Saturday, November 16, 2013
Friday, November 15, 2013
God and Netflix
Netflix - along with all of the other big-data algorithms that insist on telling me what I like, want or need - is shrinking my life.There are good things and bad things about such an argument. Many are the people that have experienced such "diversity" in their theology that they essentially have no theology. Or taste. Or belief. Diversity is not an end to itself, it is a means to an end. Diversity, of itself, produces depth, but never depth.
I just hit the “Personalize” button on my Netflix page and was prompted to input and rate all of the movies I’d watched in the past few years. Then, amazingly, after just a few seconds of processing, a “Top Ten for John” list appeared. Wow. The personalize button was then replaced by a taste profile link, where I could feed Netflix’s database more detailed information about which of the 31 different moods I preferred. I didn’t want to play anymore!
How can we possibly imagine anything when we refuse to change the channel? And how can God be God if we limit Him to the stations, tastes and choices we’re comfortable with?
In the tradition I grew up with, I was always told that God speaks through all things, all genres and all means of created media. He speaks redwood tree, epigenetics, abstract art, ancient Greek, Arcade Fire and comic book. He speaks in the academy, the office and out in the field. His words are common and gracious, and He rains them down on all of us, all over the place.
Every time we feed the algorithm, we limit our capacity to experience and hear our genuinely alternative, ever-creative, ever-new, everywhere speaking God.
On the other hand, people that stay deeply entrenched in the same box never grow. They reach the limits of the box and never get out of it. They are stunted people.
The problem is not diversity or lack thereof, but rather engagement with what you experience. If you go to church like you watch movies then this guy has a heck of a point. But if you are deeply engaged with your church, actively and intellectually engaged, you may need to stay within the confines of something for a long time to understand it. You may not leave the boundaries of the property, but you are digging ever deeper.
Similarly, if you experience much diversity, you must be intellectually prepared to sort the wheat from the chaff. Every experience has both good and bad associated with it. Again, if you walk away merely consuming the experience, you do not judge the good or the bad, it was simply, experience. If you engage, you take the good and add it to your bag of tricks. but the bad you discard.
But what I find most telling is that if I am engaged in increasing depth in my box, I will eventually leave it to explore some aspect. Likewise, if I seek purposefully diverse things I will eventually find a groove that I like best - IF I ENGAGE.
Let's not berate people for their lack of diversity, nor for being too diverse. Let;s urge them to engage with their experience. To seek God in everything.
diversity engagement uniformity
Thursday, November 14, 2013
Does This Really Need To Be Said?
Think about the local church as an embassy from the future. It's a formally constituted gathering of Spirit-indwelt kingdom citizens who proclaim and display Christ's end-time rule. They gather to declare their king's warnings and promises, and they gather to formally affirm one another as kingdom citizens through the keys given by their king, which they do with baptism and the Lord's Supper. Here are the laws, and here are the passport holders.Random thoughts while I read that...
What's more, these eschatological embassies on earth, spread out like pins on a map, should be characterized by an unworldly culture. It's not a culture imported from another place, but from a future age. It's not defined by sushi, cricket, or burqas, but by the habits of holiness and love and the ambassadorial work of discipling, evangelism, hospitality, and caring for the needy.
Citizenship, mind you, is an office. And activities like discipling, evangelism, and hospitality constitute a Christian's basic office responsibilities. "Go and make disciples," Jesus says. "Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality," Paul says. These are what Christians do by virtue of being citizens of Christ's kingdom. We "live as citizens worthy of the gospel," which means "striving side by side for the faith of the gospel" (Phil. 1:27, my translation; cf. 3:20).
The local church, in short, is the embassy where we show up for work, where we learn to be ambassadors who evangelize and disciple, and where we display an otherworldly culture that shines like stars in the dark night sky (Phil. 2:15).
...Isn't that a rather obvious notion? How did we turn so wrong?
...The business model (identified in paragraphs preceding these) is not the enemy of this model, ideas from it are needed.
...In fact, isn't having a model rather than relying on the Holy Spirit part of the problem?
...When we follow culture as we do, is not the real problem that we follow when we should lead?
...Isn't the real problem then our lack of confidence in our power and ability to lead?
Concluding thought - It's not what we do, it's who we are when we do what we do. If we want to change things we should start with ourselves.
Holy Spirit church models
Related Tags: Illuminated Scripture
Wednesday, November 13, 2013
In Habits of the Heart, written almost thirty years ago, sociologist Robert Bellah and his co-authors came up with a term to describe a new American religion: “Sheilaism.” The phrase comes from an interview Bellah conducted with a woman called Sheila, who described her religion as follows:
I believe in God. I am not a fanatic. I can’t remember the last time I went to church. My faith has carried me a long way. It’s Sheilaism. Just my own little voice. . . . My own Sheilaism . . . is just to try to love yourself and be gentle with yourself. You know, I guess, take care of each other.
You don’t have to be a sociologist to appreciate how well Sheila’s comments reflect the mindset of millions of Americans. You can dismiss that mindset as empty and self-indulgent, but in the land of postmodern individualism, Sheilaism has powerful rhetorical appeal. It is preached relentlessly in advertising, books, movies, music, TV programs, even presidential politics (“We are the ones we’ve been waiting for”). It is the effective religion of the “Nones”—the rapidly increasing cohort of Americans who claim no formal religious affiliation—and, one imagines, many churched people as well.Here's what I wonder. In a church where we are constantly shifting to try and reach the world out there, where instead of elevating we try to come down to, are we not enabling the Sheilas of the world? AT some point is it not necessary tot tell people they are wrong? At some point is it not necessary to tell people what is right.
