April 25, 2008

No Sense In Trying To Be A Jerk

A guy I know named Abe Piper (some of you know his dad) guest blogged about how to blog better by serving readers. Most of it is good advice, but one comment especially stood out to me. I would go so far as to say that it's useful advice for real life, not just blogging, and so I've [subbed out] a few words of his quote below.

If the majority of [what you say] is made up of disagreeing with people, you should question your motives for [saying anything].

If you actually derive pleasure from bashing others, you should just quit.

If [what you say] regularly makes you enemies, that doesn't necessarily mean you're being persecuted for Jesus. It may just mean you're a jerk.

Well said, Abe. Something to be aware of, something to work on.

[PS You can find some thought provoking stuff at Abe's blog, where he limits each post to only 22 words.]

April 22, 2008

Making A Change

Dear Reader,

For the last year, I've blogged in two different places. Here, of course, and also at Blog responsibly, where I've blogged for about three years. The original idea was to give me a place to focus more on religious/spiritual topics (here) that wasn't intertwined with my other ramblings. But thinking about some of the things I've been pondering lately, especially about dualism and all that, I've decided it's not necessary to keep them separated. So the decision I had to make was whether to move BR here or move this one over there.

BR is hosted by Wordpress. I like some of the behind the scenes stuff at Wordpress, but I don't like how they make you pay to host your own blog if you want to access the code (or pay for "credits" to have minimal access to the CSS). To me, that's a horrible set up that goes against most of what the blog/open-source/wiki world we live in typically represents. And you're then left with a short list of preset, uneditable themes, with only just enough decent ones to make them entirely overused. So, I'm sticking with Google's Blogger, and keeping everything here.

Soon I'll import most of those posts over here. I think most people who read this blog read BR too (another reason to combine them), so I doubt there'll be anything new for most of you.

I hope to write a lot more, too, though I'm hesitant to make any promises that no one would care about anyway. So that's the state of things for now. Thanks for reading.


Proof Of... Something

Replace "God" with "Allah" or "Buddha" or "Vishnu" or "Zeus" and you find an interesting mental exercise.

April 14, 2008

Sacred Coffee Shops and Wonder Bread

I read all 5 pages of Christianity Today's featured article, How to Save the Christian Bookstore (Hint: Stop making it so religious.) and I have a question for the author.

What's Communion bread?

The article concludes that Christian bookstores will have to change a lot if they're going to survive. The author wraps up his conclusion with the question, "When the pastor runs out of Communion bread on a Saturday night, who will he call for help?" Aren't there any grocery stores in his neighborhood? Or any 24-hour pharmacy super stores like CVS or Rite-Aid? They sell bread--can't the frantic pastor visit one of them on a Saturday night?

I know the author's question was tongue-in-cheek, but it made me think about how we (the church) often designate certain things as Sacred and certain things as, well, Not Sacred. Profane is probably the right word, but not one I typically use or hear. Secular is probably the most commonly used descriptor. So there's sacred bread that's set apart from this world for Communion use, and then there's secular bread you buy at the local Piggly Wiggly and cover in mayonnaise for ham sandwiches. Mix up the two and you'll likely cause confusion and offense.

That's also why there are sacred songs that only true Christians should sing, and then there are secular songs that everyone else can sing. If a group of secular people sing a sacred song on a secular TV show, there's going to be some moral outrage for all different reasons. Notice that it's not about the content of a song, specifically. Secular people can sing spiritual songs without causing too much of a stir, but certain songs have been set apart as sacred which makes them entirely off-limits.

The distinction even surfaces in some contemporary church strategies for reaching out into our communities. Some churches I know are hoping to open a coffee shop of sorts that will be open during the week as a form of ministry to the community. It's not a new idea. Ebeneezer's Coffeehouse has been open for about 2 years as a ministry of Mark Batterson's National Community Church in Washington, D.C., and there are plenty of others across the country who are doing similar ministries.

Do communities really need sacred coffee shops down the street from the "secular coffee shop" that already exists? In this case, an attempt to do a good thing--ministering to a surrounding community--could actually risk hurting local businesses that already provide those services. It's possible that the church could better serve them, and better spend her money, by frequenting local coffee vendors and befriending the people in the already-existing community instead of building sacred duplicates of things that already exist. (Thanks for some of these thoughts, Matt.)

The community that's built every day in the coffee shops and bars across our neighborhoods is probably as sacred and profound as the community we try to build in our churches (and sometimes more so). And I think a group of people singing together in an effort to raise money for starving and hurting children across the world is sacred, regardless of the words or the quality of the song they sing.

