Young people and technology are redefining church and how we belong.
< %image(20051230-youngpeople.jpg|184|260|youth)%> First of all the New York Times reports that young people attend multiple churches based on what they feel each has to offer.
“In a survey of 13- to 17-year-olds conducted from 2002 through 2003, the National Study of Youth and Religion found that 16 percent of respondents participated in more than one religious congregation. Four percent attend youth groups outside their congregations.”
They are not interested in being limited to one church’s programs. In some respects this seems to be a very positive trend. Teens recognize that they need guidance and a relevant message and they are not afraid to go beyond traditional boundary lines to acheive that end. The article reports:
“We see it all the time, everywhere,” said Jose Zayas, director of teenage evangelism for Focus on the Family, a conservative Christian group based in Colorado Springs. “They gravitate to where they feel a connection. They’re more pragmatic than their parents’ generation. They look at what works for them. I think it’s healthy.”
Yet there are some really disturbing parts of the article. First all, I know that the anti-consumeristic blood hounds are waiting to pounce. Yes, this may very well be a case of teens looking out for their needs and gobbling up whatever they can lay their greedy paws on. This may be the case. But we all consume. It’s a necessity. I wonder if they give back in addition to consuming. Giving back keeps consumers from being chubs.
Actually, what disturbs me the most about this article are some of the quotes from the teens themselves. And the quotes reveal some of the incomplete doctrine they are being taught. The pastors and teachers who shovel this stuff to them should know better. They should also read Tony Jone’s excellent article on youth ministy in the book Stories of Emergence about being a pastor and not a promoter.
Time away from VT in Philly was good for us. We needed a little bit of time in the car to talk, we needed to catch up with family (who reminded me that I hadn’t sent them our new address, sorry!), and I really needed time to think. So today will be a little inventory of some ideas I hope to fill in over the next week or so.
1. Theology books are boring. I’m sorry, I love them like a brother, but they’re boring. The Younger Evangelicals changed my life, but boring. Beyond Foundationalism is an incredible book by two of my favorite theologians, but (sorry fellahs) boring. The Next Reformation, The Cambridge Companion to Postmodern Theology, Transforming Mission, boring , Boring, BORING!!! I even told the elders of a church that Missional Church is an incredible book, but none of them should attempt a reading. Find someone at a seminary who can provide the Reader’s Digest Condensed Version.
Of course I pull through, persevere, and benefit immensely from their content. And don’t get me wrong, I’m glad we have these books. We are better off with them. Nevertheless, my initial plunge into Emerging Churches by Gibbs and Bolger is teaching me that theology books do not have to be boring. How so? By telling stories. Stories are not usually boring, and theology needs to be rooted in some kind of example, context, etc.
And that brings me to idea number two. . .
The NY Times reports the story of the Little Shell Tribe of Indians who were forcibly removed from the land in 1892 and who are still fighting for a piece of real estate in the state of Montana to call their own. The article reports:
Today, with most of its members living in public housing around Great Falls, Mr. Shield and Mr. Boham are leading a protracted fight for government recognition of the tribe. Recognition would allow their people to gain control of federal money to buy land here for a tribal headquarters and housing, and to win back a measure of dignity.
Read the whole article.
<%image(20051224-way of heart.jpg|65|97|wayofheart)%> In continuing my meditations on the works of Henri Nouwen and his thoughts on prayer and solitude, the following have been pointing me to the place where we can meet and share Jesus:
“Compassion is hard because it requires the inner disposition to go with others to the place where they are weak, vulnerable, lonely, and broken” (34).
“We have to give up measuring our meaning and value with the yardstick of others. To die to our neighbors means to stop judging them . . . Compassion can never coexist with judgment” (35).
“Solitude molds selfrighteous people into gentle, caring, fogiving persons who are so deeply convinced of their own great sinfulness and so fully waware of God’s even greater mercy that their life itself becomes ministry. In such a ministry there is hardly any difference left between doing and being” (37).
“About the desert fathers and mothers: “Anthony and his followers, who escaped the compulsions of the world, did so not out of disdain for people but in order to be able to save them” (39).
