case, the Episcopal Church), what is needed is self-abandonment to the gospel-of-the-incarnation (understood in a Postmodern way), which is completely tied to the deep and flowing stream of the enduring Tradition (for us in its Anglican form) taken up  by us from generations past, experienced anew in our own day, and if we are faithful we will strive to understand how to pass it on to the next generations.

What will we do in this Anglican form of the Tradition of ours when we think about issues of a numerically and financially declining Church – a Church that has nearly lost what once was significant influence for the good within society – within a culture that no longer thinks and acts within a Christian worldview?

We’re rethinking…

So, I’m in the midst of rethinking the “Imago Dei Initiative.”  Part of our DNA is an understanding that rethinking has to occur regularly and constantly.  As folks engaging with emerging generations and culture, what else can we do?

Up-front-and-center is the need to refocus ministry development in the midst of parish life. After nearly 20-years of observing “Emergent” or “Fresh Expressions” models of being “the church” – at least that part that eschews larger gatherings of people for the “intimate-alternative” – I find that those models tend to be transient and temporary.  As valuable as they may be for the people in them, such small groups over time are not particularly sustainable and certainly do not do things like pay diocesan assessments. I fully support those trying alternative things – that’s what we are doing, frankly. It just depends on how “alternative” is conceptualized and experienced. 😉

There are reasons why aspects of the Christian Faith and Tradition have endured for nearly 2,000 years, even as our understanding and experience of society, humanity, and technology have changed.  The institutional Church must realize that those experimental forms of “church”, as valuable as they may be, are not the future. The fringe never is.  The fringe, however, will inevitably change us!  Yet, that which has endured will continue to endure no matter how radically-whatever we try to be, and the rest will fall away.

The current Church bureaucracy of technocrats still function under a perceptional framework based in Modernism and Christendom – no matter how much they try, otherwise.  It is obvious to anyone who was not formed to perceive in such ways. So, the real re-invigoration of the institutional Church will rest with those younger – so shall it be as it always has been. The holders of elder-wisdom who get-it will be there to guild and support.  Those who don’t – well, they will hinder until they can hinder no more. Thankfully, the emerging generations at present have a keener understanding of and value for that which endures.

So then, how do we perpetually put aside our own “stuff” for the sake of the Church-becoming… for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in present contexts… for the sake of those who do not yet have a knowledge of God?

Pay attention clerics and search committees…

Attention clerics and search committees of the Church – This short blog post: Rectors (Pastors): The Odds are Against You! from an experience, retired cleric (Fr. Robert Terrill) is simply the reality and everyone has to face up to it – particularly those bishops with jurisdiction, especially the Executive Council, and finally the General Convention (throw into the mix seminary deans and professors).

From the Episcopal Journey of Hope blog of

“Again the question, ‘Parish clergy, do you want to improve the odds?’ First, you must be a strong leader.  Barna’s [Barna Research Group] studies found that churches that ‘call’ caretakers, healers, managers, administrators, teachers or consensus builders fail to gain ground.  Good intentions coupled with the title of Pastor or Rector is not enough.  Barna states, ‘toughness is requisite for leadership in making decisions that disturb the status quo but benefit the body.’  The point is that leadership is not about being loved by everybody.  It is doing what is best for the parish even though it may stir up some complaints or disturb tranquil settings.”

Read the whole post here.

Trans-cultural

“Oddly, I leave this project [the National Study of Youth and Religion] strangely hopeful. The best news about Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is that teenagers do not buy it as faith. They but _into_ it – it shapes them nicely for fitting into American society, since it conforms so neatly to America’s dominant cultural ethos. Youth and parents are correct if they think Moralistic Therapeutic Deism will outfit them better for success in American society than Christianity will. Those who want to succeed in American life, and attain high levels of visibility in it, will find that being theologically bland helps immeasurably. Yet the gospel is very clear: God wants to liberate us from being defined by these circumstances, so that we are free to follow Jesus regardless of the culture we call home” (“Almost Christian”, by Kendra Creasy Dean, p. 192)

So then, what is our goal as the Church, as priests of the Church, and as the people who are the Church?

Will it be whatever gets us the most attention from the general public? Will it be what makes us the most successful within general society? Will it be whatever we think will cause those in power to like us? Will it be bland conformity to the cultural zeitgeist? Will it be the vain presumption that we (of a generation) can make up the religion that comes from the Faith under our own volition?

Or… or will it be faithfulness to the enduring way if Christ? The way that has not only survived but thrived through the millennia, through a vast array of cultures and languages, through very divergent circumstances – will it be by way of the wisdom of generations past who found life-to-the-full in the troublesome Gospel of Jesus Christ?

Change and adaptation are always with us! Change isn’t the enemy, but we must be wise about the change we engage in. We must be discerning concerning the change agents.

