Jesus died for our...[humor]

I know some New Englanders who would agree with this completely.
 (15 Billboards that don't belong next to each other)
Oh are heretical and humorous.


Secular Joy in Christian Marriage

The best video I've seen in a while is J&K's Wedding, which has been making the rounds for their awesome use of pop music and a choreographed wedding processional to give their wedding really a celebratory feel.  Everytime I watch it I'm struck by the joy that becomes contagious in the crowd, even to the lil' old lady in the front that is having the time of her life.

Embedding might be disabled so you can watch the video here.

Of course, there's some problems with it:

  • The song "Forever" is by Chris Brown who recently admitted to serious domestic abuse of his girlfriend Rihanna.
  • The song lyrics are questionable and, if nothing less, the emphasis on "this one night" rather than "this whole marriage" really misses the point of a wedding ceremony.
  • Finally, it is secular (also called profane) music in a religious ceremony (everything else was religious: it is a Lutheran Church officiated by a ELCA pastor). While people will talk about the incidentals, it's often the secular music in church thing that really irritates people.

In her critique of the lack of religiousity at the event, Mollie at Get Religion links to a Washington Post article that has this to say:
We all know what we're supposed to do at weddings: Look on politely as a matchy-matchy parade of friends makes its slooooow way down the aisle to Pachelbel's Canon in D. Try not to giggle. Rise for the bride.
But, by dancing their entrances and sending that upbeat, physical energy right back out to their guests, the Peterson-Heinz wedding turns the rote behaviors into spontaneous reactions. Of course the guests watch attentively as the wedding party bobs in. You can bet not a single child had to be shushed at that point. This was no longer a display of bad posture and dyed-to-match pumps -- it was an uplifting swell of celebration with a beat. The bride -- unescorted, we note; so independent! -- was and wasn't the center of attention. The true focus was on the unified, wordless but palpable emotions of her whole support system.
In a way, this is a worship.hack in that it turns the solemn dignified space into a reflection of the energy of the gathered community.   It turns things upside down and opens the senses to see what new thing God might be doing.  I would hope that's why the ELCA clergyperson agreed to this.

However, I believe the bolded critique is correct: God was not the focus at the beginning of the ceremony, the people were.  The celebration and sheer joy that the bridesmaids couldn't help but giggle about it. Did the focus shift during the ceremony?  Almost certainly.  So is any harm done?

So my question is: do we have to use liturgical elements to evoke that sense of community?  Or can secular music at the intersection of church and world suffice to gather the community?  Two points:
  • First, Weddings themselves have questionable practices.  Bridesmaids dress in revealing ways to divert the devils to them rather than the purified couple.  Is that any less offensive to our contemporary minds than a secular dance  down the aisle?   I think not.
  • Second, seeker churches (or services) do this all the time: play secular music at the beginning of worship and move to Christian hymns as the service progresses. There's liturgical consideration for the beginnings of services to mark transition from profane space to sacred space. 
Thoughts?  Can secular music serve a purpose in religious settings?  Or is there a hard and fast line in these types of ceremonies that music & arts that do not witness to Christian ideals just don't cross.


I can't judge this wedding having not been in on the plan or seeing the ceremony.  But I can judge the joy at people being there to celebrate with their friends and family.  And that joy was there.


Rick Warren Found Me Too! [humor]

What is it about Twitter that has people stalk me? First it was Mark Driscoll (shudder). Then it was Jesus Christ. Now check it out:

Surprisingly...that is actually Rick Warren (well, his company anyway) that found my twitter feed and followed to get me to buy his wares. 

Incredible twitter world.
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Two Track Methodism: Doctrinal and Missional?

These days, the Episcopal Church (as a part of the Anglican Communion) is a bellweather for the rest of denominationalism and their strife is played out in many denominations that are not homogenous or self-affiliating.

One interesting nugget coming from the spiritual head of the Anglican Communion, the Archbishop of Canterbury, is the possiblity of a two-track understanding of the Anglican Communion.  Tracks like the image to the right where multiple audio tracks are spliced together to create a musical whole.

Check it out and see what they can learn from us United Methodists as well about making two tracks become a harmony.

