Biblical Tweets

Hilarious!  Here's a sample:

What sort of submissions should we send in?


Blog Action Day 2009: Climate Change

Find out more about the Blog Action Day here.

Sign up your blog here.

Hope everyone participates! The collective intelligence can yield new reactions!

For more info, check out HX's post on Poverty last year here.


Gamers, LAN Parties, and Church Committees

I'm a geek and a reformed gamer...meaning I'm so busy nowadays that I can't play FPS or RTS games anymore.  But in college, my roomie and I were serious geek gamers.  We had our first taste of high-speed internet and used it to research papers shoot other virtual people.  Not to brag, but for a long time about 2 hours, I was #5 in the world's quarterly rankings in Unreal Tournament.  Life was good, fragging unknown strangers with weird names from across the globe.

So it caught my eye when a new study came out about gamers. At LAN parties (where geeks would bring their computers, hook them together, and play competitive games), gamers are more aggressive towards strangers than friends (via /.)

...multiplayer video games tap into the same mechanisms as warfare, where testosterone's effect on aggression is advantageous.
Against a group of strangers – be it an opposing football team or an opposing army – there is little reason to hold back, so testosterone's effects on aggression offer an advantage.
"In a serious out-group competition you can kill all your rivals and you're better for it," says David Geary, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of Missouri in Columbia, who led the study.
But the flip side is also true: gamer's testosterone levels actually went down when they competed against friends or people they knew.
However, when competing against friends or relatives to establish social hierarchy, annihilation doesn't make sense. "You can't alienate your in-group partners, because you need them," he says.
I certainly agree with this.  When gaming with your friends, sometimes there's a common courtesy ("no cheap shots") and you give each other feedback ("Quad damage makes you glow so you can't hide and snipe people!").  While games with friends are competitive, it seems you really take your gloves off when playing against strangers.

While we aren't fragging people in churches, this study says two things to me in relation to church dynamics:
  1. When there's a disagreement in churches, strap them to computers and have them settle their differences with joysticks. j/k!
  2. Seriously, this highlights the tremendous importance in building a sense of teamwork and community even in the most contentious of church committees. 
The better the members of your team know each other, the better they might treat each other.  If they are faceless people having disagreements, then arguments can be more aggressive.  If all you know about the Finance chair is that he once ran into the church mailbox, then arguments can be more aggressive. 

To get people to know one another, try these:
  • Get to know each other.  Even though it sounds like something to do with children or youth, start meetings with interaction.  A bible study or hymn or even a name-game gets people a bit closer to treating one another like...people.
  • Go to trainings together. I've served for several years on Lay Academies and they have trainings in your area of ministry.  Going together with a ministry team is essential to building trust and competency.
  • Eat together.  Before a big meeting, meet for dinner, or have a lunch meeting where people bring their lunch.  Words shared over food somehow taste better.
So, that's how Gamers can teach Churches how to treat each other.  Get to know one another, and it becomes at least hormonally more difficult to treat one another badly.



Repent or Reboot? [humor]

I think the author is right: this comic encapsulates most religious debates.

 But I wonder what the robot would say about "hacking Christianity"...


Open Communication

I suspect the world's typical perception of church communications is secretive and unwilling to acknowledge wrongdoing.  This perception existed long before the scandals in the Catholic Church, and long before prominant evangelists were brought down by charges, but clearly events in the past 15-20 years have done it no good.

It was refreshing, then, to see the head of United Methodist Communications blog about transparency in the UMC.  One of the greatest hacks for a system is establishing integrity and reforming secretive processes.

That said, there's been some tensions lately between the news and the leadership.

  • The UMComm and the Bishops had a row over whether to report on the UM Amendments defeat before the international conferences had taken place.  This blog wrestled with some of that and continues to wonder about the line between openness and empowerment.
  • And apparently there's some foo-wah (a technical term) over reporting allegations of misconduct against a former bishop and outgoing head of a bureaucratic agency.  When rumors swirl, one can choose to ignore their lack of substance or to acknowledge the truths of the matter.  I applaud Bishop Stanovsky  (whose area is dealing with the allegations) for her openness in her pastoral letter to the area.
The important part of the church communications is trust.  When allegations and rumors swirl, it is a responsibility of  (a) a news service to report trustworthy facts, (b) the leadership to establish and encourage trust in the process and (c) faithful legislative persons to watch and correct problems in the process at appropriate venues.  Only when those three are in line will we strike a new journey for the church with openness and integrity.  I hope the UMC (and all denominational systems) can put those words into action.