The adaptation we need most right now revolves around perception and intention. We will be, must be even now, trans-cultural with respect to the prevailing American culture and the Way of Christ – in the world and all that is positive and negative, yet not of it. We chart an independent course. We will acquire by the way if grace the strength and resulting freedom for doing so.

Changing perceptions

prattshowposterIt was interesting to me to see and hear what these young “creatives” from the Pratt Institute are thinking about in their design theory, creative process, social understanding, and sense of where things are going through their art (fine, graphic, communications, media, digital, etc.) and design (architecture, industrial, interior, fashion, furniture, etc.).  300 of Pratt’s most accomplished graduating students are presenting their work at the annual Pratt Institute juried exhibit at the Manhattan Center.

One observation deals with their projection of the “post-digital” age – their words.  Did you “hear” that? A rediscovery and assertion of the analogue concept – not really about sound recording, but applied to all manner of things.  There is a sense that their current reality is within a developing “post-digital” age in conceptual ways, but most profoundly in relational ways.

The other interesting observance deals with social understandings.  In the “interior design” exhibit, there is a presentation of interior space as a means for relational community generation and development.  The project deals with ways of designing large, interior gathering spaces, and in this instance a “mega-church” is the project focus.  Remember, these are all incredibly well thought out projects – many have won national awards. Smack-dab in the middle of the interior depiction graphic of the “mega-church” are people in pews (yes, pews) as if right after the service is ending.  Along with others, there are two guys holding hands, a couple.  There are a good number of Christians at Pratt – and they are very adept at naturally integrating their faith in their creative work, but not like what general society is used to.  My assumption is that a project depicting a “mega-church” is probably a Christian student’s.

Which leads me to this: The profoundly destructive battles being waged in the Culture Wars are just not there for these folks (a war mostly being fought by Baby-Boomers and the first part of GenX – like me).  The dualistic tendencies (and frankly, fundamentalistic whether political or religious) are not present, as of yet.  Yet, I say, because moving into adulthood in these times seems to dictate a giving up of hope, excitement, wonder, and discovery for something like cynicism, drudgery, abject anger, bitterness, and forlornness.

In these students, there is still hope!  That’s why I like working with students – there is still positive hope!

College Students and the Hook-up Culture

A review by Caroline Simon of Donna Freitas‘ new book, “The End of Sex: How Hookup Culture is Leaving a Generation Unhappy, Sexually Unfulfilled, and Confused About Intimacy.” (Simon is professor of philosophy at Hope College in Holland, MI and Freitas was a former professor of religion at Boston College.) The book is written for a secular audience, but this review is from Christianity Today. Interesting propositions and insights on today’s college students and their attitudes and actions revolving around sex and intimacy.

A paragraph:

What Freitas finds most disturbing about hookup culture is that most of those who participate do so less than willingly. The students that she interviewed almost always saw their hookups as imposed by social expectations or as random acts—”It just happened” was a prevailing theme. In this context she has illuminating observations about the link between hookup sex and alcohol. Students “pre-drink” before going to parties because they want to be numb enough to do things that they would not do if sober. At some level they know that engaging with sexual behaviors of various sorts with strangers and casual acquaintances is demeaning. They brace themselves to do these things because they “know” that this is what “everybody” does at parties.

Sex and Post-Christian

I came across this article in “The American Conservative” website.  To be honest, I’m unfamiliar with the website or what I presume is the print magazine.  This article, “Sex After Christianity: Gay marriage is not just a social revolution but a cosmological one,” by Rod Dreher brings up some interesting thoughts.

I find in the author’s analysis a lack of consideration that gay marriage may actually add to and encourage the same kind of communal commitments that are not individualistic.  Marriage necessitates a giving up of a completely centered self.  The equating of homosexuality and the desire for gay marriage with the relinquishing of a cultural propensity for the common good is wrong, I think.

I agree that the sexual revolution of the 1960’s changed nearly everything related to ideas of marriage and sexual ethics.  I do think that the sexual revolution open more widely the doors of possibility for acceptance of same-sex relationships.  Yet, heterosexual marriage was even more impacted by the sexual-revolution than were notions of acceptance of same-sex relationships.

I think same-sex marriage is a conservative position, as well as a progressive one.  I have yet to find sociological studies of any substance (within technical definitions) that show that promiscuity, infidelity, hyper-individualism within sexual expression, etc., benefits the individuals involved or the common society.  Yet, that is separate from same-sex relationships in and of themselves and whether same-sex marriage is a help or hindrance for the common good.

Anyway, here are a few paragraphs commenting on sociologist Philip Rieff’s ideas that I think should be considered on matter one’s position on same-sex marriage.

