Fragmented Media = Fragmented Church

On a morning errand, I had NPR on and heard a story about the fragmentation of the media and how it fragments culture.  Since HX was founded on examining the Echo Chamber, of how we self-select our own media, communities, and world in order to avoid dissonance, it was very interesting:

Over the past decade, the number of television channels has more than doubled. There's Lifetime for women, Spike for men, the Syfy channel, Comedy Central, yadda yadda yadda.
Add on YouTube and Facebook, Twitter and FunnyOrDie, and there's just a lot more stuff to keep track of than there was in the days when there were three main TV networks.
For better or worse, the likelihood of another Seinfeld gets smaller with each new source of content. And that, alongside similarly fragmenting landscapes in news, politics and culture, has social scientists worried.
"In history, as far as we can tell, there have never been cultures or societies in which there weren't a very large set of shared ideas — norms, values, stories" and so on, says [Stanford University communications professor Clifford] Nass. "We've just never seen that before."

One social scientist in the NPR segment comments:
"For better or for worse, when we did have 60 million people watching any one networks' nightly news program, that meant that 60 million people had to receive the same information and make up their minds about it and be in dialogue with one another about it."
I know I tend to lean towards the negative aspects of the echo-chamber, but I'm glad for the loss of monoculture.   Being dictated one medium or message is dead...good riddance.  Such monopolies are dangerous and, even if they have journalistic integrity, are not helpful in an increasingly suspicious society. 

We will never go back.  Instead we will choose what we watch and learn and experience.  There's hope for this brave new world here:
As the monoculture fragments, social-media platforms and other wired and unwired communities are creating new kinds of connections — connections that are building bridges between people in ways that watching Seinfeld never could.
Yes, they are building bridges and in those connective moments, one wonders where the Church (in its diverse forms) will fit in.  The truth I believe is that the Church is adaptive and multi-faceted.  Some variations will die, some traditions will not survive...maybe even traditions we find meaning in.  But the Church will continue, and it's our happy task to continue to seek out what role we play in society.

So for 2010, be assured that HX will continue to expose the dying archetypes of Church as bad.hacks, and will continue to examine how society's shifts will create niche opportunities for the Church...and plenty of Star Wars will be had.

Welcome to our brave new fragmented world.  May the fragments in your life be put together in a coherant whole that brings meaning to your life.


Wal-mart Churches [gateway]

Looking through my Google Reader, I've noticed a spike in stories on multi-site churches, or churches that open new campuses operated by the originating church.  They are not a new phenomenon, but have taken on a new form in recent years as the internet allows one pastor to be several places at once via telecast.

So take this as a gateway topic, ie. a blog post where people can share resources and opinions and we can base future blog posts off of this one.

Previous Topics
We've talked about multi-site churches previously here at HX!
Links for Discussion
Here's a linkdump from my GReader to bring more discussion!
  • schismatic Presby church in Tulsa plans a new site - interesting to note that the site of the church plant will also be sold to local businesses to create a community.  
  • A USA Today article (h/t @gavoweb) on the multi-site phenomenon struck me when it said "even if people are just watching a preacher on a screen"...I wonder if embracing preaching as televised edutainment is a problem...
  • Jenny Smith has notes from Rick Warren, one point which I would contest.  Warren claims moving from large gatherings to small groups, from large church meccas to multi-site parishes, is decentralization.  I disagree because the theological agenda still comes from the head...Rick Warren.
  • Mark Driscoll has five reasons why multi-site is awesome (and he's pledged 100 sites of Mars Hill).
Terms for Discussion
Here's the definition of Wal-marting.  It is my contention that it is an accurate label to give multi-site churches, as I've said previously. Let me know if you see some parallels to the multi-site model.
The Wal-Mart business model includes: marketing to a broad "family" demographic that includes rural as well as urban, ethnic minorities as well as mainstream, people without a higher level education, lower- or working-class consumers, as well as the middle-class; one-stop shopping based on a very large selection of goods and services; the use of intense price competition and high-technology inventory management to stimulate and satisfy end-user demand; extreme economies of scale based on big-box delivery of consumables; aggressive supply-chain management that requires producers to reduce their costs significantly to find an outlet for their goods; employment of store workers for low wages, few benefits, and little job security to reduce overhead.
Thoughts or other links?  Post them below or start conversation on this topic.