Anglican "Two Tracks"
...there is at least the possibility of a twofold ecclesial reality in view in the middle distance: that is, a 'covenanted' Anglican global body, fully sharing certain aspects of a vision of how the Church should be and behave, able to take part as a body in ecumenical and interfaith dialogue; and, related to this body, but in less formal ways with fewer formal expectations, there may be associated local churches in various kinds of mutual partnership and solidarity with one another and with 'covenanted' provinces.
In other words, one of the principle areas of difficulty with people who disagree on doctrinal issues is that they have to be in "full communion" with those they see as less-than-faithful to their understanding of the faith.  By placing the church in two tracks, then those who are not game with all the aspects of the Anglican communion can call themselves Anglican and part of the crowd, but they are not part of the formal decision-making structure. 

Sounds a bit like a tiered system?  Well, that's a hierarchical understanding that Archbishop Willams is pushing back against here:
This has been called a 'two-tier' model, or, more disparagingly, a first- and second-class structure. But perhaps we are faced with the possibility rather of a 'two-track' model, two ways of witnessing to the Anglican heritage, one of which had decided that local autonomy had to be the prevailing value and so had in good faith declined a covenantal structure. If those who elect this model do not take official roles in the ecumenical interchanges and processes in which the 'covenanted' body participates, this is simply because within these processes there has to be clarity about who has the authority to speak for whom.
While at first OK, this brings it out a bit more: covenantal relationship means those who accept everything the Anglican church says...and the other folks who decided that for their context or locality that some doctrines are unacceptable, and they only loosely affiliate.  Two tracks of being Anglican: one holding doctrinal purity as above all else, the other holding missional relevance as strong enough to accept a different "track" of being Anglican.

It helps to be clear about these possible futures, however much we think them less than ideal, and to speak about them not in apocalyptic terms of schism and excommunication but plainly as what they are – two styles of being Anglican, whose mutual relation will certainly need working out but which would not exclude co-operation in mission and service of the kind now shared in the Communion...The ideal is that both 'tracks' should be able to pursue what they believe God is calling them to be as Church, with greater integrity and consistency.
Is this a viable idea?  Archbishop Williams seems to be shooting for the unhappy medium: keep the church together by making it into Anglican and Anglican Lite.  The doctrinal purists can sit at the decision making table, and the Anglican Lites sit at the kids table...but hopefully happily because they still get the gold star by their name that says "I'm Anglican." IMO.

Maybe they can learn something from us Methodists about what two separate-but-equal tracks looks like...

Methodist "Two Tracks"
One of the great things about Methodism is that we already embody these two tracks of existence in our ordination structure.  We understand Elders (who have full sacramental authority) and Deacons (who are often in church/world intersections) to be two ecclesial tracks, neither above the other.  Deacons and Elders can serve on the same committees and can be elected to the same clergy positions (though I don't think Deacons can become DS or Bishop because those are church-oriented positions).  Through both clergy tracks working together, ministry is harmony for the most part.
The question is can this approach be made to entire churches or denominations.  
For the United Methodist Church struggling with gay equality, is a two-track system a solution:  One valuing doctrinal purity and the other missional relevance?
The only way I can remotely see it theologically sustainable is if it is split up along the same lines as ordination: presiding and serving.
  1. Doctrinal Methodists would preside over church functions and structures, maintaining the tradition and doctrinal relevance and faithfulness.  Churches, districts, or even clergy can be classified as these kinds of "appointable" positions.  They can comment on Missional advances, certainly, but not enforce secondary doctrines (like social principles) on them.
  2. Missional Methodists would serve the contexts they are in, held in tension between doctrine and relevance, at the intersection of church and world.  Churches in areas of the country with gay equality would be able to act and speak with authority to those contexts only.  They would get to justify missional advances in open forum with the DMs (omg, DMs in Methodism!  Do you defrock him? ::rattle dice:: yes.).
It's an interesting idea.  I'm not proposing it or supporting it, but if two-tracks becomes part of the conversation, then I think the UM way of splitting up Elders and Deacons as separate tracks would be a helpful contribution to the discussion.  Is the UM system perfect?  Golly no!  But it is helpful for discussion.
Thoughts?  Welcome to our visitors and thank you for your comments!

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And we're back!

