Revisiting 'The Language of Insiders'

A worship.hack (defined here) is a proposed change or question of the way worship typically works to open it up to more people, either in substance or in style. Read on for relevant critiques of worship!

Back in April I asked about the language of insiders, about the way how we use names and references that reflect the experience of the "insiders" to the church turns off visitors and outsiders.

Also at the first part of HX's series on "What the Church can Learn from Apple" we talked about using archaic language may turn off outsiders, but there was a lot of pushback from readers that countered by claiming language creates a sense of continuity with the past and a sense of "insiders" that is affirming, not turning-off.  That caused me to think more on this subject that I've been musing on since April.

Luckily, a fellow thinker on this topic, dynamo new blog "Beyond Relevance," wrote about the Starbucksian language that Starbucks cultivates to create insiders...but also how they draw outsiders into speaking the language.  Read on for more.

Check out their blog post. I think by using Starbucks as an example (heck, the entire website could be called "What the Church Can Learn from Starbucks"), they've hit on something.  My critique of archaic language is that it is our grandfather's and parent's language...not common.  However, the key point is that it is someone elses' language.   There needs to be bridges built between whatever insider language is being used...and the outsiders who do not have a frame of reference.  This is a practical concern, but a discipleship one as we learn how to draw people in.

What Beyond Relevance points out is how Starbucks baristas build bridges between outsiders and insiders.  He challenges us with this:

Make this commitment: never let a service take place where you don’t break down church vocabulary for the visitors present and tell them the story behind our inside jokes. The secret behind this is two-fold: if you commit to it, 1) you’ll build stronger bridges and 2) you’ll get tired of bringing in so much context to all your insider verbiage, that you'll cut it down to the minimum.

So what are some practical ways we can do this?
  • Pastors can translate as they speak.  Instead of "we are doing communion by intinction" they can say "we are doing communion by intinction, which means you take a piece of bread, dip it in the cup..."etc.
  • Include sections in the bulletin that explain the process.  For instance, in my communion liturgy, there's an italicized section that says that it is welcome to everyone to participate.
  • Gracious and trained ushers.  I've seen churches where ushers are considered an entrypoint, when they are often the first and only people that talk to visitors!  Train them to recognize and learn how to, like baristas, ask guided questions to push people towards understanding.
So with the language of insiders, it is not terrible. But it does need trained people to do the translations, attentive clergy to the ways we use archaic "inside baseball" terms with reckless abandon, and an eye towards the bulletins of how we can translate without offering a three-page encyclopedia at the end.

What do you think?  What other ways can we build bridges between churchy language and a population that increasingly doesn't speak it?  Discuss.


"My Church is not perfect"

In the midst of contention, with the Episcopal Church facing schizm and other denominations weathering storms of their own making, what if we are able to say this:

Two years from now, I want the people to be able to say, "My Church is not perfect; there are some things my pastor does that get on my nerves. But you know what? I feel like the Church is working for me. I feel like it's accountable. I feel like it's transparent. I feel that I am well informed about what church actions are being taken. I feel that this is a Pastor and a Ministry Team that admits when it makes mistakes and adapts itself to new information, that believes in making decisions based on reason and on faith as opposed to what is politically expedient." Those are some of the intangibles that I hope people two years from now can claim.
Edited (mentions of government, etc replaced by Church, etc) from Time's "Person of the Year" interview with Barack Obama.

Thoughts?  How will you foster this sea-change in your own church and make the church struggle together instead of drift apart?


Merry Christmas* (see stipulations)

Merry Christmas! But in our legalistic culture, here's a disclaimer for this wish:

Article I: The use of the expression "Merry Christmas" and its synonyms on this blog (henceforth referred to in this document simply as "Merry Christmas") is not to be construed as a declaration of war, whether real or metaphorical.
Article VI: The use of "Merry Christmas" on or around December 25th is not to be understood to imply that the birth of Jesus occurred on or around that date.
Article IX: "Merry Christmas" is not to be contrued as a contractual guarantee (or otherwise creating a binding legal agreement between the author of this blog and its readers) that Christmas (on whatever date it is celebrated) will in fact be merry.

Read the full post at Exploring Our Matrix for more. Hilarious!

Merry Christmas anyways!


Daily Read 12/23/2008

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.


Reserved Holiday Pews? SERIOUSLY? [bad.hack]

Is The Onion on this?  Is this National Lampoons ?  Or Landover Baptist ?  Or the Daily Show ?

Check this out: German Politicians want holiday pews reserved for regular congregants, not the holiday-only attendees. Yes, it's true!

Politicians from the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the liberal Free Democrats (FDP) told Tuesday's daily Bild newspaper it was unfair if regular attendants of church services couldn't find a seat at Christmas.

"I support making services on December 24 open only to those who pay their church tax," a member of the CDU board in the south-western state of Baden-Württemberg, Thomas Volk, told the mass-market daily. Germans pay church tax along with their income tax unless they opt out.

The head of the FDP's parliamentary group in Berlin, Martin Lindner, said it was intolerable that in the past, active members of church congregations - often the elderly - had been forced to stand through the Christmas service because the pews were full.

"Church tax payers should not be kept outside during such important services," he said. "Church members should be given tickets, for example, to give them priority seating."