Swine Flu Eucharistic Prayer [video]

I don't know whether to be horrified by taking cultural relevance waaaay too far or be inspired by the priest's creativity. Let's just say I cringed about only once...every 10 seconds.


(h/t my friend Jim)


1st Rule of Fight Club: Go To Church

The New York Times has an article on "fight nights" at congregations in Brazil.  While I know little about Brazilian culture outside of ministering alongside an immigrant church that was primarily Brazilian for three years, I feel confident saying that pairing fights with worship is pretty theologically slippery.

The relationship between violent specactles and Christianity is checkered but two instances are clear:

  • The cross subverted the violence and the spectacle nature of the Roman arena against its authorities, 
  • The martyrs throughout subverted the violence and the spectacle nature of their executions to portray faithfulness
  • ...but these fight nights?  No power is taken from the fighting, only parallel messages to spiritual warfare.  The fight provides the context for the message, but the fight itself is not critiqued.
Of course, sometimes theological purity isn't desired; what is desired is to grow a church or movement. In that case, is it effective?  Without question:
Reborn in Christ is among a growing number of evangelical churches in Brazil that are finding ways to connect with younger people to swell their ranks. From fight nights to reggae music to video games and on-site tattoo parlors, the churches have helped make evangelicalism the fastest-growing spiritual movement in Brazil.
There have been a long line of churches using culturally relevant events to bring crowds together.  These break into the echo chambers and cause people to wonder "why would a church do that? Huh." which is great.  But I think if you are gonna do that, be prepared to critique the negative aspects of the culture, showing how it falls short of true satisfaction in the Gospel, instead of celebrating it by screaming on fight nights.



"They don't sell clothes; They sell dignity"

I was traveling with a wise elder minister. We drove through a town and saw two different churches side by side.  The United Methodist church ran a clothing store where clothing was sold for .25 cents, jeans for $1, shoes for $2, etc. The other church advertised free clothes, jeans, and shoes.  Neither was open at that time in the evening so I had no idea of which was busier. 

My travel companion and I had the following conversation:
Me: Well, I hope the Methodists don't get put outta business.

Elder (craning her neck to see the churches): I would hope so, because that means that everyone is clothed and taken care of.

Me: I meant that the other church is giving clothes away while the UM church is selling their clothes. Seems like an easy choice.

Elder (twinkle in her eye): You think the UM church is selling clothes? They aren't. Anytime you can buy something and feel a bit more like the rest of the world, you are getting dignity in the deal. So they aren't selling clothes. They're selling dignity.
Wow.  Neat.



Stop Saying Stop

Meta-moment and giving into blog narcissism. Apologies in advance.

I've noticed that I use the term "STOP" a lot.  Check out these post titles:

  1. Stop Memorizing the Bible.
  2. Stop De-Baptizing Jesus
  3. Stop Converting 100 people
  4. Stop being a Masturbation Church (as yet unpublished for obvious reasons)
  5. Stop the Military Language in Committees
  6. Stop Being a Friendly Church
For being anti-hierarchical and anti-authority, I sure say "stop" a lot.  Huh.  Must be the hacker part of me that wants people to stop writing bad lines of code into the Christian system.

So just stop it already.  But until then, read through these bad.hacks (and a few mission.hacks) to see why these lines of thought hurt us and are, actually, easily excised.

Then just stop.


