The Exodus Story on Facebook

Yes, it is officially the funniest thing on the Internets. 
[[wipes water from keyboard]]
Hat tip: Blake Huggins


Sunday is for Star Wars

What do these three things have in common?

(1) Albert Einstein: "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

(2) Church ministry and publicity ideas that haven't changed since the 1970s.

(3) The Empire's plan involving the Death Star approach to all its problems. (sorry for the one instance of language)

That's right.  Insanity!

I think some churches are in the Death Star Mode, trying the same thing over and over and expecting it to blow things up. It doesn't, so you just put more money and more effort into antiquated forms of ministry while the avenues of communication and socializing have shifted...and you get burnout like someone launched a proton torpedo into your chest.

Change it up. Try something new.  Listen to this generation and be relevant.  If it fails, pay attention to why it failed and try again.  But be innovative like our connectional church is built to be, and ministry will turn a corner.

And for goodness sake, seal off the thermal port.



Terrible Church Sign [bad.hack]

What is this, the Dark Ages?  Seriously.  (hat tip: Pharyngula)

I'll take reason with my faith any day.  In fact, I do.


Praise Songs Snark

Snark brought to you by ASBO Jesus 
(ASBO = anti-social behavior order...which sounds perfect for Jesus!)

What are YOU actually singing in church?


Dangerous Church: Not FAIL but WIN

From the FailBlog, this is not FAIL but WIN:

I yearn for the day our churches are so dangerous...
that the powers want to keep people away.  
On that day, and only on that day,
Constantine's imperial church will be finally buried.
Do you yearn with me?


Why the Church is Slow to Change

Why is the church slow to change? One form of an answer may be found in the political realm. One of Andrew Sullivan's readers took a class in Political Innovation and offers a thought on American v. European implementation of change:

[O]ne of the things we discussed is that America's system, due to federalism, local and individual autonomy and other factors, is really great at producing innovation. At the same time, the system is set up to resist change. In Europe, on the other hand, the system is not very good at producing change at all, because those ingredients are not present. But because the bureaucracy has more power, and because there are fewer levels of government, it's much easier to implement change.
So what you have, ironically, is American innovators coming up with brilliant ideas, and overseas countries being the first to implement them--which explains why, for instance, the rest of the world is now ahead of us on gay rights even when America played a huge role in creating the movement in the first place.
To me, this precisely describes the tension built into the United Methodist Church (along with other connectional churches). Which, since it essentially parallels the US government's structure, should come as no surprise!
  • Because of the connectional sharing-of-pastors-and-resources, fresh eyes offer innovative new ministries at the local level. We hear about these daily in our news sharing, and then when we replicate those ministry successes in our local churches, we innovate again. Innovation and novel forms of ministry are abound!
  • However, because of the hierarchical system and four years gap between legislative sessions, change is slooooooow to occur. The system is built so that rash responses are discouraged, but also important stances and witnesses and reflections on society changes are slow as well. Even the local church committee structure discourages change.
  • Finally, because other denominations may have simpler polity or more individual church free will (congregationalism), other denominations implement these ideas more easily than we do. Every four years the UMC seems to be old news as the issues we wrestle with, the UCC and other congregational churches has already made progress on. Congregational polity makes change easier, but not always for the better (ie. Baptist takeover and expulsion of female pastors).
I'm not saying connectional churches come up with the ideas first (although that may be a doctoral research project if anyone actually reads this). I'm saying this tension is both a blessing that is keeps us together, and a thick pool of molasses that keeps us afloat but moving slowly.

On the local church level, this is an important tension as the church must reach a level of consensus before acting. It keeps us together, discussing passionately at times, but it makes changing hearts and minds more important than bluster and threats. It keeps us together.

On the meta-level, connectionalism is a blessing and a stumbling block. Novel forms of ministry (be it evangelism initiatives or the sexual identity of clergy) clashes with the structure which resists change. Sometimes clergy can't stick it out and leave. Sometimes entire churches can't stick it out and leave. But to the patient, change comes incrementally and doors open slowly but surely.