A few short thoughts:

  1. Thank God for a non-national church in America.  This way no politician can tell me what to do with my parish.
  2. Church attendance is a privilege, not a right.
  3. My favorite shorthand for holiday parishioners is CEOs (Christmas-Easter-Only's).  Har har har...whew.
  4. First shall be last, last shall be first anyone?
Luckily, the Churches themselves have their heads on straight:
"We should not be giving the impression that there is a two-class society in the church," said Stefan Foerner, spokesman for Berlin's Roman Catholic Archbishop. "Jesus would not ask whether someone paid their church tax or is baptised."


Church[beta] version .61a [working title]

A month or so ago at Gizmodo, a tech/nerd site (you BET I'm a reader!), one of the editors ranted against beta culture: the tendency of manufacturers of software/hardware to put out unfinished products which will then be "fixed" by software updates and such.

I'm tired of this. This sense of permanent discomfort with the technology around me. The bugs. The compromises. The firmware upgrades. The "This will work in the next version." The "It's in our roadmap." The "Buy now and upgrade later." The patches. The new low development standards that make technology fail because it wasn't tested enough before reaching our hands. 
Read on for how beta-culture is frustrating but can be an integral part of developing new ministries and tinkering with established ones in the Church.

For the record, I'm with anti-beta-culturalists (?).  When I buy a quality product, I want it to work out of the box: no software updates or "new features" which should have been there in the first place.  Sigh.  I'm sure you have your own consumer horror stories of new products not working like they should.  It *does* seem to be more pervasive now...

I think one commenter nailed it though, that the problem is that beta-culture is in the operating model:
Beta is just a way to shift R&D and testing expense to the consumer. Free feedback from users to increase profit margins. I wont buy a first model year car and wont adopt early technology for that very reason. Pay me to be your guinea pig or forget it.
Yes, it is frustrating that now we are the guinea-pigs for new products.  But this is not all sunshine and puppy-dogs for companies.  The problem with shifting beta-culture to the consumer is when consumers go too far with your beta product.  Take for instance the case of Daniel-K, a consumer who was frustrated when a sound card's drivers wouldn't work under Microsoft Vista.  He took matters into his own hands and fixed it, releasing the drivers on his website, and was sued, forced to take them down by the sound card company, Creative Labs.  The resulting backlash from consumers and tech support caused Creative to drop the suit and release the drivers themselves as an update.  The lesson is that if you encourage beta-culture, you may not like where it takes you.

So beta-culture is dangerous for companies and frustrating for newbie customers.  What possible good can come from it?  And what on earth can the Church learn from it?

The Hack: Church[beta]

Let's move seamlessly from technology to church ministries.  In some ways, we want the same thing for the church as we do for our tech products.  We want our church "products" (ie. ministries and missions) to be complete and well-thought-through, glamorous and squeaky-clean.  We don't want to be a part of some half-thought-out ministry idea, do we?

We don't have to!  One of the things we looked at in our "What the Church can Learn from Wikipedia " series is that seeing programs as processes (in process...essentially beta-culture) instead of products that need to be well-finished can yield higher participation and ownership from the community.

From the last part of the series :
In the church, we strive to be more like Encyclopedia Brittanica than Wikipedia. We bring forth ministry ideas when they are more like "products" we are pushing on people. We just show the storefront of the Church to people without the behind-the-scenes wrangling that takes place. We like products and people to believe in products and contribute to making products better.
And a quote from the first entry:
What if your church structure looked like Wikipedia and allowed for "rough" forms of ministry to try out? Untried, unfinished, possibly disastrous forms of ministry. Doesn't that scare you? It should...can you imagine our reputation if we let un-thought-thru forms of ministry run amok? (*cough* like sponsoring Halo game nights, anyone?) But if Wikipedia taught champions of Nupedia that dedicated amateurs could be better than professional products, then can't our ministry initiatives learn the same thing?
Take a look at those two sections of the series and comment there.  The important part is that allowing beta-culture to take root in the Church can lead to innovation and new groups that find themselves newly empowered because they don't have to be as polished as the Disciple bible study.

Again, the parallels between technology and ministry are inspiring:
  • Look at the legions of people who work under Linux because they are part of a beta product.  Where's the Microsoft lovers?  Table for two in the back room?
  • How many people have edited a Wikipedia page?  And how many people have written into Encyclopedia Brittanica telling them of an error?  Yeah.

One of the commentors on the Gizmodo website nailed it for the church:

The flip side of the beta culture is playing it safe and putting out products that work flawlessly but are obsolete must more quickly.
If we want relevant ministries, perhaps forming a beta-culture in your Church is a good way to get fresh ideas flowing and stale ministries thrown out.

There are problems with Church[beta], of course.
  • For one, people will disaffiliate for the smallest reason. A friend chose a Wii over a Xbox 360 over the Red Ring of Death.  So any church program that is not flawless people may choose to disaffiliate with because "it's just not run well."  That's a risk....but on the bright side, it helps weed out the champions from the critics.  
  • For another, that sort of anarchic breeding may foster resentment between the church hierarchy and the laity that are inspired...again, from Daniel-K, the church may not always be happy with whatever ministries crop up.  So a helpful process for working out tensions between the hierarchy and the popcorn ministries needs to be in place to facilitate the beta-culture process.