Friends, it's been a while but I've just now started to catch my breath from the first-month-frenzy that is a new ministry position

It takes a while to get back in the rhythm of blogging, but I certainly feel now I must get back to blogging.  There's too much swirling around my head with this new experience that I'm looking forward to sharing with you.

Thanks for being patient.


The Church is Meant to be Broken

On occasion I write about parallels that occur when things I'm reading online and offline coincide.  Today's edition is about organic evolution or organic revolution.

Offline, Kester Brewin's book Signs of Emergence, contains this nugget about change via evolution or revolution:

There are...two possible modes of change: revolution or evolution.  Revolution is about divide and rule.  It is top down and heavily dependent on hierarchies and centralized power.  Evolution...tries to bring about change from within.  It is about empowerment.  It is bottom-up and dependent on distributed knowledge...In Christ, we see God modeling a bottom-up emergent system that can transform us in this new way and calling us onto this path of spiritual evolution as we seek higher places. (Signs of Emergence, 188)
In short, Brewin posits that instead of God using revolutionary ways to transform the world (flood, imposed rules via 10 commandments, participation in conquest/battle), God used an organic approach in Jesus Christ, calling the entire followers of God into the Body of Christ that transforms the world through decentralized aggregate power. 

Cool, huh?  But what happens when the church fights?  When conflicts are more about structural intertia versus relevance?  What are we called to do in the face of such a bureaucratic juggernaut?  How would the Christ, who calls all to his broken body, want us to live?

Online, Canon Jim Naughton writes in an op-ed to the Guardian about the Episcopal Church's struggle with schism and this very topic of conflict:
Wright is among those who assert that the Episcopal Church's desire to move toward ecclesial equality for gay Christians increases the strain in the Anglican communion, in this case, to the breaking point. But this formulation assumes that gays and lesbians are not themselves part of the communion and that the rejection and demonising they have endured at Anglican hands somehow doesn't count.

Our church has not sought to increase the strain in the communion, but to redistribute it. The suffering on all sides of the debate over homosexuality must be borne by the entire church.
Canon Naughton's perspective is that the pain experienced by sexual minorities as outcasts is now transformed into turmoil for everyone in the body who feels passionately about the dilemma.  I doubt many minorities would agree: the pain probably feels the same!

However, the concept of inviting in broken people into a "perfected" system so that all may share in the pain of living...that's an interesting concept.

At first glance, in light of Brewin's reading, perhaps then as the Body of Christ (the church in all its forms) we are to participate in this decentralization as well, inviting others without power into the body where their sins, their troubles, their brokenness becomes our brokenness.

Christians and denominations do not agree on all issues, this is true.  But perhaps we can agree that it is in embodying the tension, in moving from outright rejection to careful consideration, in moving from full exclusion to experimental inclusion, in praying for our sisters in brothers in hierarchical conflict, perhaps then we will be the body of Christ, broken indeed, flawed indeed, fragmented indeed, but the body of Christ nonetheless.


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Re: Christian Music

Now that I'm more involved with teens and christian music, this chart is perfect:

You KNOW you've thought the same thing about Sonic Flood's In the Secret.


Spiderman's Greatest Bible Stories [humor]

This is by far the best thing I've seen all day.  Little did you know that "the Word was with God" really meant "The Webcrawler was with God" and all things came to pass through the Webcrawler.

(click to enlarge)

(hat tip: Unreasonable Faith)


Seeing Communion Again for the First Time

Breaking of the bread.Image via Wikipedia
As you know, I've recently changed church jobs and ended up in the Plains.  Sunday was my first Communion Sunday in a new place.  And the culture shock that I had been waiting for finally set in during the Communion liturgy.

You see, in my old parish, we would do communion weekly.  While the pros and cons are good to talk about, one negative consequence is that no one wants to read the full UMC liturgy every week.  So I would write my own...retaining the proper elements and form for a liturgical sacrament, of course!  And since I wrote my own liturgies, I could tweak the theological substance to better reflect the worship message or my parish's theological struggles that I, as the pastor, knew about.  I did this for three years.