In short, this post is written to two types of people:
  • To you if you feel like the UMC is changing too rapidly...take heart that the slow structural change forces everyone to moderate and be mindful of one another so that we bring everyone together as well as possible (so long as we all play the game fairly...yes, I'm looking at you renewal groups).
  • To you if you feel like the UMC is too slow to change...take heart that that it is the messy determination of the heretics, of the outliers, that drag the church kicking and screaming into new forms of ministry.

Connectionalism is messy. But it's a messiness that's ours and holds both tremendous potential and devastating setbacks. May we hold this tension creatively and never seek to upturn or dismantle it lest we lose the tension that makes us one.

Thoughts? Discuss in the comments.


Sunday is for Star Wars

AT-AT Playtime


A Blueprint for Discipleship [review]

Recently I was asked by a 10 year old parishioner “What is the difference between Catholics and Methodists?” and I asked the facebookosphere for thoughts. Most of the responses focused on doctrine and tangy grape guice.

Little did I know that Kevin Watson offered the best response in his new book A Blueprint for Discipleship.

Watson, a United Methodist minister, hacks the traditional question of “What do Methodists believe?” and turns it into “How do Methodists believe?” By outlining the method of discipleship and discernment that John Wesley created, Watson offers support to the claim that it is not the “what” that defines Methodists, but the “how.”

In this way, Watson's book fits nicely into “Hacking Christianity” principles and is worthy of a review.

Full disclosure: I received a free copy of Kevin's book by being fast on the submit button. Again, yes, I can be bought.

Joys & Concerns

Watson and I both hail from Oklahoma, so I resonate with many of the examples he uses in the book: the “two by two” evangelists roaming the dorms looking for sinners to convert, off-the-beaten-path idiotic biking, and such. So I felt an immediate kinship with his examples that paralleled the books' content.

Watson articulates the "Bad News" for Christianity in this way:

  • We live in a culture where people are turned off by a church that doesn't practice what it preaches. (page 8)
  • [John] Wesley saw the main challenge not as getting people to come to a moment of conversion but as helping them live out the decision to give their lives to Christ (page 38)
These admonitions support the claim that the Sinner's prayer is not enough and that to focus on conversion as the end of a journey misses out on the lifetime of discipleship that Wesley wanted and built in the Methodist church. Read the book to read more about how the three simple rules and the church structure can help along this journey!

Finally, Watson is very pragmatic and offers pages of support organizations for "how to put faith into action," which is super-helpful and, at least. In 10 years, maybe not as much! As well, the Appendix shows how to use the book in small-group study.

On the concerns front, most of them will appear in a forthcoming post tomorrow about the relationship between Rules, Law, and Love. It's not specific to Watson's book, so it's another post.

However, my biggest concern is Watson's condemnation of door-to-door fearmongering "if you die today will you go to heaven" while he articulates a nicer version of the same. He articulates people losing salvation here:
  • "if we accept the gift of salvation but refuse to allow God's grace to transform our lives, we put our very salvation in danger." (page 64)
The UMC is not "once saved always saved" because it negates free will. So Watson is correct. However, he seems to articulate that it is through apathy that we can lose our salvation too. If we "refuse" transformation, isn't that more intentional than "slumbering?" Is the whole of Methodism that slumbers instead of allowing transformation really in danger of losing their salvation? If we refuse to accept the means of grace through transformational we lose our salvation? Even Wesley when condemning the Pembrokeshire people didn't say their salvation was lost...only their discipleship.

So it's an interesting question: does "not participating" in sanctifying grace mean we lose our salvation? Watson's argument is fine by itself; there's no need to resort to fear. It doesn't take away from the book, but it does seem to be the "rough edge" of the cost of refusing discipleship that I don't see as well defined. I'll have to ponder it a bit more and perhaps the more scholarly Watson will dialogue with me here.


A Blueprint for Discipleship works in "Hacking Christianity" realm as it isn't an implementation of a rigid doctrine or even a constellation of beliefs that can transform the church: simply by re-examining how we do discipleship can transform our church. By hacking the process of discipleship back to its core Wesleyan components, I found Watson's book a pleasure to read and it gave me a challenge in my local church.