Stop Memorizing the Bible

Youth minister Matt Cleaver has a provocative post up called "Against Bible Memorization Programs in Youth Ministry."  Here's the bullet point headers:

  1. Memorization does not equal maturity or discipleship.
  2. Memorization elevates certain kinds of students over and above other. 
  3. Memorization is not equivalent to “hiding your word in my heart.”
  4. Most memorization programs are reward-driven competitions. 
  5. Memorization is not a historical spiritual discipline. 
  6. Memorization removes scripture from historical tradition and literary context
To Matt, scripture memorization programs are counter to true discipleship, and I'm in the same boat, having written before about the detriments of competition in "What the Church can Learn from Wikipedia."  To be clear, Matt is talking about memorization programs that make a competition or requirement of youth participants to memorize scripture.  Memorizing scripture is just fine; just don't make a game or "who can memorize these 10 disconnected out-of-context verses this week?"

I've written before about "The Slow End to Scripture Memory" where knowing where to find scriptural inspiration seems to be replacing actually memorizing what it says.  While there are definite advantages to scripture memory, the lack of context or connection often does more harm than good (especially when you use them as weapons against people).

So, what do you think?  Is Matt onto something about competition and commodification of Scripture being detrimental to discipleship?  Or is memorization and internalization by whatever means necessary for ministry?



The Lost Symbol, part 2 [review][spoilers]

::::: NOTE: This review has FULL spoilers. Stop reading, bookmark the page, click the star in Firefox, in Google Reader click S (to star it) then J (to keep going), and come back when you are done. :::::

While I've warned about spoilers, this is not a review of the plot, the characters, who is who and what plot twists there are. However, scattered through the book and culminating in the final chapters is a few concepts that need review and a certain amount of hacking. Read on for more.

::::: YES, this review has FULL SPOILERS. STOP READING NOW! :::::

Growing up my grandmother would sing as she watered the flowers hanging off her porch.  She said that if you sing or talk positively to flowers, they grow better.  I thought that was strange, but research as far back as an 1848 book Soul-life of Plants indicated similar findings.  So I tried it and sure enough, my plants died much slower than they did before.;-)

The concept of human voice or thoughts influencing reality is one of the side concepts that is played out in the book.  The field of Noetics claims the measurable impact of the human mind, and the character in the book claimed to have impacted the growth of crystals and other small items just by thinking focused thoughts.  It becomes a dangerous counterpart in the book to the search for the Lost Symbol which would give a single human great power of the mind.

The key point, found in the discussion between the researcher and a computer programmer, is that when you bring in more humans with focused thoughts, then greater change is possible.  If more and more people channeled their thoughts, they could effect changes in the real world.

Reminds me of Margaret Mead's famous quote that you'll find on activists email signatures everywhere:

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."  ~Margaret Mead
However, the problem is biblical.  Since the Tower of Babel, not only has the ability to speak with one language been taken from us, but due to our various cultures, even our ways of thinking are completely different.  The likelihood of uniformity in thought and expression is very small.

But that leads me to Mead's lesser known quote that may be the key to this conversation:
If we are to achieve a richer culture, rich in contrasting values, we must recognize the whole gamut of human potentialities, and so weave a less arbitrary social fabric, one in which each diverse human gift will find a fitting place.  ~Margaret Mead

In this way, Noetics fails to understand the human race's true gift: diversity.  Uniformity of thought disregards diversity of expression.  It is our differences that make us strong, our diversity that reminds us of our values, our jumbled bunch of random people that study under different people that lead to breakthroughs.  It is a seminarian studying with other denominations that evoke in our formation reminders of what is unique and what is shared with everyone.

If the divine is found between two people, then the ways in which we isolate the divine moment and presence is truly anathema to the human race.  In the ways how humanity ghettoizes our living spaces and lives in the echo chambers, we are minimizing the divine presence. In the ways how our politics of divide and conquer continue to gain momentum, we are going down the set of tracks where the divine is harder and harder to find.

This concludes my review of The Lost Symbol.  I enjoyed the book's merits as a story and am thankful for these two concepts that sparked conversation.  Hopefully you will enjoy it also.



In Honor of the Rapture

Today is the supposed day that the Rapture is to take place. I'm still here blogging so I guess either (a) I'm not faithful enough, or (b) I have a clear mind before Zuul (reference).