So imagine my surprise when I read through the United Methodist liturgy in full yesterday.  There were several glaring differences between three years of liturgy and the "orthodox" liturgy in the UM Hymnal.  I was so struck by it that I thought I would share.  While I am a relatively new pastor (three years in my first parish, and seven years of church administrative experience prior to that), I would like to offer the following radical points of departure between what I had been doing and what the "orthodox" liturgy is.

NOTE: Given that I am part of the UM ordination system, I send these liturgies for evaluation yearly.  So read them in confidence that while they may not be your theology or "orthodox" theology that they are being reviewed by my peers...which is more than most pastors can say!

Confession and Pardon
  • UM Hymnal: We confess that we have not loved you with our whole heart.  We have failed to be an obedient church.  We have not done your will, we have broken your law, we have rebelled against your love, we have not loved our neighbors, we have not heard the cry of the needy.
  • Hacking Christianity (HX) Liturgy examples: "When we fail to love one another, we obstruct the flow of God's grace given to us to be given to others." "When we fail to love our neighbor, we shut the door in the face of Christ the beggar." "We confess we have not always played our part in confronting the darkness, and bringing the light of Christ to troubled places."
  • Reflection: There's a conflict between "being" and "doing" in this section.  In the UM version, "we have" and "we have not" are statements of being, of existing in a state of sin.  In the HX version, "when we" and "we have not always" are statements of doing, of when we do these things, these are the consequences.  While I recognize the restrictive nature of writing a communion liturgy for every time and place, I worry about focusing on the "being" and not making connections between "doings": thoughts and effects, actions and consequences, doings and becomings. 

    Your turn: does the universalizing tendency of "being" in the Communion liturgy or the focused "doing" in the HX Liturgy speak to you more?  Why?
Masculine Language
  • UM Hymnal: Holy Holy Holy Lord, God of Power and Might.  Heaven and Earth are full of your glory.  Hosanna in the highest.  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.  Hosanna in the Highest.
  • HX Liturgy: Holy Holy Holy One, God of Power and Might.  Heaven and Earth are full of your glory.  Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is the One who comes in the name of our God.  Hosanna in the highest.
  • Reflection: In the UM Hymnal liturgy (full version W+T 2), there are 24 references to God as Lord and "He."  While I respect the Hymnal is from 1989 and not every church values inclusive language, that's a very high gender:text ratio.  There's no need for that in contemporary inclusive churches.  Even in the quoted above section that clearly references Christ, there's liturgical ways to do it that keep the reference clear but don't use masculine language. 

    What do you think?  Is there a need for better gender inclusivity in the communion liturgy?  Or are those words sacrosanct and women (and men) need to suck it up?
Blood Imagery
  • UM Words of Institution:
    On the night in which he gave himself up for us, he took bread, gave thanks to you, broke the bread, gave it to his disciples, and said:
    "Take, eat; this is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me." When the supper was over, he took the cup, gave thanks to you, gave it to his disciples, and said: "Drink from this, all of you; this is my blood of the new covenant, poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me."
  • HX Liturgy: "On the last night that Jesus had with his disciples, the women and men who had been with him for so many days.  He took bread, gave thanks to God, and broke it.  He passed it around saying "take, eat, for this is my body."  Maybe by that he meant that his body may be broken, and our bodies may be broken, but so long as there are disciples and followers, the body is never truly broken. 
    When the supper was over, Jesus took the cup, raised it up and gave thanks, and passed it around and said "this is my blood."  Maybe by that he meant that he would not be with us in body much longer, but whenever we love one another, forgive one another, do acts of mercy with one another...then Jesus' lifeblood flows through our veins and we are truly incorporated into Jesus' body.  Jesus says "every time you do this, remember me."
  • UM Epiclesis:
    "Pour out your Holy Spirit on us gathered here, and on these gifts of bread and wine. Make them be for us the body and blood of Christ, that we may be for the world the body of Christ, redeemed by his blood...All honor and glory are yours, Eternal Father, now and forever. Amen."
  • HX Liturgy: "Pour out your Holy Spirit on us gathered here, and on these gifts of bread and fruit of the vine.  Make them be for us the bread of life, and the quenching cup of blessing poured out for one and for many for the forgiveness of sins. May they nurture us, may they sustain us, until we gather as broken people around the table again.  All honor and glory is yours, O God, now and forever. Amen." 
  • UM Hymnal: "The body of Christ, given for you" and "The blood of Christ, given/shed for you."  
  • HX Liturgy:  "the bread of life, given for you" OR "the body of Christ, broken as our bodies are broken" and "the cup of God's love that we share" OR "the love of Christ, given for you"
  • Reflection: As is perfectly clear here at HX, blood atonement and I are not bunkmates or pen-pals.  But what happens if we fudge it in the communion liturgy? 