Not Much of an Almighty God

Bible Belt Blogger (whose site I lost for a long time and recently discovered again) writes about a story told at Oral Roberts' Funeral:

Pentecostal televangelist Marilyn Hickey preached the sermon at Oral Roberts’ memorial service today. And she shared an insightful story about her faith and ministry, laughing while she told it....
She said the first time that she preached at an Assembly of God Church, she commanded a man in a wheelchair near the back of the sanctuary to stand up and walk. But the man didn’t budge. So she hollered at him again: Stand up and walk. But still he did not move. So a third time, she thundered: Stand up and walk. But still no movement.
About that time, the pastor of the church stepped to her side and whispered: “Mrs. Hickey, he’s not going to stand up and walk. He has no legs.”
Oh, the story brought laughter to Oral Roberts’ memorial service. And Hickey laughed along.
 BBB's Frank Lockwood's response was profound:
I didn’t laugh, however. I’ve seen too many self-proclaimed faith healers use desperately-ill people as props over the decades.  And if Hickey’s Almighty God is incapable of healing legless men, he isn’t much of an Almighty God.
I had two responses to this story:
  • When I posted this on facebook, a woman who identifies as deaf wondered why people believe that "healing only means having senses and limbs that function "normally"?" 
  • I remembered that last month a youth told me about a friend who is missing a limb, and was told by her pastor that she was made "wrong" on earth and she would be made "right" in heaven, if she got there.
There's a problem when power is translated into miraculous healing. When power is defined as miraculous, then one starts to wonder about the limits to such powers. And if one believes in an almighty powerful God, then nothing could logically be impossible healing-wise. It's a slippery slope that leads to disillusionment and abusive concepts of God.

In Kester Brewin's book Signs of Emergence, Brewin writes often about God changing the world through evolution not revolution.  Christ's victory would not come in a flash or militant Messianic mob, it would come slowly over time of changed hearts and minds.  A creeping light rather than a flashbang.  This isn't a claim against God's sovereignty but rather an understanding that power to God may mean something else altogether.

Even though good faithful people die everyday with us left wondering why and how, I can believe in an Almighty God who heals people.  Healing comes in many forms, physical and situational. But even if it is a physical healing, it is a slow process of forward/backward, good days/bad days, God working within our biologies and situations rather than dictating change.  Often our situations overcome us before we think God is done, or perhaps we don't see the healing until later.  In short, as my friend on facebook reminds us, healing may not mean a return to normalcy or "completeness" but may mean something else altogether.

Like Jesus in the desert, we are also tempted to believe in revolutionary change of miraculous healings.  We are tempted to abuse that belief by becoming healing preachers who turn loaves of bread into empires of money.  We are tempted to believe an Almighty God doesn't love us enough to send legions of angels to heal us.  We are tempted to look across the landscape of our world from the top of the temple and declare that we know what God's power is like.  We are tempted. 

May we resist the spectacle of healings and instead see healing all around us, in tiny sparks, that give light as we walk together the road that leads to life.


6 Degrees of Jesus has a humorous game up that I wanted to open to the HX readership:

You can play a game with coworkers or family called Click to Jesus.
1. Go over to Wikipedia.
2. Click "Random Article" just below the Wikipedia unfinished Death Star logo.
3. Choose the link in the article you think will get you closest to the Jesus article.
4. Keep track of the articles. Continue step 3 until you arrive at Jesus.
1 point for Random page
1 point for each click
1 point for Jesus page
Lowest score wins.  Try it and post your results!

My score?  I tried it and got a terrible random page: Dictionary of Chemical Formulas/Merge/C18. Yeah, seriously.  I randomly clicked through until I found a country highlighted which would have a religion section.  So the path was: Dictionary of Chemical Formulas > Ethyl Loflazepate > Mexico > Christianity > Jesus.  So 5 points, which isn't great but what else could I do with Chemical Formulas?

Your score and path?


Merry Christmas!

In the interest of ecumenical relations, this Star Wars fanatic wishes you happy holidays via Star Trek (h/t James McGrath)


The Best 70-minute Star Wars Review Ever!

Now if you assumed I am a Star Wars apologist with fanboy idealism that Star Wars does no would be mostly correct. However, I admit to critiques of Star Wars in technical aspects of being a movie (characters, plot, direction) and those things that detract from the Star Wars key truths (midiclorians? really?).

So when a friend of mine sent me a SEVENTY-MINUTE video review of the worst Star Wars movie "The Phantom Menace," I hesitated to even hit play while shaving. I'm glad I wasn't shaving as it is about the funniest thing I've seen in a while.

Check out part 1 here (some NSFW language):

My favorite part is at 4:15 when he talks about "getting the girl in the end"...look at the bottom right-hand corner. Hilarious! Lots more deadpan humor like that.