After the break, enjoy the following parable told by Peter Rollins on the Rapture. It has a nice twist at the end that really got me thinking. Check it out:


The Rapture (revised), by Peter Rollins

Just as it was written by those prophets of old, the last days of the Earth overflowed with suffering and pain. In those dark days a huge pale horse rode through the Earth with Death upon its back and Hell in its wake. During this great tribulation the Earth was scorched with the fires of war, rivers ran red with blood, the soil withheld its fruit and disease descended like a mist. One by one all the nations of the Earth were brought to their knees.

Far from all the suffering, high up in the heavenly realm, God watched the events unfold with a heavy heart. An ominous silence had descended upon heaven as the angels witnessed the Earth being plunged into darkness and despair. But this could only continue for so long for, at the designated time, God stood upright, breathed deeply and addressed the angels,

“The time has now come for me to separate the sheep from the goats, the healthy wheat from the inedible chaff”

Having spoken these words God slowly turned to face the world and called forth to the church with a booming voice,

“Rise up and ascend to heaven all of you who have who have sought to escape the horrors of this world by sheltering beneath my wing. Come to me all who have turned from this suffering world by calling out ‘Lord, Lord’”.

In an instant millions where caught up in the clouds and ascended into the heavenly realm. Leaving the suffering world behind them.

Once this great rapture had taken place God paused for a moment and then addressed the angels, saying,

“It is done, I have separated the people born of my spirit from those who have turned from me. It is time now for us leave this place and take up residence in the Earth, for it is there that we shall find our people. The ones who would forsake heaven in order to embrace the earth. The few who would turn away from eternity itself to serve at the feet of a fragile, broken life that passes from existence in but an instant.”

And so it was that God and the heavenly host left that place to dwell among those who had rooted themselves upon the earth. Quietly supporting the ones who had forsaken God for the world and thus who bore the mark God. The few who had discovered heaven in the very act of forsaking it.


Thoughts?  Happy Rapture Day!


The Lost Symbol, part 1 [review] [spoilers]

Yes, it is Monday. Dan Brown, the author of The DaVinci Code and others, released his newest book The Lost Symbol a week ago. I bought it on Wednesday and finished it on Friday of last week, wrote this review, and scheduled it for Monday so you had more time to finish it.

::::: NOTE: This review has FULL spoilers. Stop reading, bookmark the page, click the star in Firefox, in Google Reader click S (to star it) then J (to keep going), and come back when you are done. :::::

While I've warned about spoilers, this is not a review of the plot, the characters, who is who and what plot twists there are. However, scattered through the book and culminating in the final chapters is a concept that needs review and a certain amount of hacking. Read on for more.

::::: YES, this review has FULL SPOILERS. STOP READING NOW! :::::

When I entered the ministry, I got a greeting card from a friend's parent who had watched me grow up.  It was a picture of a sun obscured partially by a cloud with the text "Seeing is not necessarily believing. But believing is seeing."  On further inspection, of course, the cloud had an image of Jesus in it.  For those that believe, it seems, it is easier to see Jesus in everything (like potato chips, wall grime, or grilled-cheese sandwich [/snark]).

A common theme through Brown's books has been secret knowledge hidden in plain sight.  In art, architecture, and literature, the illuminated read the same words or view the same pieces that the masses see, but see something incredibly different.  Once illuminated upon the quest, the hero Robert Langdon builds upon each piece of human art until they all culminate in one expression of secret knowledge...hidden in plain sight. 

While the cynic in me says that artwork (written, built, painted or sculpted) is evocative of many responses that can easily be crafted into one tangled thread by a gifted storyteller,the Book has several themes that I want to draw out about secret knowledge that are important to talk about.

The "Lost Symbol," (the subject of the book) in the end of the novel, ends up being something right in front of our eyes, in most every hotel in the nation, in every pew in the world.  The Lost Symbol ends up being a reference to the Bible, which contains secret knowledge that can transform our world.  The novel uses several examples of Scripture which, "properly" viewed, parallels advances in science.  If we "believe" and "see" then the secret knowledge will redeem humankind and lead us to heights unknown.  According to the novel, this hidden knowledge is in plain sight, and yet has remained only a trickle of revelations over the last 2000 years.  By study of the text, we can seek the divine being wrought within us.