All in all, Watson sees Methodism as a slumbering giant, one without the discipleship structure implemented even though it is in our DNA. Wesley called this "the form of religion without the power." By reclaiming the general rules and intentionally living them out in accountability groups, Watson hopes to wake the church back to faith, works, and transformation of the entirety of our lives.

BTW: Watson blogs at Deeply Committed if you want to read his blog and converse with him there.



Humor for Breakfast [pic]

Gavin has a hilarious post up today about different denominations and such.

But the funniest was this pic.

Humor for your Thursday!


Wikipedia and the Essenes

Matt Shafer over at Twice Infinity (the blog was recently accepted into CCBlogs, which I am jealous of because my blog was not "serious" enough for inclusion), pointed me a month back to this story of a Wikipedia article that reported a false fact, a paper reported it, and then Wikipedia referenced the paper as proof of fact.  Hilarious!  Slashdot reports:

The German and international press picked up the wrong name from Wikipedia — including well-known newspapers, Internet sites, and TV news such as, Bild,, TAZ, or Süddeutsche Zeitung. In the meantime, the change on Wikipedia was reverted, with a request for proof of the name. The proof was quickly found. On an article cites Mr. von und zu Guttenberg using his 'full name'; however, while the quote might have been real, the full name seems to have been looked up on Wikipedia while the false edit was in place. So the circle was closed: Wikipedia states a false fact, a reputable media outlet copies the false fact, and this outlet is then used as the source to prove the false fact to Wikipedia."
Matt and I mused back and forth about if there were any historical occurrences of this taking place in history. Wouldn't it be terrible if some church historical facts were shown to be referencing fictional accounts, even though for 60 years we have treated them as facts?  Hope that never happens....

...Oh, did you notice that Hebrew scholar Rachel Elior claims that those awesome Dead Sea Scrolls that we found in a cave 60 years ago....yeah, they were real, but the community of Essenes that we wax nostalgic about didn't exist.  (hat tip: Blake Huggins ' shared google reader items)
Elior, who teaches Jewish mysticism at Jerusalem's Hebrew University, claims that the Essenes were a fabrication by the 1st century A.D. Jewish-Roman historian Flavius Josephus and that his faulty reporting was passed on as fact throughout the centuries. As Elior explains, the Essenes make no mention of themselves in the 900 scrolls found by a Bedouin shepherd in 1947 in the caves of Qumran, near the Dead Sea. "Sixty years of research have been wasted trying to find the Essenes in the scrolls," Elior tells TIME. "But they didn't exist. This is legend on a legend."

Elior contends that Josephus, a former Jewish priest who wrote his history while being held captive in Rome, "wanted to explain to the Romans that the Jews weren't all losers and traitors, that there were many exceptional Jews of religious devotion and heroism. You might say it was the first rebuttal to anti-Semitic literature." She adds, "He was probably inspired by the Spartans. For the Romans, the Spartans were the highest ideal of human behavior, and Josephus wanted to portray Jews who were like the Spartans in their ideals and high virtue."
Oops.  If we accept the research, Josephus reports a false fact, Roman history reported it as fact, and we point to both of them as evidence that the Essenes never even existed.

Me?  I'm not convinced, but it will be interesting to read the academic rebuttals and responses in coming days.  And I was glad to finally have a parallel to Matt and my discussion a while back. 

Thoughts?  Discuss.


A Smile in my Inbox

Thanks HX reader "randLlama312" ... I have no idea who/what you are, but you clearly know my taste in things.

(hat tip: StreetProphets)


'Two-for-One Clergy' For the Weekend

Beliefnet has a decent article on an Episcopal Bishop-elect in Michigan who is also a Buddhist. Check it out here: "One Priest, Two Faiths."

Essentially, some Episcopalians are angry that this Bishop-elect holds what they view as competing beliefs and thus is unfit to be a bishop.  This is called syncretism meaning "holding multiple religions."  To those who believe in the exclusivity of their religion against all others, this is unacceptable for a bishop.