Here's the rest of the videos at Slashfilm. Some of them have really offensive language and situations, so be mindful. But everything else...enjoy!


Since WHEN does Kingdom = Dominion?

[[edit: 500th post at Hacking Christianity! w00t!]]

One of the important conversations coming out of the Uganda "kill the gays" bill is the theology behind those supporting and espousing it. Box Turtle Bulletin has a lot on it specifically here but in this space I'll be looking more at the theological concerns.

In short, it's been dubbed "Seven Mountains Theology" and here's a brief description from an adherent's website:

[We must be] Kingdom-Minded: Priorities are revealed in the proportionate use of time, funds and abilities directed to seeking His Kingdom with a perspective that intends to His Pleasure. The Kingdom must be our top priority, the principal thing to place before others as most important.

To establish The Kingdom of God on the earth, we must claim and possess The Seven Mountains of Culture namely: Business, Government, Religion, Family, Media, Education and Entertainment.
Here's a video that outlines it with computer-graphicy goodness:

Read on to talk more about the tension between kingdom and dominion.

To adherents, the name "Seven Mountains" is a reference to the seven mountains that the whore of babylon sat upon and ruled the world in Revelation. It is from these seven mountains that culture is influenced and if the whore is to be toppled, Christians must control these mountains.

For them, influence = control. From the video above:
When we lose our influence, we lose the culture.
When we lose the culture, we fail to advance the kingdom of God.
They embrace the term "kingdom" wholeheartedly, with its hierarchical structure as the top exhibits the strongest authority. A great band name ministry called Extreme Prophetic has this to say about what the kingdom looks like (video at minute 22, h/t Throckmorton):
While Christians are in pursuit of the supernatural, or the glory or prosperity, but they’re missing the apostolic assignment. They are to take over spheres and adminstrate them for the glory of God. They’re to take over spheres and administrate them for the glory of God. That’s the only way you can teach nations is when you take over a sphere and administrate it for the glory of God.
If your kingdom is top-down dominion, then yes, from the top of these "mountains" seems the best way to go about it.

In response, however, I can't help but be influenced by the Advent season where we welcome the Christ-child who came not as a conquering Messiah but as a powerless infant to a family in the midst of a top-down genocide (Herod's purge of the infants). A Christ-child who let the authorities kill him rather than dictate culture from the top-down (which he could have easily done and the Romans were so afraid of the possibility).

Of course, this church suckled up to Constantine and allowed the seven mountains to dictate its theology ever since the 4th century. So it is little wonder that hierarchical expressions of the kingdom get intertwined and find historical/biblical support against the reality of the Christ. It is little wonder that people who want to find something will find it in our history to justify their own positions today.

I think the Kingdom is more bottom-up than top-down, and these efforts to control spheres of culture are not only wayward but dangerous (look at Uganda's religiously-supported bill) and lead us closer to a cynical Constantine than to a compassionate Christ.

So, your turn:

  • Is the kingdom dominion, in that we are to control the spheres of culture and influence how the world or our communities operate?
  • Is the kingdom weakness, in that we are not to control the spheres but operate within them with grace and integrity?


Sunday is for Star Wars

Baristas are the funniest people on earth:

Text reads: "Your barista is Admiral Ackbar.  "It's a Frap!  We can't repel flavour of that magnitude!"

(h/t this Tumblr blog)


Followup: Purpose Driven Genocide

This is a followup to the Purpose Driven Genocide post a week or so ago.

In response to the Uganda issues, Rick Warren has posted a video where he outlines his opposition to the bill.  He has 5 points that he makes:

First, the potential law is unjust, extreme and un-Christian toward homosexuals, requiring the death penalty in some cases. If I am reading the proposed bill correctly, this law would also imprison anyone convicted of homosexual practice.

Second, the law would force pastors to report their pastoral conversations with homosexuals to authorities.

Third, it would have a chilling effect on your ministry to the hurting. As you know, in Africa, it is the churches that are bearing the primary burden of providing care for people infected with HIV/AIDS. If this bill passed, homosexuals who are HIV positive will be reluctant to seek or receive care, comfort and compassion from our churches out of fear of being reported. You and I know that the churches of Uganda are the truly caring communities where people receive hope and help, not condemnation.

Fourth, ALL life, no matter how humble or broken, whether unborn or dying, is precious to God. My wife, Kay, and I have devoted our lives and our ministry to saving the lives of people, including homosexuals, who are HIV positive. It would be inconsistent to save some lives and wish death on others. We’re not just pro-life. We are whole life.