Your turn.  What do you think?
  • Is beta-culture a good way to frame church ministry development?  
  • Or is it just anarchy and shoddy versions of established ministries that nonetheless gets people involved?



Why Connectionalism Matters

There are essentially two types of church denominational systems: connectionalism and congregationalism.

In connectional systems (United Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Catholic, etc):

  • pastors are assigned to churches
  • churches are accountable to meta-church agencies and boards
  • church buildings and property are owned by the meta-church (the denomination) and held in trust by the local congregation.

In congregational systems (United Church of Christ, Southern Baptist, etc) or individual congregational churches:
  • Pastors are selected by the local congregation.
  • churches are accountable only to their own rules and regulations (which is not terrible, look at the excellent structure in place when Ted Haggard was removed from his church)
  • local congregations own the church building and property.
While both are legitimate ways of doing church, Connectionalism has taken some hits in the last month, especially to our sisters and brothers in the Episcopal Church.

First, the schizmatic churches in the Episcopal Church have wrested ownership of the church property (you know...the ones that the denomination owns and the local congregation holds in trust) from the denomination.  In other words, they have taken from the denomination that which for its entire existance has been considered to be the denominations.  There have been isolated incidents of this previously, but this is a major change in denominational understandings and in understandings of local churches holding property "in trust" not "owning it themselves."  It's a terrible step, in my opinion.

Second, even though much hoopla has come up of the rival Episcopal denomination that is emerging, there is not much hope for denominationalism as a whole. reports:
At a time when denominations are floundering — even the Southern Baptist Convention is losing members — the formation of another denominational-like structure runs counter to all the congregational trends of the past 40 years. Study after study — the latest by Mark Chaves of Duke University — confirms that increasing numbers of churches choose not to affiliate with any denomination.
Further on this point, the article collected the responses of why congregations want to dis-affiliate from the denominations.  Let's look at these from a perspective:
  • Leaders of these churches don’t want to get caught up in politics. It tends to drive away newcomers.
    • Translation:  Leaders of those churches have not succeeded in changing the denominational structures or policies in ways that are agreeable.  So they want to take their ball and go home where they can play in their own sandpit. Instead of continuing the conversation, they opt to leave for their own echo-chambers where their perspective is shared and reinforced, not challenged.
  • They’ve dropped many of the trappings of the Anglican Communion, such as vestments and formal Anglican titles (rector, vestry, senior warden, etc.) 
    • Translation:   They have moved away from a sense of unity and common purpose/history with their brethern and sought to remake their local congregation in their own image, not reflective of the denomination.  Impossible?  You'd be surprised how many anti-denominational sermons and actions I've witnessed in the denominational churches I've worked with.
  • They’re used to giving away money for specific projects and are unlikely to welcome a superstructure that demands monetary commitments.
    • Translation:   At least in the United Methodist Church, people want to stop paying mission shares (apportionments) because part of it pays for the General Board of Church and Society which is at the cutting edge of promoting social justice and thus has to take controversial stances in the name of promoting human rights.  They want their money to go to only like-minded projects...again, the echo-chamber.
  • They’d rather avoid fresh battles over the role of women or the use of the Book of Common Prayer.
    • Translation:  There's a fresh wind of the spirit blowing through denominational structures, and they want to shut the door.

At Hacking Christianity, we are fascinated and disturbed by the ecclesial echo-chamber, or the ways in which we customize our lifestyle to avoid dissonant messages and reinforce our beliefs. It is my firm belief that this trend towards anti-connectionalism is another facet of the echo-chamber: entire churches becoming like-minded that they disaffiliate from the meta-church.

Hacking Christianity takes an anti-authoritarian viewpoint on most things.  That's our own bias, admittedly so.  Connectionalism has its flaws and we expose them here.  But the structure and the spirit of connectional churches helps keep us talking to one another, keeps us appointing different pastors to churches to get them to grow, moving pastors when they become cults of personality, and, basically, keeping the conversation going.  Otherwise, connectional churches risk falling into echo-churches (ooo, that's a nice new term).

Your turn:
  • Thoughts on connectionalism?  Are you familiar with connectional or congregational churches?
  • If you are congregational, in what ways do congregational churches keep from becoming cults of personality or a like-minded echo-chamber?
  • Other thoughts?
Welcome to our visitors and comments are welcome!


Humor for Breakfast [Nerd Alert]

If programming languages were religions (via Slashdot...of course)

Here's a sample:

C would be Judaism - it's old and restrictive, but most of the world is familiar with its laws and respects them. The catch is, you can't convert into it - you're either into it from the start, or you will think that it's insanity. Also, when things go wrong, many people are willing to blame the problems of the world on it.
would be Fundamentalist Christianity - it's theoretically based on C, but it voids so many of the old laws that it doesn't feel like the original at all. Instead, it adds its own set of rigid rules, which its followers believe to be far superior to the original. Not only are they certain that it's the best language in the world, but they're willing to burn those who disagree at the stake.
PHP would be Cafeteria Christianity - Fights with Java for the web market. It draws a few concepts from C and Java, but only those that it really likes. Maybe it's not as coherent as other languages, but at least it leaves you with much more freedom and ostensibly keeps the core idea of the whole thing. Also, the whole concept of "goto hell" was abandoned.
And finally...
LOLCODE would be Pastafarianism - An esoteric, Internet-born belief that nobody really takes seriously, despite all the efforts to develop and spread it.
If you don't get it, then yes, your geek cred needs some polishing... :)
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Church Bulletin EcoFont [earth.hack]

For the environmentally conscious churches, there's a new font that puts holes in the middle of the letters, rendering them "readable by the human eye" but also using 20% less ink!

