SpiritFarmer


Time for some change
June 29, 2009, 10:45 pm
Filed under: uncategorized

Once again I’ve been guilty of inconsistency in my posting. My apologies. I’ll have some more time on my hands soon, and plan to do some sprucing up around here, and relaunch.

For those who loyally check in here, my thanks . . . and my apologies. I’ll get my mojo back, I promise.



Emergency! 2 million people in jeopardy!!
June 11, 2009, 9:14 am
Filed under: culture, media, technology

A recent survey revealed a frightening level of lack of preparation.  As a result, more than 2 million USAmerican households are in danger of losing their television signals.  These are people without a digital converter box for their TV, and won’t be able to receive the over-the-air broadcasts from TV stations.  Have you noticed the frenzy that TV channels are going through to make sure everyone is prepared.  It’s like there’s some impending natural disaster or something. It sure does reveal something about the centrality of our idolatry.  I’m completely and totally guilty of this form of idolatry myself, so I don’t mean to make some elitist, moralist stand here.

Whatever the case, I hope that they do some follow up surveys with these 2 million households.  Something along the lines of tracking increased levels of literacy, quality of family relationships, community involvement, and physical health among those who got left behind in the shift to digital TV.



Quick Take Review: The Next Evangelicalism
June 8, 2009, 8:13 pm
Filed under: books, Christendom, culture, dissertation, emerging church, missiology, Seattle, theology

Last week I got a chance to sit down with a book that’s been getting a bit of buzz in the circles I run in.  It’s called The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church From Western Cultural Captivity, by Soong-Chan Rah.  I believe it’s a very important book, and one that I hope will find its way onto many seminary course readings lists – and not just in specialty classes like “Multi-cultural Worship.”  Rah has some good words to share, but they will be put to best use in a broad marketplace.

The book is an uncomfortable read, especially for a white midle class USAmerican dude.  I have attempted to sensitize myself and the people I have influence with to issues of race, power, and control, but I know I’ve fallen well short of ideal.  There’s still a lot more to be done in my own heart, as well as in the church at large.

I strongly recommend this book.  The way it approaches the issues of racism in the church in USAmerica are helpful and prophetic.  The chapter on race is a good primer, and the chapter on how the emerging church is perpetuating most of evangelicalisms same old problems is a stinging rebuke to a bunch of people who have been a bit smug about having rescued the Western church from all of its ills.

With that said, I do have a few points of critique.  First, I’m not sure the book delivers on the title – I get that Rah is riffing on Philip Jenkins’ genius work in The Next Christendom, but unlike Jenkins, Rah doesn’t spend his primary content on describing the new form that’s coming to replace the old.  I got a very helpful picture of yet another broken aspect of the previous, broken evangelicalism, but less of a vision of what the new way forward looks like.  There are some good examples, including one here in Seattle that I can personally vouch for, but I wanted more.

Second, I don’t know how excited I can really get about the dawning of a new “ism.”  Frankly, I’m not looking for the next evangelicalism – which may have more to do with my continuing flashbacks from the last one, but another ism sounds like another opportunitiy to institutionalize forms of thought that might work right now, but will be rendered obsolete by future generations.

Third, and I admit that this is entirely selfish, but this book came out about 9 months too late.  As I was writing and editing my doctoral dissertation, I knew full well that the day would come that I had just put my biggest, hardest writing project to bed, and I’d wake up one morning to find a new book/article that would have taken my work to the next level and made it really shine.  This is that book.  No hard feelings, though, Dr. Rah.  I’ll get over it.  I’ll take the opportunity to borrow your ideas the next time around.  Congratulations, though – this is a reall solid piece of work, and one that I hope will be influential in the near future.



Found: Panda Head
June 5, 2009, 9:35 am
Filed under: humor, Seattle, the purple door

Panda Head Found

This is a real ad in the classified ads in the University of Washington’s student newspaper, The Daily (found by a star Purple Door student, Rachel).  In case you can’t read it, here’s the text:

FOUND – PANDA head, appears to be a part of a missing suit.  Recovered near 45th and Memorial.  Presumably stolen by ill-advised sorority girls during their week-long, drunken stupor.