Let's make this an open weekend conversation. What do you think?

  • Can people hold tenets of different faiths in our culture which is increasingly blending even as it is separating?
  • Can religious leaders find meaning in two separate paths without losing their way?
  • Does this really matter unless it is affecting their spiritual leadership? 
Discuss and enjoy the weekend!


God as Eagle Eye

Cover of "Eagle Eye"Cover of Eagle Eye
Eagle Eye, with Shia LeBoughertgey (the latter is silent), is a techno-thriller that was a decent movie.  What struck me is that the movie portrays two very different ideas of the mastermind Eagle Eye, and they correlate nicely to images of God
  1. To the good guys, they are given tasks by a shadowy puppetmaster.  They each function like cogs in a machine ran by a shadowy spider head that is pushing them forward through sheer inertia and threats.
  2. To Eagle Eye, Shia and Michelle Monaghan are called as modern-day minutemen, as ordinary citizens called up to oppose a corrupt government.  Each member is recruited and has no knowledge of the greater goals or even of each other until they perform the specific roles and actualize their potential in a distributed terrorist network.
Both of these images of Eagle Eye's activity correlate to popular concepts of God.
  1. God as puppetmaster, as the one who controls all the strings and causes us to dance.  Sure, we have free will, but the puppetmaster moves us where God wants us.  This has various forms in contemporary bad-boy Calvinism which is called determinism, or where God determines what will happen and predestines events and actions.
  2. God as giving a purpose (or role) to each individual and it is up to them to see how they fit into the distributed network.  This is the key concept behind the Purpose-Driven Life by Rick Warren, that if we find our God-given purpose, we actualize our potential.
I think many of us see God as Eagle Eye, as a force which causes bad things to happen when we do bad things (much like Eagle Eye punishes Shia when he 'disobeys'), but also gives us a purpose that we are eventually pushed towards.  Some purposes are mundane (like the TSA agent changing the x-ray machine at the airport), and some are huge (like Michelle delivering 'the package').  Coincidences are God connecting different chess pieces into a greater vision and purpose drawn inexorbitably together. 

But what happens to defeat this understanding of "God" in the movie?  The turning point occurs when Michelle refuses to eliminate Shia, even though she has complied (to the extreme) in all other areas.  Why?  Because she has gotten to know Shia and even with Shia's acceptance of this outcome, Michelle won't do it.  Michelle's breaking the chain of "commands" allows Shia to become free and eventually stop Eagle Eye.  The closer Michelle drew to Shia, the closer they made decisions based on their relationship instead of being unwilling subjects to the all-powerful Eagle Eye.

In the same way, ideas of determinism and Calvinism fall short when we experience and grow closer in our relationship with God.  God ceases to be a puppetmaster and becomes a companion on the journey, opening possibilities instead of willing purposes. 

Moses' concept of God undergoes a similar transformation on the mountaintop when God's anger burns bright, about to wipe out the idol-worshipping Hebrews, and Moses argues with God.  While it is questionable whether God actually changes God's mind, Moses transforms from a willing subject into a companion who feels he can challenge and question God...all formed by Moses working with God for a long time saving the Hebrew people.  Moses had a relationship with God, and that relationship allowed Moses to question God.

When we allow relationships to form our reactions, when we allow depth of relationships to trump society's threats to "keep us to the script" then we experience transformation not only of our selves, but of our image of God.  When we rebel against society's scripts that say that women should be in the kitchen and black Americans know their place in the fields, then we experience transformation.  When we cease to give power to God as Eagle Eye, then we cease following the Law and instead live in the unpredictable currents of the Spirit.



What are your 13 Church Arguments?

Howard Fineman was on the Colbert Report talking about the 13 arguments that define America. While Stephen Colbert, obviously, digresses far away from the book topic, there's a few nuggets worth extracting.

First, Fineman articulates that within a nation, the arguments work. They are relevant and understood. When you move out of that nation, and the arguments need translation. For instance, other countries don't understand our arguments, and thus they look silly or need explanation.