We would do well to heed the words of Nouwen. He points us to the place where we can meet Jesus and act with compassion to one another. I don’t see a lot of compassion in myself and in the church. Perhaps we need to be alone more often.
<%image(20051224-damon_i.jpg|275|200|damon)%> Ah, nothing warms my Philadelphia heart like mediocrity and poor management of a sports team. Yes, the Boston Red Sox’s blunder in the case of Johnny Damon is wonderful to watch. The fans are outraged, calling him a traitor, Judas, Brutus, you name it. And I just shrug my shoulders. This is nothing new to a guy from the inept sports city of Philly.
And let Philly be the first to comfort Boston with the prophecy that Damon will have the biggest year of his career and lead the Yankees to a World Series title. That’s how it’s going to be. Just expect it.
Before we cast stones at Damon, it is advisable to consult the article by Bill Simmons at espn.com. He writes:
The question remains: If you were Johnny Damon, would you have passed up $12 million to return to a team that didn’t really seem to want you back? Didn’t think so. He’s not Anakin, he’s not Judas, he’s not the Reverse Earl Hickey. He’s just another businessman who followed the money and never looked back.
In other words, he’s a professional athlete.
– fans are fickle and turn on athletes
– they would have eventually booed Damon out of Boston anyway
– athletes follow money like a hound on the scent of a fox
Read the rest of the article.
<%image(20051223-outofsolitude.JPG|122|150|outof)%> Part of my meditations this advent include reading some of Henri Nouwen’s books. He has a simple way of cutting to the chase, much like C. S. Lewis in fact. His book titled Out of Solitude calls Christians to stillness before God. Through a series of three meditations on the silence and solitude of Christ he asserts that Jesus met God in that solitude and ministered out of the strength he drew from that time.
In a culture that defines us by what we “do”, Nouwen encourages the reader to be defined by that time of silence and what God says in it. Easy to read, but hard to do.
His other book on prayer is titled With Open Hands. I’m not too far into it, but have found the imagery of closed fists and open hands to be helpful in my conception of prayer. His simple question is something like the following: Are we tightly clenching our fists, not letting God in to the hurting and debilitating places of our lives? Or are we letting him in to work his healing.
What struck me more than anything is the need for faith that things can better. Change and renewal can happen. God can bring a new reality to our lives. It is far to easy to bear with the devil we know rather than imagining that God can give us a new life. Fear of failure or of being let down by God often freezes me, stalling any movement toward God and his freedom.
< %image(20051222-bishop_pearson.jpg|236|192|pearson)%> This American Life reported the story of Bishop Carlton Pearson who dropped the doctrine of hell, preached a Gospel of inclusion, and then was promptly dropped by just about everyone he knew. To hear it, look under the 2005 archives for the story labeled “Heretic.”
It’s extremely thought-provoking to hear his journey and the ways that he believes God led him to the Gospel of inclusion. While dropping hell altogether does not strike me as being particularly faithful to historic Christian Orthodoxy, the story of Reverend Pearson reveals some major problems in how the chruch handles theology and our subsequent relationships.
– First of all, everyone is deeply concerned about their image. No one wants to be seen with a heretic. No one wants to look bad. Friendships are disposable if it means we can save face. The way people fled from Rev. Pearson like rats from a sinking ship is inexcusable. Sure there is room for discipline, correcting errors, and so forth, but wholesale abandonment over theological scruples is extreme overkill.
-Secondly, let’s face it, we don’t know as much about hell and salvation as we think we do. There are some things that are mysteries. While scripture seems pretty clear about there being some kind of judgment, some kind of punishment, some separation of sheep from goats, and some designation of the saved from the unsaved, we don’t have a clear handle on it.
While I think that Pearson is wrong, I wonder how precise we have to be in our doctrine of hell. Where do we draw the line between orthodoxy and heresy? Can we perhaps be more charitable in the doctrine of hell than in essentials such as the humanity and divinity of Christ?
And with that in mind, here’s my own bit of heresy:
What if God told Pearson to preach the Gospel of inclusion?