For a church with weekly bulletins, the savings on ink could be either incremental or incredible!  Or just incredibly annoying!  Ha!


What the Church can Learn from Apple [2of4]

Image representing Steve Jobs as depicted in C...Image via CrunchBase, source unknownThis is a four-part series on "What the Church can Learn from Apple (the computer and media company)."  Read the whole series here

We talked last week about the Apple brand and the "branding" of its products.  This week we are going to talk about their focus on simplicity and lifestyle technology, and what insight this offers church programming.

One of the selling points of the Apple products is "they just work."   The focus on simplicity and the user experience means that Apple products generally underperform their Windows-based counterparts in the same categories, but do so with an ease of use that Windows works hard to match.

The primary opponent of Apple is, of course, Microsoft.  As an example of the divide between Apple and Microsoft, here's a video comparing the packaging of the Apple iPod if it were done by Microsoft.

We are tempted to laugh at some yahoo's poking fun at Microsoft.....but this video was made by Microsoft as a training video. There's obviously something fundamentally different in the ways Microsoft and Apple market and develop their products...and the key sticking point, it seems, is simplicity.

There's a reason for that.  Steve Jobs, according to analysts, is driven by the belief that customers didn't just need more powerful technology; rather, customers needed a better experience with technology.  They didn't need complexity; they needed whatever the product was to do its job and do it intuitively.

For almost 30 years, even after being removed from Apple, Jobs has dedicated his life to make technology and our lifestyle seamless. In a world of complexity, a marketing angle like that has reaped million$.  And like the video, it often seems that Microsoft seeks to make our life have more options and more potential, but also more complicated with less focus on the customer experience.

The Hack

We see in the competing business models of Apple and Microsoft the tension that is held in church programming and practical theology Keep in mind these are caricatures in distilled form, not perfectly descriptive.

Programming: How "overwhelmed" are visitors to the church's program opportunities?

  • Microsoft: "We can offer a whole page or two's worth of our ministry opportunities, ensuring by a shotgun blast (wide area) we will hit everyone's felt needs."
  • Apple: "We can offer just a few ministry and mission opportunities, the ones we feel are the most important, and put our resources into them."
Worship Style: How many  angles does worship work?  How many different stories are told each service?

  • Microsoft: "We can focus on intricate theological subtleties, ensure the music has perfect theological resonance, ensure that every possible theological question and viewpoint is addressed and figured out in complex worship."
  • Apple: "We can offer simplistic worship, sing P&W songs that are one word only ("Alleluia" anyone?), focus on one or two points that are relevant to lifestyle if not well theologically-reasoned or biblically contextualized (but they ARE prooftexted!)"
Activism & Missions: Are we a single-issue church or do we have many issues?

  • Microsoft: "We can focus on filling the needs of everyone in our community, spreading our resources thinly over all the area in the hopes that we are fulfilling the call of God to "care for the stranger in our midst.""
  • Apple: "We can focus on one to three areas of need and do them deeply.  We can do a food pantry, which includes drumming up donations and offering nutrition classes for struggling families.  We can do one thing simply and well."
Church Focus: Do we simplify ministry to appeal to one demographic (more or less) or do we offer a diversity that draws everyone?

  • Microsoft: "We can focus on the great diverse tradition of the church, encourage interaction and dialogue with the tradition and history of the church, as what was good for the Saints is deep enough for us."
  • Apple: "We can focus on the individual, tailor worship to him/her (like Saddleback Sam), and let everything hinge on that character's experience." 
I know that simplistic polemics are not good arguments, but the tension illustrates one fundamental challenge of the church:  Do we simplify church or make it more complex and intricate? If we parallel Apple and the Church:
    • Apple seeks to integrate technology into your lifestyle;
      the Church seeks to integrate spirituality into your lifestyle.  
    • Apple sells products that augment a lifestyle;
      the Church offers ways of being that radically change a lifestyle.
    • Apple embraces a brand that "thinks different";
      the Church embraces a Christ who "thought different."
    We can do this all day.  But the fundamental challenge, one that Apple is succeeding in, is how to integrate the "religion" into lifestyle.  Do people respond to multiple complex options that they can self-select into?  Or do people respond by seeing deep and concentrated efforts onto a few areas of focus, missions, activism, or worship?  These are contextual questions, as in any context an Apple or Microsoft-style church may be appropriate (I suspect megachurches have to become complex), but for smaller-to-medium-sized churches, the questions of complexity or simplicity are important questions.

    So what model is your church: Microsoft or Apple?
    • Does it have multiple options of ministry;
      or is there concerted efforts to focus on a few missions?
    • Does it have a strong rather-uniform identity;
      or a complex one formed of many groups?
    • Does worship focus on only one style of worship (traditional or contemporary);
      or are there multiple streams in a single worship service (or multiple services, more likely)?
    I'm not saying one or the other is better.  It's just two different models that ask "how do we integrate lifestyle and the Church?" and answer in two different ways.