Second, Fineman said that the 13 key arguments are key because they are interpretations of key values.  For instance:
Once you accept the personhood of an individual, then you have to say "who deserves to be an American person entitled to the protections of American law"...what rights do we extend to immigrants once they are on our soil?

It makes me wonder what are the key arguments that our faith communities struggle with and that define us and that are untranslateable outside our faith community context.

Each church is a nation, with key arguments that keep on coming up (in healthy or unhealthy ways). Perhaps then the approach is not to answer the arguments, or silence the arguments. Instead, find out what are the key values that underline the arguments, and nuance and expand them.

For instance, coming to a better understanding of the value of personhood in politics leads to transformation to everything from immigrants to abortion. Thus, coming to a better understanding of "holy ground" may transform how the church understands trustees, building usage, and use of the church as a safe sanctuary for illegal immigrants on the run.

What are the 13 arguments in your church, and what are the values that they are based on? What are the ways that one can massage those values to lead to consensus?

Discuss in the comments!


UMC Missional Statement

United Methodist Church emblem Cross and flameImage via Wikipedia

"To Make Disciples of Jesus Christ
for the Transformation of the World."

That's the mission statement of the United Methodist Church. To me, then, this is a nice framework for the questions that need to be addressed in any ministry context.
  • To Make Disciples
    • Practicum: What forms of education and training are you offering your members?
  • Of Jesus Christ
    • Theology: What "Jesus" is being preached at your context?  Is it a Jesus who proclaims an open hatred for sin or who offers sinners welcome arms?
  • For the Transformation
    • Ministry: What does transformation look like?  What does ministry look like?
  • Of the World 
    • Mission: Who is "the world?"  How does your context answer questions of "who is at the table" (inclusiveness) and understands how they interact with the world (evangelism)?
Just some random thoughts on using our Mission Statement as a structure that people can easily understand.


A Pastor in a Prius

Latte Prius ObamaImage by Voxphoto via Flickr
Six months ago, we traded in my spouse's first car (a decade-old Toyota Camry), along with some savings from the sale of my car a few years back, for an extravagant purchase based on ethics: a Toyota Prius.  The hybrid gets over 50 miles per gallon and we felt better about the impact of our driving on the environment.

I admit that I was hesitant to drive a premium vehicle, especially thinking of what the monthly payments could be used for charity and missions.  But we have to drive, and instead of continuing along the way things were, we decided our ecological ethic required that we put our money where our mouth was.

So, it's been six months, so here's the half-year review:

After six months of using the Prius, we've got the following stats compared to our old car:
  • Miles driven: 9,500 miles (yes, we drive almost 20k a year)
  • Money saved on gas:  $450 (estimate based on 95% of gas receipts; mileage compared to former 22mpg gas economy of the Camry).  
    • For reference, Edmunds' Fuel Estimator estimated we would save $115/month in gas, but this was done when gas was $3.50/gallon, so the numbers are skewed now that gas is cheaper)
  • Carbon saved: 3,892 lbs less carbon has been put in the atmosphere (based on TerraPass's carbon calculator compared to our Camry).  
    • For reference, weatherstripping and insulating your home saves you about that much per year.
Please note that the numbers are low...that's because it is the difference between our old car and the Prius.  Hybrids alone save 17,000 lbs of CO2 per year and close to $3000 in gas in ideal conditions (which the frigid NE is not an ideal conditions!).

Is it gonna save the whales?  No.  But it's a start.  And every gas-efficient choice we make makes a difference in aggregate. 

Any other readers drive a hybrid?  Leave a comment.  And if you want to assail this lowly pastor for driving a premium vehicle...well, that's what the comments are all about. 

Off to get arugula from Whole Foods in my Prius while wearing Birkenstocks! LOL.


Progressive Church: Radical or Rational? [3of4]

This is part three of four parts on Rational/Radical Progressive Churches. Read the whole series for the background!