But in my view, even if we accept the novel's premise as fact, I feel that the novel fails to accurately place the Lost Symbol.  The failure of the antagonist in the novel (in a read the book, right?) is taking as literal that which is metaphorical.  However, the failure of the novel is taking as metaphorical that which is, in my mind, literal.  That is, expressed in letters, in words.

I don't think the Bible has secret knowledge ala The Bible Code, the secrets hidden in the Gnostic Gospels, etc.  But I do think secret knowledge comes forth from relationships.

  • Some secret knowledge comes from conversations between humans and the Divine (mystics come to mind). 
  • Secret knowledge comes from mentoring relationships and transformative experiences. 
  • Secret knowledge comes forth like a dam breaking when an epiphany shines a light in a counseling session.    
In short, The Lost Symbol ends on the claim that the divine is located within the person, light within dark, spirit within flesh, which is a gnostic idea.  In contrast, I believe that the divine is located in the space between two persons in relationship.  In this way, the divine truly is, in the original Hebrew, elohim, the plural form of God, who made humanity "in our image" (Genesis 1:26), and thus the locus of divine transformation is not within one entity but between two entities.  

It is this location of the divine that transforms our relationships, that makes us truly evangelists not seeking individual redemption but in the shared space of conversation and conversion lies the true hope for all of humanity's redemption.

It is this location of the divine that makes religion so hard as we have to deal with different icky people with weird beliefs and backwards thinking that somehow, in some fashion, transforms us.

Finally, it is this location of the divine that makes today's political climate of yelling, of mock protests, of calculated outrage, of marginalizing dissent so dangerous.  When we seek to end the conversation, finding the divine, unlocking the secret knowledge that will redeem our species edges further from our grasp.

Whew.  Part 2 is tomorrow.  Thoughts today?


Kanye at the God Awards


Text reads:
"Yo God, I know you're creating the world, and I'll let you finish. 
But Sega made one of the best Genesis of all time."
(parody of this)


Sunday is for Star Wars [video]

Darth Vader does MC Hammer. Life is good.

(h/t @kevinhendricks)


The Lost Symbol, forthcoming

It's Friday and I just finished Dan Brown's recent book The Lost Symbol that came out on Tuesday.

I have to say I enjoyed the merriment and semi-plausible story that is Brown's forte, and no, my faith is not shattered nor have I become gnostic.

However, I have been writing. I've got 2-3 blog posts already written and lined up for Monday. So your weekend reading is to finish the book so we can talk. It will have spoilers. That's how we can talk.

So read up this weekend, and we'll see if we can have reasonable conversation on Monday.  Enjoy!


Drive-Thru Church [video]

Tongue in cheek but pretty funny!  It focuses too much on individual wants and doesn't address churches that refuse to accommodate in reasonable ways a changing culture around them.  But still funny.


Clown Communion (Coulrophobia Alert)

For those of you that know my father's profession...this video is really funny. 

WARNING: Those of you with coulrophobia (yes, I know the term by heart and can spell it) may want to pass to keep the nightmares away during service.

The end of the video's spouting of scripture betrays the video poster's beliefs, that Communion is too holy and dignified to be done with clowns.  I've also witnessed this tension as parishioners complain when the tempo of the music in the receiving line is too upbeat, causing people to sway and sing and...well...celebrate!

To me, this is a humor.hack, one that uses humor (or humorous characters) to tell a story and bring new perspective to a situation.

What do you think?

  • Can Communion be given this irreverent (and yet, solemn) treatment and presentation?  
  • Or is communion a dignifiedand ancient ritual that deserves to be set-apart?



No Children in Church [bad.hack]

Because nothing says "radical hospitality" like a "no children in church" sign.  Sheesh!

From the article, the two United Methodists churches explicitly welcome children in worship, criers and all.  Represent!

(h/t @gavoweb)


A People's History of Christianity [review]

I recently finished Diane Butler Bass's A People's History of Christianity. Much like BU Professor Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States, Bass focuses on the undercurrents of tradition alongside the established story that "everyone knows" about Christianity.

In doing so, she makes two distinctions from the outset. First, there are at least two different stories of Christianity to be told.