    Your Turn.  Thoughts?  Welcome to our visitors and comments are appreciated!


    Valkyrie: Hitler under God's Justice

    Valkyrie (film)The upcoming movie Valkyrie starring Tom Cruise brings to light the interesting history Christian theology has with HITLER (scream heard in the night).  While I poke fun whenever people prove Godwin's Law correct, the truth is that the rise, existence, and atrocity that is Hitler is a fundamental challenge to traditional Christian theology (whatever that is).

    On the National Geographic Channel (thank you to Comcast for forcing me into the higher dollar 'lowest bundle' package...which includes this channel)...there was a report called 42 Ways to Kill Hitler, which details all 42 attempts to kill Hitler, ranging from briefcase bombs to exploding brandy to snipers to strapping him to a chair during a  Barney sing-a-long marathon. In short, 42 attempts on Hitler's life...that's almost 5 cats worth!

    To this timely topic, several blogs ask "Why didn't God allow ANY of these to succeed?"  From the appropriately titled post Debunking Christianity: Just Where The Hell Is Either God Or Jesus When They Are Really Needed?!, there's plenty to read through that are asking questions about God's power, such as:

    Why did [God] not let at least 38 of these assassination attempts succeed since the death of Hitler could have stopped the Nazi machine or the latter of the 38 attempts would have ended the war?
    In fact, the documentary noted Hitler consider himself immortal and protect by God. Plus, after 42 failed attempts on his life, Hitler was allow to end his life on his own terms and when he was ready to.
    Here are a few basic questions:
     If there is really some God of love watching over his creation, why did this God leave millions of his chosen / Covenanted people to suffer and die horrible deaths?  Why did thousands of Christian Jehovah Witnesses also died in Nazi concentration camps?

    20 million plus russians died. 7 million germans died. ~12 million died in the camps. And all your god needed to do was snap its fingers and allow an assassination attempt to succeed...
    All of which are channeling the famous Epicurus quote about the theodicy: the problem of evil existing under an omnipotent benevolent God.
    Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
    Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
    Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
    Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?
    There's many respectable responses to questions of extreme evil.  They range from God wound the clock and let the earth run its course (Deism) to God wills everything, even evil (Determinism). But when pressured, every theological statement rests on the unknowable nature of God and the finite/infinite divide, succinctly shown in this response on Unreasonable Faith:
    God's wisdom is fathomless and His decisions are unsearchable and His methods are mysterious and untraceable. No one can even completely understand His mind or advise Him to the proper course of action. It is arrogant for us to seek to determine what God is doing in a particular event or circumstance. We cannot search out His reasons behind His decisions or trace out the ways by which He brings those decisions to pass. God's ways are infinite in wisdom and cannot be comprehended by our finite minds
    While honest and painfully true, it is still unsatisfying that the God who gave us reason would remain outside of it.  While God is unknowable, there exist frameworks within Christian theology that can lead to abiding understandings of God and Evil that could sustain us until we can ask Her* .

    The Hack: Grace as Power

    The definition of omnipotence is "all-powerful."  We often think of God as all-powerful, like a really big Superman, who nonetheless can't save everyone. From a paper that succinctly describes the tension:
    Ultimately, any sort of concept of a supernatural deity who dwells outside the system and jumps in from time to time is problematic in the discussion of evil. Why would God choose to jump in and save some people and not others? Is this truly just a case of humankind’s limited insight into the future? Is so, why would an all-knowing supernatural deity create a world in which the lives of horrible people could ultimately hold more value towards a greater good than those who were just and ethical? Is truly more value to be found in God’s keeping Hitler healthy than there would be if God had jumping in and struck him with a fatal illness? Or, if this God always stays outside the system, never jumping in: why not? Does this God truly have infinite love if He is just setting up a system to let it run amok?

    David Ray Griffin uses the example of Superman: “If there were a Superman who could prevent all these kinds of [evils] but refused to do so – perhaps on the grounds that doing so would ‘prevent opportunities for human growth’ – we would certainly question his moral goodness. A Superman, of course, could not prevent all genuine evils because, being finite, he could not be everywhere at once. But the [supernatural] God of traditional theism… does not have this excuse”
    So if a Superman version doesn't work, what do we do?  Perhaps a better way to look at the problem of evil is from the perspective of grace: God's unearned love for us that is given to everyone equally.  If we accept that God loves us as a basic premise, then deterministic understandings of God become problematic.