Our church sucks 16% less than the sucky church you go to
June 3, 2009, 9:25 pm
Filed under: denomination, media

<unfair rant warning>

I know I’m not alone in having received tons of church marketing pieces in my mailbox over the years.  Sometimes, they’re simple and elegant invitations to their Easter services, sometimes they’re loud and obnoxious and clearly trying too hard to be cool.  There’s a church in my area that sends out full color, 8×10 pieces about once every two months, with a design that looks like a magazine cover.  Pretty predictable stuff, really.  Unfortunately, these marketing pieces are almost always dishonest in some significant ways.  For example, if the marketing piece has pretty people from a number of ethnic backgrounds pictured, you can almost universally guarantee that the church is full of white people, most of whome are not photogenic.

The marketing piece I’ve seen a number of times is the one I love to hate the most.  It’s the one that says, “You should check out our church, even though you think church sucks.  Because we’re not like those other churches you’ve been to.  We don’t suck.  We rock.  You’ll love our <insert musical style>, your kids will love our <insert program name>, and we promise our preacher won’t bore you.  We’re different than the rest!”  A variation on this theme is the ad that says “We’re a church for people that don’t like church.”

There are some real problems with this approach to marketing.  First, it’s lazy.  I’ve been getting the same “Our church doesn’t suck” postcards in my mailbox for a lot of years by now.  Try some originality, some creativity.  Especially the churches that try so stinking hard to convince you they’re relevant through their timely sermon topics.  If you’re creative enough to have a sermon series riffing on the latest reality TV craze, you’re creative enough to say something other than “those guys suck, and we don’t.”

Second, it shows the church’s hand – they know full well that church isn’t working for people.  In fact, that may be the precise reason they started their new church – so it wouldn’t suck.  But they’re trashing the other churches in their area by doing this – in a cowardly, backhanded way.  If they think other churches suck, they should say it straight up, instead of trying to sneak it in the back door by saying “We don’t suck.”  The subtext is there, that they think the other churches do.

Third, like I said above, it’s almost always false advertising.  O.k., I get it, there are boring, stiff, culturally stuck churches out there, and the people in our communities have had negative experiences there.  But if you’re going to be audacious enough to say that you’re different, you’d better deliver the goods.  I’ve been to a number of churches in which they’ve promised that they wouldn’t be what I’m expecting in a church.  You know where I’m going . . . but wait for it . . . Almost universally, I find exactly what I’m expecting: a church that meets in an elementary school auditorium, a band that plays the worship top 40 with skill, PowerPoint lyrics with snazzy video backgrounds, a white dude on stage preaching, and a lot of awesome programs for the kids and youth.  Hear me out, please – I don’t necessarily have a problem with any of those elements.  (In fact, there’s one near my home that has most of those elements, but they’re the real deal, and have their missional heads screwed on pretty darn well).  Just don’t try to convince me that you’re different than the other new churches in town that meet in elementary school auditoriums and do all the same stuff you do.  You’re really all very similar – again, not necessarily a horrible thing . . . just not a different thing.

Finally, a fairly blunt one.  When a church tries so hard to convince me they don’t suck, my instinctive first reaction is to think, “Wow, I bet they suck.”  It may not be true.  It’s just that when they try so hard to convince me of something, I have to wonder if they’re not really just trying to convince themselves.  I have a very similar reaction when I hear someone try to convince me of how “relevant” their ministry/magazine/podcast/worship service is.  It’s o.k., people.  I’m sure you’re warm, welcoming, caring, genuine, and love God.  Feel free to just leave it at that.  Just be who you are . . . and please, if you’re going to have photos of people in your marketing pieces, make sure they actually go to your church.

