JordonCooper Rotating Header Image

Lent

The Present Church

Below is a rather wordy article for my denomination‘s magazine to help get people thinking outside the box in how we see the local church. Not sure if it worked but people have been saying nice things about it to my face at least :-)

For Lent this year, I decided to give up politics. In the past I had given up caffeine, chocolate, television, and even NHL hockey playoffs but this year I decided to step back from following politics which is something I spend too much time thinking and reading about. Of course this meant trying to ignore the Quebec election of which I had some success in doing. On Monday, March 27th, I was agonizing over the final edits of this article, which was supposed to be about the future of the church. I decided to take a brief television break and was confronted with some really boring choices. While surfing channels, I found myself watching CTV Newsnet and seeing what the talking heads were saying about the Quebec election. Before I caught myself, I heard the panel chortling to themselves over the comment, “Who could have predicted that this result was going to happen to Jean Charest?” I remember the exact same comment being said during former Saskatchewan Premier Roy Romanow‘s final election when he was handed a minority. A couple of hours before that I remember a well known political commentator leading off his networks coverage with, “Is there anything that will stand between the NDP and another strong majority? No there isn’t”. Well the prognosticators were wrong that evening as well.

The phrase made me think about a book I had read a couple of years ago by Canadian political scientist Thomas Homer-Dixon called The Ingenuity Gap. One of the books recurring themes is that we live in a world with a tremendous amount of variables which are overwhelming and make it very difficult to predict the outcome of our decisions. The book goes to show how complex our inter-connected world is and how poorly we understand how it works despite our proclamations to the opposite. From the food chain in the English Channel, to water planning in Las Vegas, to international markets during the Asian currency crisis; time and time again experts missed something that invalidated all of calculations for the future. Not only is it hard to know all of the variables that will influence our future, we are constantly hit by fads that while seem important, really aren’t (like election news stories over which tie color resonates best with voters)

As I returned to edit my article for Mosaic, I realized that I was probably making the exact same mistake. There are too many variables, too many things that can change. If the all knowing pollsters and Mike Duffy can’t forecast a 40 day election, how do we talk about the future of the church farther than that? All of the variables of culture plus the complexities of denomination and local church dynamics make it hard to predict any future.

So what can we talk about? Instead of talking about the future, it may be helpful to discuss the the factors that are happening now that will impact the future. To often organizations live in the past as it is easier to understand and don’t have the needed conversations on what is happening the present that will shape their future.

Post-Christian Canada and the West

In a couple of books I have read in the last year, they have referenced some recent studies that point out by 2040, under 5% of people in England may be Christian (only 9.4% are attending church now) According to church statistics, the four main UK denominations, the Church of England, the Roman Catholic, the Methodist, and United Reformed Churches, are all suffering from a long-term decline in attendance figures. The good thing is that they realize this and are trying new ideas to reverse the decline. The Anglican and Methodist Churches have started their Fresh Expressions initiative which encourages new expressions of church like alternative worship, and even the Archbishop of Canterbury plans to be broadcasting his sermons on YouTube in an acknowledgment that more and more Anglicans just aren’t in church on Sundays. While some of the initiatives talked about as other Fresh Initiatives seemed a little off the mark, it is encouraging that the Church of England the Methodist Church in England are acknowledging that something has to change.

In Australia, things aren’t that much more encouraging but in a recent book called The Forgotten Ways, missiologist Alan Hirsch sees it this way

A combination of recent research in Australia indicates that about 10-15 percent of that population is attracted to what we call the contemporary church growth model. In other words, this model has significant “market appeal” to about 12 percent of our population. The more successful forms of this model tend to be large, highly professionalized, and overwhelmingly middle class, and express themselves culturally using contemporary, “seeker friendly” language and middle-of-the-road music forms. They structure themselves around “family ministry” and therefore offer multi-generational services. Demographically speaking, they tend to cater largely to what might be called the “family-values-segment”–good, solid, well-educated citizens who don’t abuse their kids, who pay their taxes, and who live largely, what can be called a suburban lifestyle.