    In many ways, I subscribe to the Process understanding of God's omnipotence and the problem of evil.  It's a long, long conversation, but to get us started, from a paper at Religion-Online:
    Grace is at work not only in human beings but also in all other creatures.  It is the way that God works in the world.  There is not another, controlling and all-determining work of God.  That means that all events whatever are influenced by God but that none are the direct expression of God's purpose or desire

    This way of thinking changes the nature of the problem of evil.  As usually formulated that presupposes that God's power is the sort that determines outcomes.  Hence, when there are terrible evils such as the Holocaust, one supposes that this must somehow embody God's purpose.  It is impossible to reconcile this with the belief that God is love.  Process theology sees God's work in the Holocaust in every expression of resistance and in every impulse to redirect the course of events.  It sees it also in the steadfast faith and humanity of many of those who were slaughtered.  It does not see it in the decision to effect the Final Solution or the brutal cruelty of many of those who carried it out.
    I find the understanding that God is found in the resistance to evil to be empowering.  God is not a clockmaker who walked away, but God is not the puppeteer ascribing everything to God's purpose.  Rather, God is found in resistance to evil, and evil is a byproduct of human freedom.
    Yet, even for process thought, God bears a certain responsibility for evil.  It is because of God's grace that human beings are free.  Much of the evil of the Holocaust expresses the misuse of human freedom.  There could be no misuse if there were no freedom to misuse.  God has taken a great risk in bringing into being creatures with the amount of freedom human beings have.  Sometimes one may wonder about the wisdom of that risk.  A better response is to resolve that we will use God's gift in a more worthy way.
    So, to answer the question, could God have been found in the 42 attempts on Hitler's life?  I don't know if I can reconcile God wanting to kill someone, even though Bonhoffer's informed consent strikes me as particularly legitimate.  But I certainly believe God is found in the resistance to human evil, though humans ultimately have the free will to make the choice of how this resistance materializes.

    This has been a basic romp through the problems of deterministic allegations towards God, and an opening of an alternative explanation of God's omnipotence being grace, not exerting God's will over every (or any) situation.  It's not meant to be a perfect argument, just a reflection.

    Thoughts?  Welcome to our visitors and all comments are welcome!


    Noah, not God, made dinosaurs extinct

    Here's the executive summary of a very important scientific report regarding how the dinosaurs became extinct .

    The executive summary, of course, is a cartoon.  By Dan Piraro (Bizarro)

    Related, I also enjoyed this video where artist Dan Piraro of BizarroBlog talks about his religiously-themed cartoons that were too controversial for the papers.  On the latter topic of why do we wear a cross...
    "Why is the cross the symbol?  That's got to be the last thing Jesus wants to see if he ever comes back.  Don't show me that thing, that was the worst day of my life!"
    A respectable point.


    Friday is for Inspirational Movie Speeches

    Inspiration for the weekend!  Hope you get tons done, and make it back to for a full week of new content.

    "They may take our lives, but they'll never take..." -Braveheart
    "...Our Independence Day!" -Independence Day

    (hat tip: Lifehacker)


    The Porpoise-Driven Life

    For my Christmas List...

    "Just like Prosperity preaching, the Porpoise-driven life uses all kinds of bible translations to make you feel like it's truly biblical..."

    (hat tip to Religion in American History)


    Daily Read 12/11/2008

    Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.


    What the Church can Learn from Apple [1of4]

    Image representing Apple as depicted in CrunchBaseImage via CrunchBase, source unknown
    This is a four-part series on What the Church can Learn from Apple (the computer and media company).  Read the whole series here.

    There's often reference to the "Religion of Apple" or the "Cult of Mac."  Back in October, CNET ran a story called "Apple (and its Branding) like a Religion" (hat tip to Church Marketing Sucks).  In the blog referenced in the article, there's multiple instances that compare the Apple "Brand" to a religion.  For instance, from a movie called MacHeads:
    For many Mac people, I think (the Mac community) has a religious feeling to it. For a lot of people who are not comfortable with religion, it provides a community and a common heritage. I think Mac users have a certain common way of thinking, a way of doing things, a certain mindset. People say they are a Buddhist or a Catholic. We say we’re Mac users, and that means we have similar values.
    Let's get one thing out of the ballpark: I can't wrap my head around that Apple is a religion.  Religion is based on experience or questions of the unknown and intangible; Apple iPods and products are known entities that you can touch and taste.  There's no faith involved other than nebulous feelings of trust for a Brand when they let you down and put out a shoddy product once in a while.  Therefore, Apple is not a religion.

    That is not to say, however...that the branding of religion and the branding of Apple share similar qualities

    People identify with a brand based on several factors other than simple marketing prowess: they have experience of the brand or fear of the unknown (ie. trying an unknown brand).  There's a level of rational thought, of course, by choosing a quality product, but there's also a sense of connectedness to one's friends which are Mac-users or "my family has always been Methodist."  It's the branding of the object, be it religious or secular, that has commonalities.

    What is Apple's Brand?  One has only to look back at their famous 1984 commercial to see what their brand has always been about:

    That's right: Think Different.  In other words, Apple has always claimed the underdog status in the computer wars, and always has.  Apple's story an antagonist has deep roots: they went against IBM in the 80's and are against Microsoft today. Their marketing goal was simple: just the idea of something different is enough to energize the base.  We saw this with Barack Obama this year; we see it more and more as established brands lose market share to newcomers and established denominational churches lose membership to emerging and unaffiliated churches.
    We see this underdog 'branding' in church and politics today.  Evangelical Christians and politicians claim they are under persecution and oppression, like they always have...even through they have been in power for the past 8 years.  Even when reality says something different, the reality distortion field, it seems, is in full effect.

