May 31, 2008

Obama Strategists Are Smart

Whether you like him or not, this email I received from Obama's campaign is genius. These are the kinds of things that have made him so competitive so far.

From: Steve Hildebrand
To: Jason Rhodes
Date: Sat, May 31, 2008 at 10:19 AM
Subject: "Democrats Win Landslide Victory"?

Jason --

You'll like this.

This morning someone forwarded me an email sent by the arm of the Republican Party that raises money for their Senate candidates.

The subject of the message was "Democrats Win Landslide Victory," and the writer, Republican former Senator Bill Frist, admits: "I have a real fear of waking up to this headline after the elections this fall."

He goes on to explain fears among Washington power brokers about Barack Obama's grassroots support and voter registration efforts.

He's right to be worried -- we're bringing new people into the process, and Obama supporters are organizing in communities across the country like never before.

But it can't happen without your support. Frist was raising money ahead of tonight's financial reporting deadline -- the same deadline we face.

This is the last opportunity to have your donation counted for May, and the last chance to have a meaningful impact on the final three primary contests.

Make your donation of $25 count right now:

Here's a little bit more from Frist's email:
From: Senator Bill Frist, M.D.
Date: Thu, May 29, 2008 at 3:59 PM
Subject: "Democrats Win Landslide Victory"

Dear Republican Supporter,

I have a real fear of waking up to this headline after the elections this fall. [...]

In key states, news accounts indicate Democrats are outpacing Republicans registering voters. We also know Barack Obama's campaign is utilizing the Internet to raise record amounts of money to support his campaign and Democrats nationally ... all in the hope that new voters and record resources will produce a Democrat landslide victory this fall.

There's so much at risk, and conservatives I talk with from all across the country are feeling the rumblings of "what could be." [...]

[...] I ask for your immediate help in supporting Republican candidates running for U.S. Senate by making a contribution of $10, $25, $50 or even $100 to the NRSC. [...]

What's amazing about this message referencing Barack Obama is that it's not from the McCain campaign. It's not even about the presidential race.

It's about the forces of the status quo, who don't want to change the way Washington works, worried about the prospect of ordinary people taking their rightful place in a political process that is too often dominated by lobbyists and special interests.

They've seen the writing on the wall, and they know that when Barack is the nominee, we're going to continue building a movement for change to elect Barack Obama and bring about change from the bottom up at every level of office.

There are only a few hours left before tonight's reporting deadline, so please give whatever you can now:

Thank you,


Steve Hildebrand
Deputy Campaign Manager
Obama for America

May 29, 2008

Firefox 3 Download Day

Mozilla is releasing Firefox 3 soon (no date announced yet) and they're trying to set a world record for most downloads in a day. (HT: WaSP)

Download Day 2008
If you already use Firefox, click the banner above and "pledge" to download on Download Day -- you'll get an email reminder in case you don't hear about the release date when it's announced. If you use Camino, Safari, Opera, etc. as your browser, download Firefox 3 anyway, just because you care. If you use IE, well, you make me sad. Download Firefox 2 right now. (If you happen to use IE 6 or below, you make Baby Jesus cry.)

May 28, 2008

Pete Rollins Answers

Pete blogged about people's tendency to stay in churches even when they don't agree with how they are being run. It was a challenging post, but I was confused by his definitive point. Is the only option for those who don't agree to leave the church altogether, until they find a church with which they can agree on everything? My implication is that such a church doesn't exist, so it isn't much of an option.

I asked Pete that question in the comments. He responded in a new post today.

I really enjoy a lot of what he's said, including in particular:

The wager is that, by stepping into the unknown and having the courage to start something that one does not really have any idea about, something truly emancipatory may take place.

...a choice not between two positive alternatives but rather between one linguistic system and a step into the unknown.

I am saying that not knowing what ought to be done is to already know what ought to be done. In other words, ‘I do not know what I should do and I must step out and do it’! This is not then some commitment to do ‘church’ better by either improving it or starting a new one. For this reconfiguring will still be taking place in the very waters that sustains it. It is not a saying ‘no’ to one known in favour of another known, rather it involves saying ‘no’ to one known in favour of the unknown.

Go read the rest of his post to fully dig into it!

May 27, 2008

Why Conversation Is Better Than Argument

Adrenaline splashes the walls of your stomach, your blood pounds hard in the tips of your fingers and your face is flushed with color as you close an air-tight case.

It's the Arguer's Rush, and I looked for it in all my conversations, waiting for someone to step into the dance so I could push back. But lately I've been avoiding the dance entirely, and not because I agree with people more, either.