</rant>



I am so not cool
June 2, 2009, 8:47 pm
Filed under: culture, media, music

Working with a bunch of college students gives me the frequent opportunity to realize that I’m out of touch.  Whether it’s the movies I haven’t seen, or the music I haven’t heard, I know I’m behind the curve.  That’s o.k., though.  I think God gave me a gift of grace when I was in high school, and actually cared a lot about being cool.  At some point, the heavens parted, and I had a rare moment of clarity in which I realized that even in my small, private school, there were several different sub-groups that each had their own distinct version of what it meant to be cool, and they were seemingly only concerned about living up to their own groups’ versions of cool.  The punk kids didn’t try to be cool by surfers’ terms, and the preppies didn’t try to score style points with the band geeks.  In that moment of understanding, I saw that no matter how hard I tried, I’d never be cool with more than one or two of those sub-groups – being esteemed by everyone wasn’t going to be an option, so I might as well just pick a group to identify with, and be o.k. with that.

O.k., so that was a bit more soul-searching than I intended when I first started this post.  My main point is to give you, my friends, a glimpse into the depths of the uncoolness that is Steve.  Mock me at will for the following list.  I will return to the list periodically to add to my shame.  If you would like to join pathetic little me and admit to some of your coolness shortcomings, I promise not to tease you too badly . . . until I take this list viral on one of those Facebook meme thingies.  O.k., begin:

Books I’ve never read: Tom Sawyer/Huckleberry Finn, anything by Steinbeck, Blue Like Jazz, anything by Ann Lamott, anything by Dostoevsky or Tolstoy, any of the Harry Potter books.

Movies I’ve never seen: Ummm, practically anything in the past five years.  But beyond that: Cassablanca, Scarface, any of the Rocky movies, Driving Miss Daisy, Zoolander, Reality Bites, The Color Purple, anything with Miley Cyrus, Dirty Harry, When Harry Met Sally.

TV shows I’ve never seen an entire episode of: South Park, Desperate Housewives, Bones, Grey’s Anatomy, CSI: Miami, Anderson Cooper 360, Arrested Development, Walker Texas Ranger.

Apparently famous people I wouldn’t be able to pick out of a police lineup: Carmello Anthony, last year’s American Idol winner (I don’t even know who won), Soulja Boy (did I even spell that right?), R. Kelly, anyone in Pantera, Slayer, or Boyz II Men; Kanye West, Kate Hudson.

Musicians I wouldn’t be able to identify if I heard their songs (I’ve heard their names, and maybe their music, but not necessarily in the same place at the same time): Rascal Flatts, John Legend, Sigur Ros, Taylor Swift, Iron and Wine, Ciara, Diana Krall.

Hopefully you can tell that I’ve tried to be eclectic in my lameness.  I’d be happy to respond to pop quizzes, if you would like to further my embarrassment.  Go ahead, fire away!



What if we started over?

Last week, in an effort to fool myself into thinking that I’m a tech geek (even though I know zero coding languages, don’t know most of the fancy acronyms, and don’t use the tools I have access to very elegantly), I watched the 80 minute video from Google’s I/O Conference, in which they rolled out their latest brainchild, Wave.  The video demonstrates some pretty cool stuff that will be game changing – like integrating e-mail, instant messaging, blogging, Twitter, wikis, collaborative projects, and entertainment.  If you’d like, you can watch it here.

The video stimulated a lot of questions and thoughts in me, particularly about the implications of these technologies, and how they will be used (both well and poorly) by Christians.  But the statement from the video I keep going back to actually happens very early on (at about 5:00 or so).  The lead developer, who is doing the demonstration, is introducing the mentality behind Wave, and says something like this (very paraphrased):

E-mail is by far the most popular form of communication on the internet today.  That’s very interesting, because e-mail is more than four decades old.  With some relatively minor changes, it still functions in much the same way it always has.  But we decided to ask the question, “What if we were to invent e-mail from scratch today?”