Not only is this type of church largely made up of Christian people who fit this profile, the research indicates that these churches can also be very effective in reaching non-Christian people fitting the same demographic description–the people within their cultural reach. That is, the church does not have to cross any significant cultural barriers in order to communicate the gospel to that cultural context. (pg 35)

In the United States, the number attracted to the idea of church may be as high as 35%. Canadian polls suggest that about 20 – 30% of Canadians may share values that would be open to going to church (approximately 20% of people say they attending church regularly but that number is often inflated by people exaggerating how often they attend church). That number is a both a blessing and a curse. It shows that at least about six to seven million Canadians are open to the values articulated by the church which do provide a large pool of Canadians for the church to draw from but even that is difficult as pollster George Barna sees the family values segment of the population to fall by half in approximately fifteen years.

While nothing is wrong with those within that segment, most of us as Free Methodists would be there and by in large, they are not that offensive of a people group. Six million Canadians is nothing to sneeze at and does provide a significant opportunity for the church but that is only part of the story.

Of course what is to make of the people outside of that family values segment? Depending on how one looks at the numbers, anywhere from 65% to 85% of Canadians are removed by various degrees from that category and from those values. They make up the vast bulk of Canadians that have to overcome some obstacles to come to our churches as the church is not even on their radar. According to what Alan Hirsch writes in The Forgotten Ways, in addition to not being on the radar for most people, a large percentage are at some level alienated by the church. From bad experiences, to strong preconceived ideas about Christianity or from a cultural context that is hostile to Christianity, it would be as hard for them to be a part of a church as it would be many Free Methodists to join a non-Christian religion. Doing “church” better; PowerPoint, better music, wittier or more theologically astute sermons probably won’t make any impact on those that are outside the church because they are unlikely to bother entering the doors in the first place.

The other factor in society is that there has been a breakdown in the mass markets. Where at one point a church used to pick a neighborhood and then put down it’s roots and if church was “done right”, it had a good chance to reach their area for Christ. Depending on the church, property values actually rose if you were closer to a church. A middle class neighborhood would have middle class people in it with middle class values. Today that is changing where traditional people groups have segmented and segmented again. The mass market is shrinking and those neighborhoods are made up of a variety of sub-groups.

What does that mean for the future of the church?

While it is popular to lament the loss of the Christian fabric in Canadian culture and condemn those that don’t share our values, that probably won’t do anything to reverse the change. Complaining that people don’t go to church anymore won’t change anything.

When Anglican Bishop nd missionary, Leslie Newbiggin came back to England at the age of 65 after spending most of his career in India, this is what he found.

Ministry in England, he discovered, “is much harder than anything I met in India. There is a cold contempt for the Gospel which is harder to face than opposition. . . . England is a pagan society and the development of a truly missionary encounter with this very tough form of paganism is the greatest intellectual and practical task facing the Church” (Unfinished Agenda).

It is hard, Newbigin knew, for a Hindu or a Muslim to come to worship Christ. For an Englishman, it would seem, it had become even harder.

Whats life for the church going to be like in a post-Christian Canada. A world in which we are seen more and more irrelevant? There isn’t a definite roadmap or program to follow and I think the mass segmentation will force the church for the first time in a long time to chart their own paths as we enter into new territory. That being said, there are some that have been at this for a little longer and have adjusted to their own contexts.

The Freeway in downtown Hamilton is both a church community and coffee shop serving both those looking for coffee and a place to connect online as well as the urban poor.

Three Nails in Pittsburgh is an Episcopal church plant that has embedded itself into the community by meeting a need that I never would have thought of and that is making really good New York City style hot dogs. They helped open a restaurant that used to be called Hot Dogma but was sued over the name so now they are called Franktuary. Their motto in case you are wondering is And the meat shall inherit the earth.

Harambee in Pasadena, California Back in 1982, Navarro Avenue in Pasadena, California had the highest daytime crime rate in Southern California. Believing that the only way they could make a difference was to move into the neighborhood, Dr. John Perkins started a ministry on “blood corner” (named because of the drive by shootings). Twenty five years later it had largely changed the neighborhood and curbed the violence. Not only that but it has prepared two generations of church leaders as well on a campus that is essentially several small houses with a common backyard. It doesn’t take much to change the world.