In fact, I'm much more likely to respond to someone's challenge with a nod of my head and something like, "Good point, I disagree, but good point." And to the expert arguer, that's a maddening response. She wants me to pick up my sword and swing. I might believe differently, but she wants me to prove it, usually so she can tear my proof apart. It's not surprising that over time I stopped falling for it.

I still love argument, but I'm being drawn more and more to conversation. And I think that conversation is different than argument (and better) because of a few of the assumptions that arguments make.

  1. Argument assumes that there's only one right answer. Each side tries to prove that they're right and you're wrong. If both sides are partially right AND wrong, the argument is a waste of time. Conversation can include various ideas without the assumption that only one is right.

  2. Argument assumes that the right answer is represented. Two arguers aren't going to consider that they're both wrong. Conversation can withstand the suggestion that none of the participants know the right answer.

  3. Argument assumes that the better arguer is right. This is why good arguers love to argue, and why I'm less likely to respond to a request for examples and proof. Just because you can quickly dismiss them doesn't mean you're right. In conversation, the best arguers can be deflected by an off-topic suggestion, acknowledging a good point they made, or saying the magic words: "I don't know".

  4. Argument assumes that everyone thinks they're right. When you enter into an argument with someone, you're telling everyone listening that you're 100% sure about what you're arguing. Conversation can allow people to suggest any idea, no matter how loosely held, to explore the breadth of the topic.

Of course, conversations can do all of the things above, and become arguments. But an argument is grounded in these assumptions while a conversation can fully exist without them. And that's my argument for why conversation is better than argument. Perhaps you'd like to have a conversation with me about it in the comments section below?

May 21, 2008

Terror Alert Level Red

This rumor
, no matter how unlikely, is the greatest threat to America that the world has ever seen.

May 20, 2008

Michael Bleecker Said It

We don’t worship to raise money, attract crowds, heal human hearts, recruit workers, improve church morale, give talented musicians an opportunity to fulfill their calling, help marriages stay together, evangelize the lost among us, motivate people for service projects, etc. To the degree that we “do worship” for these reasons, to that degree it ceases to be worship.

~Michael Bleecker, of The Village Church in Highland Village, TX
(taken from his comment on my What Is Worship post)

More thoughts from me later.

May 19, 2008

Free Sitepoint Photoshop Book

Um, it's only available for another twenty-some days, but it's a free eBook from Sitepoint. Even if you think you don't need it, download it. Free books are proof that God exists.

I Don't Understand Why We Need A Manifesto

There's been a lot of blogging about the document, drawn up by a group of evangelicals, known as the Evangelical Manifesto. You can read the summary here, or the full length thing here, or go to its very own blog here.

They list three major mandates for Evangelicals:

  1. Reaffirm our identity. Evangelicals are Christians who define themselves, their faith, and their lives according to the Good News of Jesus of Nazareth.
  2. This isn't exactly revolutionary, is it? It even admits, later on, that "to define our faith and our life by the Good News of Jesus is [not] unique to us," which is something I'm glad to see added. But I think I'm confused about the point of this... point.

  3. Reform our own behavior. Always reforming, if you will.
  4. This is a really good principle to live by, especially when it comes to religion. All religions.

  5. Rethink our place in public life.
  6. I can't help but think that this might be better accomplished by less manifestos.

I don't really want to complain about or denounce the document. I'm actually quite thankful for a lot of the things said in it, especially in the way things were said in a lot of places. I'm just not sure I understand why we needed it.

Tony Jones Asks Good Questions

I wasn't sure, originally, if I was interested in Tony Jones's book The New Christians when I first heard of it coming out. While wasting a few hours feed surfing and clicking through to other sites, I found an unedited video of Jones interviewing a guy who goes by the online name of "Pastorboy" -- an evangelical pastor who's been consistently vocal in his anti-emergent sentiment. I was so intrigued by the interview that I went out and bought the book that day (and really enjoyed it, too).

Now, on Jones's blog, he's posted a series of related webisodes, and the latest (#5) includes clips from the interview I saw. It's worth watching, but I've included one of my favorite segments below the video. Great questions to think about.

Pastorboy: The trouble that people from my worldview kinda really have with emergent is they don't understand it, they can't nail it down, they can't get it.... Where we have a problem is when there's kinda some squishy or untidy language that's being used. I think a lot of problem has to do with there's no real statement of faith.

Tony Jones: But the Bible doesn't have a statement of faith.

PB: The Bible is a statement of faith.