In other words, they want to reimagine communication with today’s tools, rather than continually tweaking yesterday’s templates all the time.  The answers they came up with are very cool – at multiple points in the demonstration, the developers in the audience get all giddy and cheer wildly.  Congratulations Google.  I’ll leave it to others to determine whether they truly reinvented e-mail or not.  Whatever the case, they did succeed in integrating today’s tools and rules, and they certainly got a buzz going among a very important constituency.

I think the reason their question of inventing e-mail from scratch stuck out to me is that it’s very similar to a phrase I’ve heard more times than I could count from pastors and church planters – “What would we get if we just stripped down all of our Christian traditions, and went back to the way the early church did things?”  Tons of books and articles have been written, and a lot of “new” models have been offered up.  But I’m left wondering whether that question doesn’t miss the point a bit.  The fact is, Google didn’t go back 40 years and try to rebuild stuff as though nothing had changed.  No, they used the current technologies available to them to try to accomplish some breakthroughs in electronic communication.

When “we” go back to reinvent church, we go back to Acts and Paul’s epistles to try to distill the simplest expressions of what the first century sisters and brothers did.  We try to rebuild church in very simple forms again, with as few changes as possible to the original systems.  We don’t take our contexts into account nearly enough – for example, we don’t consider that Rome’s big technology was its system of roads, whereas our superhighways are virtual and global and information driven.

I’d like to suggest that this way of approaching things is broken for at least two reasons: First, as we can see from the cranky tones of some of Paul’s writing, the early church wasn’t exactly getting it right all the time.  So when we try so hard to emulate the early church, we’re pursing a broken system.  This may be one of the consequences of letting the inerrancy mentality control so much of our attention – “If it’s in the Bible, it’s got to be literally true, and therefore, should be replicated as closely as possible.”  But if that’s what we’re doing, the very best we can hope for is to build a form of church that gives people the opportunity to be greedy, gossipy, sexually immoral, and power hungry.  (Hmmmm, if that’s our standard of measure, maybe we’ve gotten closer to the first century church than we had thought!)

Second, we’re not being honest about what we’re trying to do.  We’re not even trying very hard to go all the way back.  We take a vast amount of theological, historical, and cultural baggage with us when we look back.  Even people who read authors like N.T. Wright in order to understand the first century Palestinian context stop too short.  When I hear people saying they want to do church the way the early church did it, they don’t really mean they intend to strip down their evangelical systematic theology, their Western wealth and (white) power, their Protestant Reformation, their Christendom power, their Augustinian conceptions . . . they just want the pragmatics of meeting in peoples’ houses and sharing possessions and giving money away to those in need.  The idealism is commendable in some ways, but it’s mostly just that – idealism, and an artificial idealism at that.*

I would like to suggest that if we really want to get back to basics in the way we embody the bride of Christ, we do so more honestly.  When Pentecost took place, and the church was both born and unleashed in a series of radical events, they were creating something truly new, without a template.  They had a religious memory and heritage, which they honored in many ways, but they also knew the rules had changed.  We, too, have a religious memory and heritage – some of which can rightly be honored.  But if we’re going to do/be church the way they did it back then, we’ve got to be creative enough and courageous enough to know when to break the rules of our day, and take some risks.  In our fear of abandoning “orthodoxy,” I think the vast majority of us lack the courage to break those rules.  We’re so beholden to our denominations, our subculture, our seminaries, and (once again) our power that we chicken out.

So what do you think?  Am I wrong that most of us haven’t tried very hard to go all the way back?  Am I unfair in my assessments?  This post if fairly off the cuff (though it’s taken me quite a long time to write it).  Please tell me if you disagree – I’d like to tease out my own thinking on this some more, so I’m not looking for a fight.

*I’ve not read Frank Viola’s Pagan Christianity, but from what I understand, he deals with a lot of the stuff that’s been layered onto “church” over the years.  I also understand that he’s squarely on the idealistic side.  If I’m wrong on this, please let me know – I just felt the need to note that I’m not trying to either plagiarize him or take cheap shots at him.