    In closing this section, the tension for Apple, is what to do with the 'brand' when it must choose between being diffused and sticking to its roots. As the video MacHeads states above, Apple "is already facing strong pressure as the brand simply is becoming too broad (losing) its magic."
    • Apple hesitates, for instance, to enter into the rapidly growing netbook category (including my beloved EEEPC) because cheap products is definitely not in their sales pitch.
    • While Mac sales are skyrocketing in homes and schools, the enterprise solutions offered are still meager and weak.  This is directly related to Steve Jobs' areas of weakness in this category as he considers that to be Microsoft's area and the image of white rows of Macs parallels the constant hammering against the rows of beige boxes in corporate America.  As one commenter on CNET said "Jobs may be what is right with Apple. But he's also what's wrong with Apple."
    In short, branding is not a religion, but it is the way how a company (or religion) explains itself.  By sticking to its tried and true brand, Apple continues to lead as it taps into a generations' yearning for "something new" and "something different" through its brand.

    The Hack

    I've been called out on "Is hacking just marketing?" I must agree that marketing and hacking are similar at the outset, but I hope to show in four installments how hacking gets at the root questions better than simple marketing adaptation.

    So the overriding question is what is the 'brand' that your church has, or what 'brand' do you assign churches in the area?  Does the church use phrases like "come enjoy Holy Eucharist and Word and Table" or "Come join us for community celebration"?  Does it say meet in the Narthex or come to the Vestibule?  There's nothing wrong with these phrases and using proper terminology, folks........but to think of it a different way, Seth Godin in his companion to his book Tribes talks about the value of tribes making their own language (the Emergeant Church is good at this too).  We have a Christian "churchy" language.  But the difficulty is Narthex, vestibule, Eucharist, etc, are not this tribe's language, it is our parents/grandfathers' tribes' language.  It is hard to get this generation of people seeking 'newness' excited when the language they hear remind them of snoozing on Sundays.

    Like Church Marketing Sucks writes about the newest Apple iPhone,
    But I don't think any of [the Apple pundits] summarized the changes as succinctly as Apple did on their web site: "iPhone 3G: Twice as fast. Half the price."...I don't know what "3G" means, but "twice as fast" is something I can get my head around.
    And the lesson for churches is an obvious one. If you can simplify your language and put it in terms an outsider can understand then you're communicating.
    So the question to wrestle with for a week is "what is your brand?"  And is it championed by you, or has it been assigned to you? 
    • Some churches embrace the brand, like Saddleback Church specifically markets to "Saddleback Sam" (see Bill Bishop's book The Big Sort).  That's their brand and they stick to it to create a uniform church situation (more on diversity next week).
    • Do you choose to be the "white church" in a Latino neighborhood?  Or was it assigned by you because of tensions between Anglo and Latino ways of doing things?
    • Do you choose marketing to politics by using products or do you emphasize the people affected?  The church in Detroit recently prayed over SUVs, while every other church would hear testimonies from auto workers.  What kind of 'brand' is it that chooses to raise up products rather than people?
    I know there's lots of unresolved questions; that's why this is a four-part series. :)  But I think two of the main questions from talking about apple's brand are:
    1. What is your 'brand'?  Do you embrace it, or has it been assigned to you by the community (like Apple's brand of being a rebel: championed by them first, or assigned to them first)?
    2. How do you expand your 'brand' while retaining your essential mission (like Apple looking at netbooks but being unwilling to sacrifice quality)? We'll talk more about this next week.   
    Thoughts?  Questions?  Offer any feedback in the comments, or using the FriendConnect box below this post.  Thanks in advance for the conversation.


    Where to find Jesus this Christmas

    I collect urban images of Jesus.  I'll post them during this holiday season off and on.  But here's a new one for this season that won the marketing campaign in Britain:

    The painting is by Royal Academy Gold medal winner, Andrew Gadd. The oil painting is on canvas and depicts the holy family, with halos, in a dark bus shelter. The shepherds and wise men are replaced with fellow passengers waiting for a bus. Some are watching the nativity intently; others appear oblivious and are checking the bus timetable and flagging down a bus.
    Awesome.  Download hi-res pictures versions here.

    Got any favorite urban images of Jesus or other religious figures?  Leave 'em in the comments or twitter them to me with @umjeremy



    Global Rich List

    I'm the 55,923,010 richest person on earth!

    All you have to do is make a choice.
    $8 could buy you 15 organic apples OR 25 fruit trees for farmers in Honduras to grow and sell fruit at their local market.
    $30 could buy you an ER DVD Boxset OR a First Aid kit for a village in Haiti.
    $73 could buy you a new mobile phone OR a new mobile health clinic to care for AIDS orphans in Uganda.
    $2400 could buy you a second generation High Definition TV OR schooling for an entire generation of school children in an Angolan village.


    Never thought I would see the day...

    That a church prayed over SUVs...

    No real comment; I'm not in their dire situation.
    Just very....very....unimaginable.


    What the Church can Learn from Apple [preview]

    Apple Inc.Image via Wikipedia 
    Starting this coming Wednesday, HX has a new series coming: What the Church can Learn from Apple.

    Yes, it will be shamelessly modeled after the successful (if not very commented-on) series on "What the Church can Learn from Wikipedia."  Check out that series here.  And yes, it will be less intellectually-heavy as that series...I learned my lesson on shorter, concise blog posts!  Your comments are welcome, since we have lots of new people since then!