TJ: Okay, but why can't I just say then, that's my statement of faith? Why do I have to give you another one? Why isn't that one good enough?

PB: It is good enough. But there's parts of the statement of faith, like for example, who is Jesus?

TJ: Okay, I'd say, Jesus is who the Bible says Jesus is.

PB: Okay, but let's nail that down.

TJ: Why? That's my question! Why?

May 14, 2008

Wise Words For the Church From 37Signals

Jason Fried is often asked how his company created the culture that they are widely known for. His answer is one of those unexpected (maybe we should start expecting them) sermons from the Secular World. You should read the whole extremely short post. An even shorter snippet is below.

“What do you recommend we do to set up an open, sharing company culture like yours?”

My answer: You don’t create a culture. Culture happens. It’s the by-product of consistent behavior.

Real cultures are built over time. They’re the result of action, reaction, and truth. They are nuanced, beautiful, and authentic.

May 9, 2008

What In The World Is Worship? (seriously, tell me)

I've been leading worship for various groups and churches for about eight years. I enjoy the interaction I have with the people who are there worshiping with us, I enjoy the making of music especially with a good band behind me, and I've at times enjoyed the emotional response that seems to come from some intense encounters with God.

In fact, it was worship that brought my wife and I back to the church after a year-long sabbatical. Now leading for a small church plant in Baltimore, we're being faced with some decisions that require a lot of thought. And when I think a lot, I write.

The Background

Matt Redman banned music worship from his church for a month because his pastor was worried about it. Redman led his church out of that time with a new song he'd written called "The Heart of Worship", where he sings, "I'll bring you more than a song for a song in itself is not what you have required." And on they sang.

I've heard people express concern that consumerist society drives us to come to worship services looking for what they can bring us, rather than what we can bring to God. I've often reacted to these concerns by wondering what, in fact, we really can bring to God that he doesn't already have. But it's evident in almost any successful church you see that worship is driven entirely by what people want. There's often little difference between a rock concert and a worship service, besides maybe a lack of quality in the worship service that comes from an attempt to emulate the popular Nashville sound.

A friend named Ben in Minnesota leads worship at Solomon's Porch, a church trying to rethink church. To get away from the spell of Nashville emulation, Ben and his friends there decided they'd write all their own worship music, and let it come out of the community where they live. And rather than keeping the worship to a 20-minute set at the beginning of the service, they try to let each service use music wherever it's needed and natural, "recognizing that that's how we really function in life, listening to music in a variety of different ways and reasons" Ben explained.

Darren Hufford argues on The Ooze today that worship has become an emotional addiction for churchgoers. At one point he says, "New Testament worship is actually a "consummation" of a marriage relationship between the individual and God. In other words, it is not a corporate event, and for Heaven sakes we don't need a leader!" It got me thinking -- we really do think of worship as an individual me-and-God event that we sort of do in the midst of other people, strangely. But is it really an individual event, or should it be?

All of this is especially relevant to the situation we, as in my church, find ourselves in. Having just found a permanent location right in the heart of Baltimore city, we started having service last Sunday. And as you might expect in an urban set up, we have neighbors above and below our space. So even though our drummer bought extra special quiet sticks and we kept the electric guitar amp down as low as we could, we were still way too loud and received a complaint or two the next day.

And all of a sudden, all of these issues are presented to us on a platter -- what does worship look like, how necessary is music, what can we do to rethink worship in the context we're in, how can we coexist in tight quarters with our neighbors and respect their right to coexist there without being taken advantage of?

The feeling I get from the people I worship with is that they would like to keep the music and just make it softer, maybe lose the drums and electric instruments altogether but continue with the music worship we've all grown to love. I would be more interested in deconstructing worship and trying to see if there are other ways at getting at it that don't involve music at all, perhaps, or involve it in new or different ways. Talking to a new friend about it yesterday made me think, "Why don't I just go ahead and try that then?"

Which leads me to the next question that seems to have stumped a lot of people. Matt Redman sings "I'll bring you more than a song" but their worship is predominantly music. Solomon's Porch writes their own songs, but they're still doing music. And Hufford spends a lot of time talking about what worship shouldn't be, but doesn't recommend much in the way of what it should be. What does worship without music look like? (And don't say feeding orphans.)

When I think about what I'd like to do, I have trouble coming up with very much. My entire church life has consisted of music worship, as has most anyone's who grew up in the church in this generation. Leaving it behind for the sake of being different is a waste of energy and full of its own prides and nastiness, none of which I want. But when the situation presents itself so clearly, as it has in our circumstances, I want to step out but have trouble knowing where to step.