At some point should we not lead instead of follow?
Tuesday, November 12, 2013
The Value of Tradition
I saw someone on twitter comment that the sealing — with the wax, as is traditional — was all part and parcel of our church’s “medieval” mindset, and it annoyed me, because it is a kneejerk (and false) bit of approved grousing, put on for show; or because the commenter is too lazy to actually think but wants to play to an audience (the curse of social media, to which we all fall into at times!)Sadly this "sourpussery" is not limited to the secular observers of such things. It is alive and well inside Evanghelicalism which wants to strip us completely of the traditional and ceremonial for the sake of the utilitarian. Sanctuaries are now multipurpose rooms and any form of adornment runs dangerously close to idolatry.
So, really, what is wrong with tradition, particularly when it is illustrative, evocative and meaningful, as the sealing of the papal apartments surely is? The sealing says: this place is Peter’s for the world’s sake, not for the casualness of our everyday. It connects us to our past; it reminds us that Offices transcend any man.
There is a brand of sourpussery that appears to be in ascendance, and some of it is rooted in the utilitarian mindset that values everything (and everybody) on usefulness: if this thing/person seems to be pointless to the day or doesn’t suit our idea of what matters, it is extraneous; it is wasteful; it should be stopped, or killed.
These same people, I am quite sure, do not think twice about secular excesses of pomp and ceremony. They’re fine with Olympic ceremonies with lavish, overdone opening and closing ceremonies — the bestowing of medals, and the playing of anthems. They’re fine with Super Bowl traditions and World Series drama. They’re glued to their televisions during Red Carpet Walks and the bestowing of statuettes, and they travel to Washington DC to be part of the crowd during presidential inauguration that sometimes extend over a period of days and culminate in dozens of balls.
And they’re fine with Mardi Gras, too.
Worse all, the liturgical is always assumed to be void and empty. But consider what the Anchoress said there, "...particularly when it is illustrative, evocative and meaningful...." The problem is NOT that these things are void, but that we have not bothered to learn the meaning, and therefore we are not evoked by it.
But worse yet are people that learn and simply do not care, for these are people in whom selfishness has taken deep root. Most of the time this is done for the sake of "reaching out." That is to say the traditional and ceremonial is set aside for the sake on the uninitiated. But so often the uninitiated, once they come to the institution, are never initiated to these things, rather they are turned around to draw more through the door. What's the assumption there? That the uninitiated are too stupid to become initiated? Who are we to decide that? Are we not in the business of elevating people?
I will close with an analogy. The abbreviated form of English that dominates the texting world is quite utilitarian. But it is also far less informative that full prose. What we do in the church when we jettison the traditional for the sake of reaching out is the same as our schools jettisoning spelling and grammar for the sake of making sure everyone can spell and speak grammatically in texting code. They cannot really spell of speak grammatically at all.
Monday, November 11, 2013
The Need To Be Smart
“We can’t support that?” the campus ministry leader informed us. “Not unless you include a tract or share the gospel in some way.” My college roommate Dave and I had requested some material and volunteer support from the parachurch organization for a new project Dave had initiated. He wanted to show God’s love on campus by raking leaves, cleaning frat houses, and providing hot chocolate on cold mornings. The ministry leader would have none of it. Showing kindness and love was not enough. For these acts to carry real value, he said, they had to be accompanied by something more.Jethani then quite rightly analogize this "austerity" to Soviet inflicted poverty, particularly when it comes to the absence of art in our worship spaces and our appreciation. I have serious questions about whether this "austerity" actually produces "salvation." Mark Roberts:
That experience 20 years ago was my first encounter with the evangelical value of efficiency. One of the blessings of the evangelical tradition is it’s commitment to proclaiming the gospel--a call that many other streams of Christianity have abandoned. This missional focus, however, is often accompanied by a tyrannical urgency that results in the devaluing of every other call. If the direct missional value of an activity cannot be demonstrated it is often dismissed as useless or at most a distraction from the saving of souls. The result is what I call “evangelical austerity”--the shedding of all activities and investments deemed unnecessary for soul-saving.
Ephesians 2:10 reveals that we have been "created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." This raises an obvious question: What are the good works God has prepared for me?This austere approach seems to say that the only "good work" is the work of attracting more people to the church. Does anybody besides me see a certain "selfishness" in this - an aggrandizement of the church over the work that God would have us do? I say this in all seriousness, I have been places where seduction was a means of getting people to come to church. (And here we thought Corinth was a ghost town.) What this austere approach does, is as Jethani points out, just like the Soviet Union, it is somehow dehumanizing. It turns the individual into a puppet of the "state," or in this case the church.
Many of us would be inclined to answer this question by pointing to specific things Christians tend to do as an expression of their faith. Good works would include: attending worship services, praying regularly, studying Scripture, giving generously from our financial resources, joining a small group, going on mission trips, caring for the poor, working for justice for the oppressed, loving our neighbors, and so forth. These are surely among the good works God has prepared for us. We rightly engage in these activities as people who have been transformed by God's grace through Christ.
But, if we think of good works only in these terms, we miss the extent to which God's plan for our good works is much broader and deeper. Our translation explains that we are created for good works, "which God prepared in advance for us to do." The Greek original reads more literally, "which God prepared in advance, so that we might walk in them." The language of walking was used by teachers in the time of Paul in the way we might talk of living or engaging in a certain lifestyle. In other words, the good works of verse 10 are not obviously religious activities scattered throughout an otherwise secular life. Rather, the good works encompass the whole of the Christian, all that we do by God's grace for God's purposes.
But most of all, it robs us of the abundant life that God has promised us. That's not very smart.
abundant life evangelicalism