The same can be said about emerging congregations and church plants in the Free Methodist Church. Ecclesiax and ThirdSpace reach artists and creative types in different ways because their local contexts are different.

Some Anglican churches in London, England empowered and nurtured new faith communities who met in their own buildings. Most often with no staff or clergy, these communities formed what is now called alternative worship and is engaging a portion of England’s population that would never enter into a traditional worship context. At the same time they give new life to traditional congregations.

Some churches in urban areas saw what a place called Paragraph NY did, which is create a place that is essentially a gym but instead is a place for writers and creative types to work. They looked at a lot of unused space, got a good coffee maker, and wireless Internet and opened up the doors… and people came in.

At the end of the day, the church is going to have to learn to reconnect with their community as opposed to rely on the community to come to them. Whether or not churches can do that will largely determine how long of a future they have.

The Future of Theological Education

I remember being a conference years ago when the comparison was made between the average income of baby boomers measured against things like education, mortgage, and transportation. Then they compared my generation. Everything was more expensive but especially education and at that moment I realized that the Freedom 55 commercials were not targeted at me. The presenter put it into what it meant for the church. To go to seminaries like Wheaton or Fuller, it meant that you either had to be older and saved up some money, come from a wealthy family, or willing to take on a large amount of student loan debt. This has affected even smaller Bible Colleges who are faced with an aging donor base and less contributions which has meant higher tuitions.

The costs associated with education keep many interested learners at arms length. A building costs money; faculty need to be paid and they expect certain privileges associated with their position. Beyond that, the physical space of education limits the number of students who can participate (those who can get to the location, those who can fit into the facilities). After a while the school’s priorities shift toward the necessities of taking care of the building and faculty, and these begin to displace the original educational goals.

This starts to impact the wider church in a couple of ways as it also influences students. As I heard one seminary faculty member say it, whether the student or his family is footing the expensive cost of seminary education, it makes students less inclined or less able to enter the mission field or enter into a ministry context that does not pay a certain amount of money or safety.

The long term consequences of that happening to more church leaders is easy to see. Only wealthy churches have access to quality theological thinkers and the church may have to withdraw from areas that can not afford a certain level of compensation.

There has been others who have seen this happening and are working to create an alternative future. City Seminary of New York is a collaborative project of churches across New York City who brings in theologians and speakers to help church leaders in their local contexts. Fees are as low as $10 (to cover meals). The Alternative Seminary in Philadelphia is developing training materials and offering classes for those that can not afford it. Closer to home, in Kingston there is the Invisible College which tackles big issues from a Christian worldview. Topics like globalization and how technology impacts our lives have been past topics. Resonate has hosted several local discussions with theologians and thinkers over the last three years in Toronto and Hamilton all for free.

While seminaries and many local churches have been slower to adopt this model in favor of selling content, more and more universities are giving away their lectures, course work, and even tests for free over the Internet. M.I.T.’s OpenCourseWare allows you to tap into M.I.T.’s vast teaching resources as a teacher or self-learner for free. It doesn’t grant you a degree or credits but it does share the wisdom. TED, a world leading conference of big thinkers has recently used Google Video to make their entire conference available for free online. While I questioned the Archbishop of Canterbury’s use of YouTube when the idea was floated, almost 8000 people have watched his latest video in three weeks, far more than what would have heard him speaking in a church and that number will keep climbing.

While the Free Methodist Church in Canada’s Foundational Courses and the Archbishop of Canterbury’s efforts come from a denomination, many of the other alternative forms of theological education are coming from the grassroots of the church. Motivated local church leaders striving to make a difference in their communities. Whether that will be online or offline in churches and third spaces, in partnership with existing educational institutions or creating new ones, how it shapes up and we decide to view new forms of education will go a long way in shaping how we see church.

Discipleship

This is related to the discussion on theological education but we can’t ignore the issue of discipleship or lack of it in local churches.