Finally, the freedom to make moral choices and our right to free expression are gifts endowed by God. Uganda is a democratic country with remarkable and wise people, and in a democracy everyone has a right to speak up. For these reasons, I urge you, the pastors of Uganda, to speak out against the proposed law.

Good points.

My one beef is that, in his words, since he didn't "rush to make a statement," Warren said he was being characterized as supporting the bill.  In FACT, the Uganda bill was previewed 9 months ago, has been in the news for at least 4 months, and the full-text has been available for 2 months.  There's a difference between "not rushing" and sitting on the sidelines waiting for it to blow over or seizing a media-savvy moment to speak up.  I speak with an air of judgment, I admit, but people who can speak have a responsibility to do so.

As posted previously, Warren has changed his mind on many issues and I'm glad he saw the people through the politics in this situation and has come out forcefully against it.  Thanks for your prayers too.


Open Hearts Lead to Open Doors (or vice versa?)

One of my seminary colleagues posted his new sign outside the Unitarian Church that he pastors in the UK. While the language is familiar to us Methodists, the punctuation is not. What do you see that is different?

My friend's church:

The UMC's slogan (click to enlarge):

That's right, the colon, which grammatically means that the antecedent qualifies or completes the precedent. 
  • In my friend's church, they might be affirming (at least linguistically!) that Open Hearts are what lead to Open Minds.
  • In the UMC's statement, they might be affirming (again, at least linguistically), that the UMC has all of these separate qualities. 
 This started me wondering that if my friend is onto something and let's apply it to the UMC's statement of Open Hearts, Minds, and Doors. Which comes first: Open hearts or open doors?  
  • Open Hearts lead to Open Doors if a congregation has a conviction that Christ welcomes all to their church.  That conviction might lead them to open the doors for all (in the whole spectrum of what that means in their missional context).  Conviction leads to experience.
  • On the flipside, Open Doors leads to Open Hearts if the congregation is forced to deal with diversity and the spectrum of the human condition by opening their doors.  These shared experiences with people different from themselves might lead them to have Open Hearts and truly experience change.  Experience leads to Conviction.
  • In the middle is the Open Minds, which perhaps is the key to the whole deal.
I think it's important that any understanding of church be transformational: that one value leads to another leads to another. 

I actually like my friend's sign better than the UMC's because of the articulation of a progression rather than a listing of static values.  In a world that is more savvy to hypocrisy, perhaps we ought not focus on values but how our values shape and inform other values.  Maybe consistancy and webs of interconnected affirmations become as important as the values themselves!

So which direction do you think transformation happens in this context?  From conviction to experience, or from experience to conviction?  Or are they inseparable?



Purpose-Driven Genocide [bad.hack]

It's no secret that this blog is not a fan of Rick Warren's theology and his advocacy of assassination, his advocacy against gay rights, and his advocacy of passive Christian exclusivity.

But even in our bias we didn't think he could combine all three into passively accepting state-sanctioned death to gays.  Wow. 

Genocide is defined as the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of a people group.  In Uganda, the government is deliberating a bill that would criminalize homosexuality, call for the death penalty of gay persons with AIDS, restrict free speech, and harsh punishment for straight people who do not turn in gay acquaintances.  There really is no other term to describe this bill other than genocide...the state-sanctioned kind.  If such a law was passed in America, that's what we would call it.  For complete coverage, scroll to the links on Box Turtle Bulletin and watch the video on Matt Algren's page.

Why is this being posted here?  Because Rick Warren is personally involved in this process.  He contributed to the rise to power of Pastor Martin Ssempa (pictured to the left), one of the main proponents of this bill.
Ssempa is known for his boisterous crusading. Ssempa’s stunts have included burning condoms in the name of Jesus and arranging the publication of names of homosexuals in cooperative local newspapers while lobbying for criminal penalties to imprison them.
Rick Warren is actively involved in Uganda and made Martin Ssempa the super-pastor he is today (he was a frequent guest in his pulpit and is pictured to the right with Rick Warren's spouse Kay)...and now refuses to critique his involvement or his former accomplice. While Warren states that he has separated from Ssempa as of 2007, he won't comment or involve his organization or himself on this issue of genocide.

Why?  Warren states that he doesn't want to get involved in the political process of other nations.  In his own words:
"The fundamental dignity of every person, our right to be free, and the freedom to make moral choices are gifts endowed by God, our creator. However, it is not my personal calling as a pastor in America to comment or interfere in the political process of other nations."
That's a bit hard to swallow when Warren advocated that the Iranian President be assassinated a year ago and has clearly shaped the political process in his work on AIDS advocacy in Uganda itself.