Continuing our conversation on the two different sides of Nate Silver's Progressive chart, there's one element that, by the label, differentiates Rational and Radical progressives: rationality. By naming one group "rational," Nate automatically places the the radical progressives in the irrational camp. Nate seems to ascribe them with being irrational in implementation (wanting drastic change not incremental change) which isn't as easy to achieve. Some commentors on the article seem to agree,

One thing of interest I might point out is there does seem to be a larger amount of paranoia on the radical progressive side. While in truth corporations get away with A LOT behind closed doors, it’s always interesting how many radical progressives, who are seemingly intelligent people, will believe the most elaborate and implausible conspiracy theories about them. (IE thousands of individuals involved in a 9/11 coverup, all working together, all keeping things quiet)
Read on to see how radicals (including political figures like Cindy Sheehan) tend to move to the fringe and lessons for the radical church on how to keep on message.

There does seem to be constellations of issues in radical progressivism, perhaps not out of emotion but out of like-mindedness. This like-mindedness can be a hinderance, however. Taking on the System, by the DailyKos founder Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, talks about how Cindy Sheehan was originally very captivating and emotion-wrenching to people as she began her stakeout at the Bush ranch asking for his apology for sending her son to die in the unjust war in Iraq. But eventually, she was tolerant of other supportive groups to stake out with her, which watered down the radical message she was trying to proclaim
Sheehan's tolerance of the likes of communists, socialists, PETA, and others watered down the narrative with subplots, as it were, and tarnished her credibility in the long run...[which] effectively created the type of circuslike protests that Americans had already seen a million times before.
Taking on the System, 186
In other words, radicalism is always being lumped with other radical groups, which waters down the message. Whenever a figure tries to be everywoman (like Sheehan) they get lumped (or allow to get lumped) into the greater fringe movement and that neuters their effectiveness. But don't blame the media, this is often intentionally done by the progressives themselves:
The principal difference, historically, between these two Enlightenment streams is that liberalism was the ideology born of the middle classes: business. In other words, those desiring to acquire democratic rights for themselves to the exclusion of those "beneath" them. Recall, please, how many of the Founding Fathers were slave owners. Radicalism, on the other hand, was the ideology born of the workers: those exploited by business. In other words, those desiring democratic rights, including the economic sphere, for all. So, of course, liberalism positions itself as rational, and radicalism as irrational. It's important that the workers be seen as irrational in their desire to end their exploitation.
What does this mean for progressive churches? Be careful of the company you keep so as to not water-down the message. It's OK to be radical in your message and actions (Jesus was! MLK was!), but in order to avoid diffusing the energy, the radical church must focus on one radical message at a time. There's a reason why there are so many political organizations...they each have a topic they are passionate about and there are rational and radical groups for each topic.

It takes message focus to cut through the clutter, and it takes message discipline to keep from being distracted by the chatter. If you are going to be a radical church, pick something to be radical about and stay the course.



Religious Prohibitions and Porn

I love it when what I'm reading offline and online complement or frame one another.  Here's one for today:

Offline, I'm reading through The Fidelity of Betrayal by Peter Rollins, I got to a section where Rollins talks about how our religious convictions allow us to continue to act in ways with a minimum of guilt:

Is this not what Paul intimately understood when he wrote that the law and sin are interconnected, that is, that religious prohibitions generate the very activity they attempt to abolish? ... Paul understood that the law, while manifested as the obstacle to sin, secretly provided it with oxygen.  So then, strange as it may first sound, religious convictions can thus provide an implicit command to act in a way that they explicitly reject.
Online, this popped up in my feed reader and I used it in my sermon on Sunday:
Residents of 27 states who passed laws banning gay marriages had 11% more pornography subscribers than states that don’t restrict marriage.
Source: ABC News 
Interesting!  I know correlation is not causation, but it's interesting that religious convictions against sexual minorities has a correlating uptick in pornography consumption.  Hmm....possibly a bit selective in our sexual ethics, aren't we?


Star Wars Workout [video]

Yep, the cast of the Today show dressed up in Jedi robes and learned the Jedi workout.

This should be implemented at church meetings everywhere.

(hat tip: My brother sent it, originally from My Disguises)


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