If you have ideas, I'd love to hear them.

May 5, 2008

New Churches As Social Networks

Minnesota pastor, author, and blogger Doug Pagitt recently said,

I think that Christianity is fundamentally a people movement that we should understand in social networking theory, not a belief system that we distribute through institutional applications and franchising models.

It's an interesting idea--that Christianity should be understood as connected people, not as distributed beliefs. That who we are as a church is based around who we are as a group of people and how we connect to one another, and not focused primarily on the common beliefs we hold.

But wait, I hear the concerned masses cry out: people have to agree on a set of beliefs to be a Christian church. Make the set as small as you like, they demand, but you can't entirely remove "belief system" from what it means to understand Christianity. I think that's true.

But no social network can exist without some degree of commonality among its members. The Pomeranian Lovers' Facebook Group doesn't require proof that its members love Pomeranians. But what Pomeranian hater would want to join such a group? And what harm would it do to the goals, mission, thrust, and objectives of the group if he or she did?

These kind of questions are really about belief management styles, or so I'll call them. Social networks have a passive belief gate, letting in anyone who wishes to join, but trusting that a) people who don't share the beliefs and vision of the group will be unmotivated to join and b) that if people who don't share those beliefs do join, no harm is done. Group members will understand, for instance, that a Pomeranian Lovers' group will have events geared toward their love of Pomeranians, etc.

In contrast, traditional evangelical churches usually use an active/aggressive belief gate, allowing visiting members to observe the service for a time with no belief obligation before urging them to make a commitment (become a member), involving a signed agreement to the church's beliefs. And liberal churches often use no belief gate at all, unless the beliefs are more social justice oriented.

For years the churches on the right have aggressively pursued this sort of orthodoxy in their congregations, while churches on the left have adopted inclusivity-at-any-cost, to the point of pretending there are no beliefs that hold their group together.

What many of us are beginning to realize is that the people who don't want to be shoved into a box of pre-packaged beliefs are equally disinterested in joining a beliefless club.

Even senseless social networks (like Facebook's "10,000,000 People Challenge" whose sole purpose is to get ten million people to join) are drawing from people's desire to be part of something bigger than themselves while working toward a common goal, no matter how trivial.

The challenge for the new, dare I say emerging church is to understand how to become a network that clearly displays its common beliefs without making them a requirement for membership. There are folks who are doing this, and doing it well from what I can tell, and my inbred inclination is to contact those people and ask them for a bottle of their strategy to use in my own franchise of their successful church model.

But that's exactly how it doesn't work. This kind of network springs up from its surrounding environment. The more you talk to other people, the more inspired you become, in theory, to see how their general ideas (or sometimes their opposites) will play out in your own neighborhood context.

That's why the franchise model is less effective for this kind of understanding of church. The aggressive belief gate is meant to be portable, allowing churches to send out church plant franchises without too much worry that they'll misrepresent the beliefs of the larger church. But when you slide a shiny membership application in front of many new church-goers, they look at many of the questions and scratch their heads.

"Well, I'm sure I don't agree on everything about God with everyone who goes here. But I'm here because I want to continue to explore all those things with you all. Is that enough?"

Part of being a people's church is knowing how we'll answer that question.

The Limits of Love

If you haven't heard by now, an Austrian man has confessed to holding his daughter captive in a basement dungeon for the past 24 years, while fathering seven children with her in the process.

The story, as it's being reported so far, is that Mr. Fritzl began abusing his daughter Elisabeth when she was 11 years old, finally drugging her and locking her downstairs when she was 18. Over the next 24 years, Fritzl continued his abuse by repeatedly raping his captive daughter, leading to the birth of seven children.

Of the seven children, one died at birth (Fritzl disposed of the body using the house furnace), three were taken care of by Fritzl and his wife, and three remained captive in the cell below, having never seen daylight until the dungeon was discovered last week.

The most recent reports explain that Fritzl could avoid prison entirely with a successful insanity plea. They go on to say that even if he is found guilty, the Austrian system will most likely provide a 15 year sentence at the maximum, reduced to 10 years for good behavior--less than half the amount of time Elisabeth spent in her horrific dungeon.

If Mr. Fritzl were to serve his 10 years in prison, make his way out of his country, and somehow show up at the door of my church, I honestly don't know what I'd do or how I'd react. When the door of my church says, "Come as you are" I have to wonder how far I'm willing to extend the invitation.

And Elisabeth herself--does anyone really expect her to forgive her father? I can't imagine how she could, but where's the line that separates the unforgiveable things from the forgiveable ones?