After all, I think a regular loaf of Wonder Bread from the local grocer's bakery is as worthy of being communion bread as you or I are worthy of receiving it.

April 11, 2008

Accidental Worship

A friend asked me a question a few weeks ago that I've been thinking about ever since. Why do we let Nashville drive the kind of worship music we use in our churches? And while my mind chews on that question, I sometimes hear songs, like this one, that sound a lot like worship* to me (even if it was written by one of them seculars).

bird in hand, by owen (mike kinsella)

you know what you are to me
don't make me say it over and over again
it's way too late
or much too early
you know how I get
when I'm left alone to my vices
like the grown-ups did when I was a kid

I said: I'm a bird in your hand so take me as I am

you know what you are to me
don't make me say it over and over again
my left hand, a part of me
it stays late to clean up my mess
when I'm sick of all my choices
like the grown-ups I grew up with
angels and addicts

when I put my arms around you
I mean it
when I'm too drunk to stay up with you
I mean it
when I slam doors 'cause I'm pissed at you
I mean it
when I put on a suit and say "I do"
I mean it

*What does it mean to say something "sounds like worship"? I think what I meant when I thought those words is that it sounds like some of the things I want to express when I enter into worship, in a way that I want to express it sometimes. But even the question itself assumes or implies that there's a standard of worship music that our worship songs have to conform to. Big brother is watching, and his name is Chris Tomlin (or Christ Tomlin, as a friend used to accidentally type on chord charts all the time, somewhat ironically).

Don't get me wrong -- I have nothing against Chris Tomlin at all. But he's not writing worship songs for your church or your community. He's writing songs for large rock concerts, with worship lyrics that are accessible enough to appeal to a large, wide, heterogeneous audience. Incorporating some of those songs into the worship of our churches can connect us to the wider Christian world in some ways, and that's great. But I understand the concern that some people have about letting that pre-canned, wide-and-thin worship dictate all of the music we allow in our churches.

I will end this post with a HMMMM...

April 9, 2008

Sociology of Church

If you know me, you probably know that I love sociology and I love religion, especially everything about that sad hopeful mess called church. I ran across a summary paper by Josh Packard the other day, and found his research to be really interesting.

It's worth a read.

April 3, 2008

Fame and Fortune

We were interested to see what goes on at one of these Emergent Cohort gatherings last week, so we went to the local Baltimore one. To our surprise, a reporter from the City Paper was there, and the article ended up in yesterday's edition.

April 2, 2008

Westminster Confessions

Just in case we begin to think that inclusivity has completely taken over, we're assured that exclusivity is still alive and well in the American Christian world.

April 1, 2008

Behold The Atheist's Nightmare

One of the newly unveiled features on The Ship of Fools (see my plug post for the Ship) is an off-shoot of the old Fruitcake Zone called FruitTube. The first FruitTube feature is a video made by our old friend Mike Seaver from Growing Pains (you may know him as Kirk Cameron, star of the critically acclaimed Left Behind movie series). Cameron and his sidekick, Ray Comfort, co-created (and co-host) an array of evangelism tools for their company, the Way of the Master, founded in 2002.

For a more detailed introduction, including a follow-up video that makes an excellent point, check out the FruitTube section of Ship of Fools. I've included the Atheist's Nightmare video below, for all of you Mike Seaver fans to enjoy.

If you don't believe in God, or know anyone else who doesn't, please allow Kirk Cameron's friend to persuade you with this compelling argument.

The Ship of Fools

Allow me to plug one of my all-time favorite sites, The Ship of Fools, and tell you that today they are 10 years old. I've been there for only 3 of the 10, but a few features are definitely worth checking out (especially in their brand new layout and design unveiled today).

It's a magazine for Christian Unrest, so they are experts at poking fun of their own. The front page is full of a lot of wonderful foolishness, as they call it, including Gadgets for God, The Fruitcake Zone, etc. More on this later.

The discussion board forums, known as the Community, are outstanding. Kester Brewin mentioned them in his book, Signs of Emergence, and gave them a less than stellar review. I couldn't disagree more. Broken into several sub-boards by topic and tone (Purgatory being my favorite, where I've moderated for the past 2 years), they welcome all types of conversations from all kinds of perspectives. If you are up for robust debate about religious topics (or light-hearted debate about almost anything), check these out.


Community and Questions

Related to inclusivity, community is another buzz word for up and coming churches. Scot McKnight questions whether it's really brought about by missions trips, a less American culture, Benedictine covenants, or vulnerability.

What fascinates me about his post is the number of commenters who try to answer the question in just a few sentences. It's the expected result of any popular blog's comment section, but it gave me the feeling that many times one question is much more powerful and often more helpful than a whole truckload of answers.