In his book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience, Ron Sider points out that evangelicals do a rather poor job of living out what we preach. In fact in some areas that evangelicals profess to care about, we tend to live worse then those we profess to want to “save”. Robert Webber writes on this topic in his book, Ancient Future Evangelism where he suggests that discipleship is a forgotten practice in many churches, a theme which is echoed in Dallas Willard’s book which is aptly named, The Great Omission. Duke University’s, Stanley Hauerwas suggests that we have confused North American values with Christianity and reduced being a Christian to being a good neighbor and good American [or Canadian]. Eugene Peterson simply asks that how can we know so much and live so badly. Both Eugene Peterson and Dallas Willard talk about the church services.

Eugene Peterson says this,

The operating biblical metaphor regarding worship is sacrifice. We bring ourselves to the altar and let God do to us what God will. We bring ourselves to the eucharistic table, entering into that grand fourfold shape of the liturgy that shapes us: taking, blessing, breaking, giving—the life of Jesus taken and blessed, broken and distributed; and that eucharistic life now shapes our lives as we give ourselves, Christ in us, to be taken, blessed, broken and distributed in lives of witness and service, justice and healing.

But this is not the American way. The major American innovation in the congregation is to turn it into a consumer enterprise. Americans have developed a culture of acquisition, an economy that is dependent on wanting and requiring more. We have a huge advertising industry designed to stir up appetites we didn’t even know we had. We are insatiable. It didn’t take long for some of our colleagues to develop consumer congregations. If we have a nation of consumers, obviously the quickest and most effective way to get them into our churches is to identify what they want and offer it to them. Satisfy their fantasies, promise them the moon, recast the gospel into consumer terms—entertainment, satisfaction, excitement and adventure, problem-solving, whatever. We are the world’s champion consumers, so why shouldn’t we have state-of-the-art consumer churches?

Dallas Willard says something similar but in just three sentences,

We must flatly say that one of the greatest contemporary barriers to meaningful spiritual formation in Christlikeness is overconfidence in the spiritual efficacy of ‘regular church services,’ of whatever kind they may be. Though they are vital, they are not enough. It is that simple.

Even if we get every other aspect of church right and people do engage with us again. What do they get when they get here. An entire “discipleship industry” has formed within the church trying to sell me an answer to that question and there are a lot of different opinions.

As technology and culture change, it changes the world in which we learn in. What would have been considered deviant behaviour a generation ago isn’t questioned today as being abnormal. I remember reading a book on how young Christians needed to act and it concentrated on issues like how long should your hair be and if sideburns are okay. It was as funny to read then as it is today but it does go a long ways in determining what we saw were important things back then. Today, things have changed. A friend showed me his high school son’s instant messenger buddy list. Every single one of them was a sexual reference. While we were talking about that, a song came over by an underage artist talking about sex acts with her boyfriend. What does the church look like in a culture that is changing, materialistic, confused, and intolerant of how it sees the church being intolerant? While the much of the discussion centers on the forms we use for discipling, statements from many theologians suggest that we may have to rethink what a Christian is in today’s world.

If there is good news in all of this, it is that many Free Methodists are having these kinds of discussions all over the place, both formally (like at last years Ecclesiology Study Commission) and informally. Many of those voices will go into papers and ideas to presented at the next General Conference and of course are being discussed in local churches. As I told a colleague not that long ago, some of us are too young to have experienced the “good old days” of the church but this is the time that God wanted us to be here for and there is something exciting about that.

