Split Ends…

“A church split builds self-righteousness into the fabric of every new
splinter group., whose only reason for existence is that they decide
they are more moral and pure than other brethren. This explains my
childhood, and perhaps a lot about America, too.

“The United
States is a country with a national character of a newly formed church
splinter group. This is not surprising. Our country started as a church
splinter group. The Puritans left England because they believed they were
more enlightened than members of the Church of England, and they were
eager to form a perfect earthly community following a pure theology. They also had every intention of some day returning to England, once
they had proved that something close to heaven on earth could work, and
reforming their “heretical” fellow citizens.

“America still sees
itself as essential and as destiny’s instrument. And each splinter group
within our culture – left, right, conservative, liberal, religious,
secular – sees itself as morally, even “theologically,” superior to
it’s rivals. It is not just about politics. It is about being better
than one’s evil opponent. We don’t just disagree, we demonize the
‘other.’ And we don’t compromise.”

Frank Schaeffer, “Crazy for God;” pp

5 Cultural Shifts

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

Five cultural shifts that should affect the way we do church

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

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

Read it all here

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

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Faith was a gift…

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

– Owen Chadwick, “The Spirit of the Oxford Movement: Tractarian Essays;” 1990, p. 24.

Wither the Church

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

The Real Mission

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

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

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

George Parkin Atwater, “The Episcopal Church: Its Message for Men Today,” 1950, pp. 167-168. (Originally published in 1917)

I think we all too often let everything else usurp the “Real Mission.” Frankly, the real mission isn’t politically-correct and is disconcerting to many, yet life to so many others.  If we, as the Church, are a unique organization offering real and honest alternatives (not just for the sake of offering alternatives, for then we are resigning our responsibility), then there must be something alternative about us.

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

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

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

The Real World

“The so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving and displaying. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day. That is real freedom.”

David Foster Wallace

The Church Proclaims (or do we)

I’ve spent time with people in Zuccotti Park. I walked along with the marchers from the Park to Washington Square.

I hear and see religious leaders marching, making pronouncements, building a golden calf. Do we have anything unique to say to a frustrated society other than jumping on yet another bandwagon?

Does Jesus really love an unemployed person more than a corporate CEO? Or, does Jesus wish both to reconciliation and transformation for the benefit of their own souls and society.

Do we honesty believe that Jesus is superficial enough to proclaim that he loves the fallible, humanly created Socialist economic system more than the fallible, humanly created Capitalist economic system or visa-versa? Or, might Jesus rather wish that no matter what economic system a society decides, that the people leading and inhabiting that system live such lives that the image of God is evident, regardless?  Yet, this requires a way of ordering our lives, with Jesus at the center of our personal perception, that many people have a hard time accepting. (There is nothing new under the sun.)

If we have nothing more to say to society than what people hear on Fox News or MSMBC, then no wonder fewer and fewer people find anything compelling in the Church.

What we proclaim and assert may not be what people wish to hear – that which scratches their itching ears – but we do have a unique message, if only we are secure enough and confident enough to say so.

The unemployed, the poor, the wealthy are all in need to redemption and reconciliation. Evil and good are found in all groups of people and in all systems.  This should be our beginning point, rather than jumping on bandwagons that promote social, political, or economic ideologies.


“This is not group therapy! It is to continue democratic structures.” -Naomi Klien

Speaking to the protesters at the Occupy Wall Street site in Zuccotti Park.

Regardless of whether I agree with their politics or economics or anything, this is thrilling because it is democracy in action. One never really knows what changes are afoot or what kind of movement this may become until after the fact.

We are privileged in this country where this kind of thing can happen and not descend into the violence experienced in Iran or Syria or Tunisia or Egypt.

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Occupy Wall Street

On Thursday, October 6th, John Mertz (priest-in-charge of the Greenpoint parish) went down to Zuccotti Park (Liberty Park) to see what was going on at the Occupy Wall Street protest site.  John wanted to attend the second of two daily “General Assembly” meetings where organization is arrived at and announcements and decisions are made.

I was, frankly, quite impressed with what I say and experienced.  Yes, of course, there are the fringe people, but for the most part these where normal young folks who for perhaps the first time where engaging in the democratic process.  Being trained as a Social Studies teacher and seeing all the young people at the site, well, this whole affair is thrilling (just like the Tea Party phenomena is thrilling, but with a different perspective).

I was impressed with the organizers at the General Assembly.  Their calm, reason, and organizational skills were apparent.  I “spirit” of the whole thing was, in fact, respectful, even with a decided point of view expressed freely.  They are very conscious of the neighbors (the babies that have to go to sleep), the businesses in the area, the sanitation issues, and of their relationship with the police (they are civil servants who are part of the 99%… they are not the enemy).  These people know what they are doing.

Yet, there are those who are provocateurs.  There are anarchists.  There are the glommers-on who have no real interest in the cause (as undefined as it is), but only want to stir up trouble.  These people are present, and they are ready.  The struggle will be for the organizers how to mitigate these people so that they do not spoil the whole enterprise.

John and I both wore clericals. I was surprised at the expression of desire among many people that the clergy get involved and that the Church (whatever church) make a statement. This is a nod to whatever residual authority the Church may still hold within the younger demographic of American society.  Gen Y is so very different than the Baby-Boomers, yet they can at times look very similiar.  This is a problem for the Baby Boomers – they see Gen Y and think that they are like themselves.  This is clearly seen who Baby-Boomer commentators write or speak about how this protest is like the 1960’s or the aging hippies in Zuccotti Park. 

Here is the thing:  As a Christian, I am compelled to regard both sides as having the need to redemption and in the need of reconciliation.  Neither side is all evil or all virtuous! 

No social, political, or economic systems will achieve what most people are seeking.  All the “systems” are temporal and fallible – they look great on paper but don’t work in real life.  All systems presume something about the human creature that is invalid.  From the start, then, the systems that look great on paper do not work when the rubber-hits-the-road. 

So, what I will say will not please anyone, frankly.  Capitalism and Socialism are neutral systems – both can work or not depending on the people who lead and the people who inhabit the system.  As a Christian, I focus on the people and not so much the system (even though I have my own opinions on what system seems to work best based on data as much as possible).

The Church needs to understand that we don’t simply jump on a bandwagon… we offer an alternative that begins with Jesus Christ.  That, frankly, is the problem within a society that is increasingly post-Christian and demands that everything be considered and treated equally without critical evaluation and where any opinion anyone holds must be esteemed as valid.  It is also a problem for those in the Church – particularity the leadership – who are so insecure that they are afraid to proclaim anything that might bring about opposition or ridicule or condescension.

RIP Steve Jobs

I’ve been a Mac aficionado since the early days.  I used an Apple II
when I was in college.  Then, my roommate Nick, who in 1984 worked for an educational entity that enabled him to buy the very first Macintosh at educational pricing, brought one home.  We were all amazed.  The product lived up to the commercial hype.

Harkening back a little further, to, say, the 1960’s and the computer of the visionary film “2001.”

I was in charge of technology support for Undergraduate Studies at Kent State at the change into a new millennium.  I was the Y2K guy.  And, well yes, I do like my Macintosh best.

Steve Jobs, who was not perfect by any means, not a prophet and all that, was a visionary.  He was capable to understanding what was needed and how to do it.  I do think he will be remembered as one of the greats!  Rest in peace, Steve Jobs.