    A reflection by Cheryl Magrini at the GBOD questions accommodating children by using non-blood imagery. She acknowledges that children do not have a reference for weird imagery and blood language, but neither have they developed understanding for metaphorical language like "bread of heaven" etc.  And if we understand this as a re-enactment, then giving the cliff-notes version of the liturgy is not being authentic to the original giving of bread and cup.  She concludes that we should use the traditional language but offer education as to the diversity of what it means.

    Those are both powerful critiques but neither point to the underlying pervasiveness of blood atonement in the communion feast.  Even though John Wesley clearly supported blood atonement, his atonement theology is much more nuanced and contains elements of ransom and exemplary atonement as well.  Why then does the communion table reflect only one?

    What do you think?  Is there room in the liturgy to create a more nuanced understanding of what Jesus meant by "this is my body" and "this is my blood?"

In closing, let's be clear: I write the above not to say one is better than the other.  I'm a simple pastor...the UM Hymnal was written by professional spirit-filled people!  I am fully aware the hubris in writing the above as if they can be compared: they are apples and oranges as far as I am concerned.

I'm writing about my experience as a pastor.  And so far in my new ministry, nothing is so drastically different as communion.  Here's the problem: In my theology, liturgy is the work of the people.  While I respect Magrini's statement that different people can get different things from the same evocative liturgy, as the UMC moves closer and closer to weekly communion, it can feel rote and impersonal because it is not the people's language (especially those who value inclusive language and imagery).  If liturgy is the work of the people, then does the communion liturgy include the people in it?  When will the sabbath be made for humans, and not humans for the Sabbath?

Tough thoughts, and I anticipate some heated discussion about liturgical sacrosanctity (is that a word?) and cafeteria theology.  If so, let's discuss the essential issue: can the communion liturgy be made more personal to the congregation?  What theological "laws" are broken in doing so?  And if the result is absent of masculine language and offers a nuanced understanding of it still communion?

Discuss.  Welcome to our visitors and thank you for the comments!

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Hadouken! [pic]

Evrenye Fighter :)
Originally uploaded by Hodolomax™
Oh...the memories.

(and for those of you without memories: LINK )


Religious Devotion 2.0

Just a quick link for today. Take a look at Todd here and think of those iconic pictures and portraits of religious people looking with utter devotion upon saints and holy places. I bet Todd is doing the same thing, looking with awe and fascination upon that which gives him life:

Oh yeah. One thing. He's not looking at Jesus. He's playing Halo.

More photos here: "Game Boys" (hat tip: ysmarko)
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New Series: How to Hack the System

16 months ago we started a new project together: a blog talking about Christianity from a computer and religion nerd's perspective.  We called it "Hacking Christianity" and have been tinkering with various Christian systems ever since.

But amidst all the star wars posts and humorous videos, on occasion one may look at the blog entries and perceive there's not much hacking being done.  Or is there?  

Hacking is simply a hermeneutic: a way of viewing an object.  In this case, following the HX Manifesto, we are exposing new or novel interpretations or presentations of Christianity so that they break into people's closed systems of opinions about Christianity.  Some are bad hacks which close up people's perceptions further.  Some are great hacks which open up new biblical interpretations or allow the Spirit to flow easier.  We need to look at what fundamentals are at play in making these hacks work.

Starting July 8th, there will be four weekly entries in a series about what fundamentals are at play in this hacking hermeneutic.  We will be comparing classical definitions of "hacking" with hermeneutics with our approach here at HX.  You will enjoy it.

Here's a short roadmap of the month:
  1. Defining "Hacking" in the Post-Information Age of Church.
  2. Won't Hacked Systems be broken and unsustainable?
  3. Are Hackers really creating Open Source Theology?
  4. Hacking in community: Where will we end up?
Thoughts at the outset?


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