Easter Monday

Some Easter thoughts…
  • While I did try to avoid partisan politics this Lent season (and it was worth it), my more serious disciple was to reflect and try to deal with some of the emotions I feel on a daily basis at work.  I did some exercises, journalled them, and talked them over which was good for me.  Looking back at it, the one characteristic that I struggle with the most are those that are self-centred to the extreme, regardless of race, class, or education.  It has always bugged me as it an antithesis of community which I value very highly.  I am working on some exercises to help with my attitude as that is probably the best short term solution.  Eliminating self-centred people will probably take a little longer and of course the first one who needs to be dealt with is me.
  • Speaking of work, Easter Sunday was both long and fun.  I thought it would be nice to make sure we had some chocolates to hand out to the residents, so did some other co-workers so there was a LOT of chocolate to be given out to the residents and kids who came for our meal time.  Long in that there was a lot of people all day along around.  I was tired enough that when I got home for work last night, I slept to this morning.  So much for Easter supper, I was out of it.
  • Of course this morning after all of the sleep and a thermos of coffee, I was like a hummingbird and I was flying all over the place.
  • On Friday night I was at Jerry Reimer’s 60th birthday party and I felt horrible.  My feet and my hands hurt so badly from the neuropathy that I couldn’t stand it.  I had heard of Neuragen before but saw an ad in the paper.  Wendy went out and got some for me at Shoppers Drug Mart and I whined about the price but I was hurting so bad, I wasn’t going to take it back.  So I put some on where it hurt and it stopped hurting, I waited for the pain to return as it always has.  It didn’t which blew me away.  You just drop it on where it hurts and the pain goes away.  When I am in pain, it takes about 3 minutes for me to figure out all of the places to put it but then it is sleep, wonderful uninterupted sleep.  I almost forgot what that feels like.  It says no more than five times a day but I just need it at night when trying to sleep.  During the day, I am active enough that it doesn’t really bother me.  Apparently this naturopathy stuff does work.  More on its effectiveness with diabetics here.
  • We are closer to purchasing a car today.  Lee and Wendy went test driving while I worked.  Edmunds.com makes life a lot easier for us used car buyers.  Tomorrow will be D-Day if all works out well.
  • Bishop N.T. Wright in the Guardian ::

When two world’s collide

I am writing an article on the future of the church for the Free Methodist Church in Canada’s magazine.  For me, the first 90% of any article or longer writing piece is easy.  The last 10% of the writing is horribly hard.  So last night I decided to watch some television while I edited and I turned to CTV Newsnet which was covering the Quebec election which causes major tension across all of Canada.  Forgetting for a moment that I gave up politics for Lent, I found myself inspired to rewrite the article while watching the coverage which may or may not mean that Jean Charest is the saviour of the Free Methodist Church.  It also means that I am doing the worst job of keeping an Lenten promise since I was in grade 11.
 

Lent

I gave up politics for Lent.  So far it was easier to give up coffee.  I may check myself into rehab if the withdrawal symptions don’t go away (they range from thinking about the time when Peter Lougheed visited my school Grade 3 and had to dress up for the occasion to feeling guilt over some Election Act laws that I may or may not have broken when I was 14 to actually trying to put all of the anti-George W. Bush thoughts out of my head).  Still over a month to go and it isn’t going that well.
 
Technorati Tags : ,

Lenten Prayers

The Open Office has some prayers for Lent that are a part of what I am doing  for Lent.  Read more here.

Technorati Tags : ,

Prayer

Many of you know that I was diagnosed with advanced stage IV pancreatic cancer on August 25th, 2006. Many of you have been praying earnestly for my healing and sending me e-mails to encourage and support me. I have been overwhelmed by the numbers of people who have upheld me in prayer and I want to update you on my condition and say a special word of “Thanks.”

After months in and out of the hospital with ever possible complication (kidney failure, emergency operation for a pierced bowel, massive infections, and chemo/radiation) I was sent home on December 9th with the words “You have two to four weeks left to live). On December 9th I was a virtual invalid. My wife had to bathe me, dress me, feed me and walk me. I slept 16-18 hours a day and rarely moved any place except to my bed and couch. I even went under the care of palpable hospice. However, instead of getting worse and dying as predicted, I gradually began to improve. Now, two months later I am practically leading a normal life. I care for myself, walk without a walker, go out to eat, work out (to pound weights) and write every day. I attribute this improvement, however long it lasts, to answered prayer – yours and mine, my wife. I have literally bugged and argued with God!

So, in light of my improvement, how do you pray? I want to ask God to heal me but what if he already has. But, I’m also reluctant to be presumptuous and tell everyone I’ve been healed given the statistical downside of pancreatic cancer and the fact that we are foregoing any definite tests for now, like a MRI, CT scan or PET scan.

So, here is how Joanne and I solved our dilemma. We live and pray one day at a time. We pray each day and say, “Thank you God for the healing you gave me today. Please heal me tomorrow.” It has occurred to both of us that if we were truly spiritually sensitive, we would have prayed that way all of our lives but it took the threat of imminent death to bring us to this point.