Though he might not have put it quite that way, the eminent sociologist Philip Rieff would probably have said yes. Rieff’s landmark 1966 book The Triumph Of the Therapeutic analyzes what he calls the “deconversion” of the West from Christianity. Nearly everyone recognizes that this process has been underway since the Enlightenment, but Rieff showed that it had reached a more advanced stage than most people—least of all Christians—recognized.

Rieff, who died in 2006, was an unbeliever, but he understood that religion is the key to understanding any culture. For Rieff, the essence of any and every culture can be identified by what it forbids. Each imposes a series of moral demands on its members, for the sake of serving communal purposes, and helps them cope with these demands. A culture requires a cultus—a sense of sacred order, a cosmology that roots these moral demands within a metaphysical framework.

You don’t behave this way and not that way because it’s good for you; you do so because this moral vision is encoded in the nature of reality. This is the basis of natural-law theory, which has been at the heart of contemporary secular arguments against same-sex marriage (and which have persuaded no one).

Rieff, writing in the 1960s, identified the sexual revolution—though he did not use that term—as a leading indicator of Christianity’s death as a culturally determinative force. In classical Christian culture, he wrote, “the rejection of sexual individualism” was “very near the center of the symbolic that has not held.” He meant that renouncing the sexual autonomy and sensuality of pagan culture was at the core of Christian culture—a culture that, crucially, did not merely renounce but redirected the erotic instinct. That the West was rapidly re-paganizing around sensuality and sexual liberation was a powerful sign of Christianity’s demise.

It is nearly impossible for contemporary Americans to grasp why sex was a central concern of early Christianity. Sarah Ruden, the Yale-trained classics translator, explains the culture into which Christianity appeared in her 2010 book Paul Among The People. Ruden contends that it’s profoundly ignorant to think of the Apostle Paul as a dour proto-Puritan descending upon happy-go-lucky pagan hippies, ordering them to stop having fun.

In fact, Paul’s teachings on sexual purity and marriage were adopted as liberating in the pornographic, sexually exploitive Greco-Roman culture of the time—exploitive especially of slaves and women, whose value to pagan males lay chiefly in their ability to produce children and provide sexual pleasure. Christianity, as articulated by Paul, worked a cultural revolution, restraining and channeling male eros, elevating the status of both women and of the human body, and infusing marriage—and marital sexuality—with love.

Christian marriage, Ruden writes, was “as different from anything before or since as the command to turn the other cheek.” The point is not that Christianity was only, or primarily, about redefining and revaluing sexuality, but that within a Christian anthropology sex takes on a new and different meaning, one that mandated a radical change of behavior and cultural norms. In Christianity, what people do with their sexuality cannot be separated from what the human person is.

It would be absurd to claim that Christian civilization ever achieved a golden age of social harmony and sexual bliss. It is easy to find eras in Christian history when church authorities were obsessed with sexual purity. But as Rieff recognizes, Christianity did establish a way to harness the sexual instinct, embed it within a community, and direct it in positive ways.

What makes our own era different from the past, says Rieff, is that we have ceased to believe in the Christian cultural framework, yet we have made it impossible to believe in any other that does what culture must do: restrain individual passions and channel them creatively toward communal purposes.

Rather, in the modern era, we have inverted the role of culture. Instead of teaching us what we must deprive ourselves of to be civilized, we have a society that tells us we find meaning and purpose in releasing ourselves from the old prohibitions.

How this came to be is a complicated story involving the rise of humanism, the advent of the Enlightenment, and the coming of modernity. As philosopher Charles Taylor writes in his magisterial religious and cultural history A Secular Age, “The entire ethical stance of moderns supposes and follows on from the death of God (and of course, of the meaningful cosmos).” To be modern is to believe in one’s individual desires as the locus of authority and self-definition.

Gradually the West lost the sense that Christianity had much to do with civilizational order, Taylor writes. In the 20th century, casting off restrictive Christian ideals about sexuality became increasingly identified with health. By the 1960s, the conviction that sexual expression was healthy and good—the more of it, the better—and that sexual desire was intrinsic to one’s personal identity culminated in the sexual revolution, the animating spirit of which held that freedom and authenticity were to be found not in sexual withholding (the Christian view) but in sexual expression and assertion. That is how the modern American claims his freedom.

To Rieff, ours is a particular kind of “revolutionary epoch” because the revolution cannot by its nature be institutionalized. Because it denies the possibility of communal knowledge of binding truths transcending the individual, the revolution cannot establish a stable social order. As Rieff characterizes it, “The answer to all questions of ‘what for’ is ‘more’.”

Our post-Christian culture, then, is an “anti-culture.” We are compelled by the logic of modernity and the myth of individual freedom to continue tearing away the last vestiges of the old order, convinced that true happiness and harmony will be ours once all limits have been nullified.