So when will Warren "enter" the political world to stop a state-sponsored genocide of sexual minorities?  Here's the tipping point:
"Our role, and the role of the PEACE Plan, whether in Uganda or any other country, is always pastoral and never political. We vigorously oppose anything that hinders the goals of the PEACE Plan: Promoting reconciliation, Equipping ethical leaders, Assisting the poor, Caring for the sick, and Educating the next generation."

Again, just using his own words....if the bill becomes law, the A and C parts of the PEACE Plan would become ineffective.  A human rights commission states:
"HIV prevention activities in Uganda, which rely on an ability to talk frankly about sexuality and provide condoms and other safer-sex materials, will be seriously compromised. Women, sex workers, people living with AIDS, and other marginalized groups may also find their activities tracked and criminalized through this bill"
Rick Warren has no excuses left.  He made the political power behind the bill, he has said he would oppose any measure that hurts his Plan, and clearly has no problems getting involved in the political process.  Rick Warren, by his silence and disregard, is contributing to the genocide of a people group.  Andrew Sullivan summarizes it better than me:
Just as [Warren] publicly inveighed in favor of stripping gay couples of civil equality in California, and then pretended he didn't, now he distances himself from Ssempe, while refusing to condemn this law reminiscent of early attempts to wipe out minorities in Serbia, Nazi Germany, and Rwanda. This is classic avoidance in an atmosphere of extreme danger. It is the same as the Catholic church's disgraceful neutrality in Rwanda and Nazi Germany, as they saw a chance to enable others to wipe out a minority they wished could be wiped off the face of the earth...

[Warren] has taken sides, whenever possible, to stigmatize, demonize and now physically threaten the lives of gay people in his own country and abroad. And his silence on this issue means the deaths of others. Warren needs to come out and condemn this law as evil, which it is. And to stop hiding his own enmeshment with the most virulent forms of fundamentalist hatred under the veil of media-savvy benevolence.
A bad.hack on this blog is one that closes a Christian system down and denies God's grace.  As Sullivan writes above, anytime a Christian system chooses silence and disregard for human life over action and speaking up for minority groups, they are closing the door in the face of prophetic engagement with culture.  For decades Christians have become increasingly involved in politics...why stop now when human lives are on the line?

In conclusion, many atrocities can happen when the people look away when people need them. As my pastor friend Karen Oliveto remarks "to do/say nothing in the face of injustice is to already take a side." Rick Warren knows this as he twittered on Tuesday "Globally last yr 146,000 Christians were put to death because of their faith. No one, except Christians, said anything."  By posting that and condemning the rest of the world for passive acceptance, he acknowledges that the Christian response is to respond, to take a side, because silence is itself passive acceptance. And yet he refuses to do so himself.

It is my hope and prayer that Warren, who has changed his mind in the past on important issues, comes around and brings the full weight of his organization and social witness against this issue.  Even if you find homosexuality incompatible with being Christian and outside the human condition, I hope you join in that prayer for the sake of saving people's lives.



Followup: The long winding road of Ordination

You know there's never such a thing as a clear answer in church work, right?  Case in point: as a followup to yesterday's prayer request for my ordination interview, here's the results.

  • I submitted 20 doctrinal questions and a sermon for review.
  • I passed 17 of those questions and my sermon passed.
  • The Board APPROVED me for Ordination BUT places that approval CONTINGENT ON me re-answering those errant three questions and those to be reviewed in the Spring.
  • So, if I pass those three questions in the Spring, I'm approved for Ordination in the United Methodist Church.

Woohoo?  Yea?  Sorry?  Yeah, I'm honestly so fresh out of it that I can't really decide what my response is.  But given it's a few days past thanksgiving, here's what I'm thankful for:

  • I'm thankful for passing 17 outta 20.  85% isn't a bad score in any profession...even Surgeons pass with an 85%!  But not Methodist pastors!  Ha!
  • I'm thankful for the grace given to me by the Board that they have me rewrite 3 questions rather than submitting them all again.  That was in their realm of possibilities so I'm thankful.
  • I'm thankful for good clergy friends who waited for 2 hours for me to emerge.  Love you folks!
So, in short: I've got another hoop ahead of me and have a few months to discern and wrestle with and study those questions.  I'll be talking about them on this blog, so stay tuned.  Thanks for walking this journey with me.



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