    I believe there are relevant lessons that the Church as an institution can learn from both online phenomenon (Wikipedia) and the against-all-odds phenomenon of underdog businesses that tap into something (Apple).  We are not talking about fundamental changes to beliefs; more likely operating changes and adaptations that have emerged from these areas. 

    For the scoffers that say the church doesn't need secular advice, you are welcome to ignore on Wednesdays. ;-)  I don't force you to read this blog!

    But the rest of you, look for it on Wednesday.  Some starter questions:
    1. People read speculation like crazy about the upcoming products from Apple.  Why is there such fervor over new products?  What does Apple do that causes this?
    2. Apple's product mantra seems to be "simplify and interconnect": everything is simple and works together.  In your church structures, are things simple and interconnected, or very complex and disconnected?
    "They may take our lives, but they'll never iPod!"


    Twitter of Faith

    Back in May, I blogged about twittering the Gospel, meaning to condense what you consider to be the "Good News" into 140 characters, or short enough for a text-message or twitter post. You can read the responses here.

    But I apparently didn't understand Twitter well enough to realize how to use it.  Some other folks did understand Twitter better (Pomomusings - Twitter of Faith) and have been twittering the Gospel for a few weeks, using a common tag to track each other.  Neat!

    Check out the list of tweeted Gospels, and add your own.  Just twitter with #TOF at the beginning or end of your update.  Enjoy!


    FriendConnect with other Hackers!

    Today blogs everywhere are jumping on the FriendConnect bandwagon...and for good reason.  It will be very helpful to get feedback from people easily and build better communities.

    Did you get your google account yesterday like a good boy/girl/pet?  Great!

    So, on the sidebar you will see two new boxes, and below each blog post page (where you would leave comments) is another new box.

    • First is the login "membership" box where you sign in with your google account (it will be a popup box, most likely).  Click "join" and you can join the community!  Then your image appears next to everyone elses.
    • Second is the wall box, where you can leave general site-wide messages.
    • Finally, at the bottom of each blog post (where you would leave comments) is a rating/comment widget where you can leave comments even easier than through blogger!  I will respond to those as well...
    There will be more on the way as I discern how best to use this program to complement our mission: to hack Christianity!

    Anyone else got FriendConnect on their blog today?  Leave a shoutout in the comments below...or in the FC widget!

    Building community just got easier.  And for this pastor/blogger, that's decent news indeed.

    (PS: tried to make it disappear from the front page of my blogger blog using Blogger Buster's writeup and it didn't show up at all.  Any ideas [other than moving to wordpress, you snarkers])


    Rick Warren is not Bonhoeffer [bad.hack]

    In an interview with Fox News , Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church had this to say:

    Last night, on Fox News, Sean Hannity insisted that United States needs to "take out" Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Warren said he agreed. Hannity asked, "Am I advocating something dark, evil or something righteous?" Warren responded, "Well, actually, the Bible says that evil cannot be negotiated with. It has to just be stopped.... In fact, that is the legitimate role of government. The Bible says that God puts government on earth to punish evildoers. Not good-doers. Evildoers."
    Just for the record, Rick Warren is not Bonhoeffer. He does not have the situation of being in Nazi-ran Germany whereby assassination could be framed as an acceptable ethical response. Indeed, as America's Pastor, what kind of warmongering Jesus message is this?

    Some accountability, please, would be refreshing in this situation.

    (hat tip to Andrew Sullivan )

    UPDATE: Holy carp, it's worse than I thought. He advocates for killing people who break into your home. Faith in Public Life has the video.


    Why I'm Uneasy about the Emerging Church

    I knew it! Hitler is behind the Emergent Church!

    "But sir, everything must change"
    "But not the national coordinator!" LOL!!!

    (Via Emerging newest greader subscription)


    Google's FriendConnect coming tomorrow

    Google OpenSocial LogoImage by anonymonk via FlickrHacking Christianity was chosen as a blog to participate in Google's emerging social network called "Friend Connect." I'm beta-testing it and will probably get it up and running Friday afternoon (sermonizing in the morning, webministry in the afternoon...priorities people!)

    Why do this? 

    • Because synergy is more powerful than people sitting alone and thinking and some relevant creative ideas can emerge from this group.
    • Because it gets me to know my readership a bit better and I can be more relevant as a blogger and pastor (in both roles, that is).
    • Because if people ask if you are a say YES. (reference anyone? anyone?)
    So, if you want a safe place to try Google's latest attempt to take over the world, go get yourself a Google account and come back tomorrow to check it out. I'm excited already.

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    Welcome NPR listeners! [open post]

    Apparently, a story I contributed to will be on NPR's Morning Edition, 9am EST on Thursday the 4th (Two New Bibles Preach a Hip Eco-Friendly Gospel)

    Please hold me accountable if my ego gets inflated over being a part of this fine program.

    For first-timers' reference, my reviews of the two bibles being featured can be found here:
    - The Bible Illuminated [review]
    - The Green Bible [review]

    And the purpose of this blog can be found here:
    - Hacking Christianity Manifesto

    Welcome to our visitors and consider this an open post to talk about the issues raised in the program.

    UPDATE: I guess I misunderstood the timing, it's up now. They used very little of the 30-minute interview, of course. Here's my talking points in a Google Doc for you to enjoy.


    Comment via FriendConnect

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