  • The first is Big-C Christianity, full of all the triumphilism and conquest and Jesus that we know from history and Sunday School.
  • The second is Great-C Christianity, for "Great Commandment", that traces the stories of people who followed the Greatest Commandment in various ways without subscribing to Christendom.
Bass claims neither is better; she articulates that Triumphilist Christendom understands devotional life better and Great Commandment Christianity understands justice and ethics better. Both are necessary for the Christian life, and thus it is good that both are studied and learned from.

However, Bass is writing a Progressive Christian history, one that understands Tradition not as ways and philosophies that dominate one another, but rather tradition as "making connections though time." She traces the times and instances, the backstories, the little powerful figures such as Teresa of Avila, the soft side of Augustine, and Abelard's lover's tragedy that rarely gets mentioned.

In particular, the latter example of Abelard drew back the curtain a bit more on my favorite Atonement theorist. The extended biography of his secret love, their hidden wedding, and the resulting castration of Abelard by his lover's family was shocking and Bass's connection of his experience of 'rough justice' and his rejection of violent atonement theories was very interesting. There are many such segments that trace a little-known side of a figure and use it to point towards the subversive history of Great Commandment Christianity.

Here's a video interview that explains it a bit more: The Ooze TV (or on Youtube)

Personally, while I enjoyed the book, I know why. It seemed more to me like a "Pastor's History of Christianity" with little nuggets of information that are woven together with lessons...much like a sermon. It's goal is to persuade that since the beginning there's been an undercurrent of Progressive Christianity that has only recently begun to rear it head. Since I do identify as Progressive...and I'm a pastor...then obviously it worked for me. But that's not to say it will be acceptable to everyone.

All in all, I got a lot out of the book, but if you regularly pick apart your pastor's sermons for factual accuracy and relevant historical may want to pass on A People's History.


United Methodism in 1,2,3,4,5 (ah ah ah)

Bishop Coyner from Indiana wrote the following piece (PDF) which is unusually succinct way to describe Methodism.  Thought I would pass it on!

It's his writing, but loooong quotes look weird at HX so here it is full-text.


“Being a United Methodist is as Easy as 1, 2, 3, 4, 5” – July 6, 2009

Sometimes I think we make it too hard to understand. We throw around words like “connectional” and “itinerancy” and a hodgepodge of alphabetical terms (like UMC, UMW, GBGM, GBOD, BOOM, etc). Sometimes we make it hard for our own United Methodist people to describe how we United Methodists are followers of Jesus.

So here it is, in simple 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 ways to describe how we United Methodists live our Christian faith:

1. We have ONE mission statement: “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” We have all agreed on this statement, it is Biblical, it is in our Book of Discipline, and it is the mission statement of our new Indiana Conference.

2. We believe in TWO forms of holiness: personal holiness and social holiness. That is why we United Methodists work to bring individuals to a Christian way of life, but we also work to change our society.

3. We try to live by the THREE Simple Rules: do no harm, do good, stay in love with God. John Wesley gave us those rules, all clergy agree to them when they are ordained, and all United Methodist people are called to follow them.

4. We believe that truth is found by the FOUR sides of the Wesley Quadrilateral: Scripture is primary, and it is interpreted by Tradition (what the church has taught), Reason, and Experience. We are a Biblical people, but we also see the importance of learning from the Christian teachings of the past, using our minds to think through our faith, and bringing our own experience of God into our understanding.

5. We know that our congregations flourish when we engage in the FIVE Practices of:

  • Radical Hospitality
  • Passionate Worship
  • Intentional Faith Development
  • Risk-Taking Mission and Service
  • Extravagant Generosity

There it is. Five steps to being faithful United Methodist followers of Christ. Those FIVE describe what is unique about being followers of Jesus in the Wesleyan Way . Once a person has committed to follow Jesus, these Five Steps are the hallmarks of The United Methodist Church .

Maybe those of us who lead the UMC, both laity and clergy, would do well to focus on those Five steps and to use that common language. I plan to do so, and I invite you to join me.

from Bishop Michael J. Coyner
Indiana Conference of The United Methodist Church


Church Visitor Gift Box

From the Naked Pastor:
(h/t Gavin and Blake)


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