We cannot begin to tell all of you how we have benefited from your consistent prayers. We’re convinced that God is answering those prayers and that all the improvement thus far has come from God’s healing powers and that He is the source of all grace. I am confident that God sustained me today but I’m also painfully aware that I am “terminal,” at some point, in the larger sense of the word, as we all are. Thanks be to God that Jesus Christ has conquered sin and death and we all face a great future.

Please continue your prayers for both of us. Joanne will see her doctor and have some tests done as her stomach tension and discomfort continues. We think it’s “caregiver’ stress but want to be sure. Also, although I’m better, my strength is fragile and I fatigue easily. Some days are better than others. We appreciate the way everyone has maintained our privacy and ask that you continue to do so.

I hope that you all know that the love and prayers you have “sent” our way are being returned to you from us. We are so deeply moved by them on our behalf.

Technorati Tags : ,

Does God Want You To Be Rich?

From Time Magazine

“Prosperity” first blazed to public attention as the driveshaft in the moneymaking machine that was 1980s televangelism and faded from mainstream view with the Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart scandals. But now, after some key modifications (which have inspired some to redub it Prosperity Lite), it has not only recovered but is booming. Of the four biggest megachurches in the country, three–Osteen‘s Lakewood in Houston; T.D. Jakes‘ Potter’s House in south Dallas; and Creflo Dollar ‘s World Changers near Atlanta–are Prosperity or Prosperity Lite pulpits (although Jakes’ ministry has many more facets). While they don’t exclusively teach that God’s riches want to be in believers’ wallets, it is a key part of their doctrine. And propelled by Osteen’s 4 million–selling book, Your Best Life Now, the belief has swept beyond its Pentecostal base into more buttoned-down evangelical churches, and even into congregations in the more liberal Mainline. It is taught in hundreds of non-Pentecostal Bible studies. One Pennsylvania Lutheran pastor even made it the basis for a sermon series for Lent, when Christians usually meditate on why Jesus was having His Worst Life Then. Says the Rev. Chappell Temple, a Methodist minister with the dubious distinction of pastoring Houston’s other Lakewood Church (Lakewood United Methodist), an hour north of Osteen’s: “Prosperity Lite is everywhere in Christian culture. Go into any Christian bookstore, and see what they’re offering.”

The movement’s renaissance has infuriated a number of prominent pastors, theologians and commentators. Fellow megapastor Rick Warren , whose book The Purpose Driven Life has outsold Osteen’s by a ratio of 7 to 1, finds the very basis of Prosperity laughable. “This idea that God wants everybody to be wealthy?”, he snorts. “There is a word for that: baloney. It’s creating a false idol. You don’t measure your self-worth by your net worth. I can show you millions of faithful followers of Christ who live in poverty. Why isn’t everyone in the church a millionaire?”

The brickbats–both theological and practical (who really gets rich from this?)–come especially thick from Evangelicals like Warren. Evangelicalism is more prominent and influential than ever before. Yet the movement, which has never had a robust theology of money, finds an aggressive philosophy advancing within its ranks that many of its leaders regard as simplistic, possibly heretical and certainly embarrassing.

Time Magazine has this as well.  Not everyone sees the world this way.

Non-prosperity parties from both conservative and more progressive evangelical camps recently have been trying to reverse the trend. Eastern University professor Ron Sider‘s book Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, a fringe classic after its publication in 1977, is selling far more copies now, and some young people are even acting on its rather radical prescriptions: a sprinkling of Protestant groups known loosely as the New Monastics is experimenting with the kind of communal living among the poor that had previously been the province of Catholic orders. Jim Wallis, longtime leader of one such community in Washington and the editor of Sojourners magazine, has achieved immense exposure lately with his pleas that Evangelicals engage in more political activism on behalf of the poor.

Technorati Tags : , ,

You owe me a favor

A disturbing article in the National Post about the Liberal leadership race and the people that have lent them money to run their campaigns.  The question is how beholden are they going to be to their “bankers”.  I am sure the same thing happened with the Conservative Party leadership race as well.
 
Technorati Tags : , , ,

Contextless Links

  • Crime pays poorly and it is because of the red tape
  • Blogs aren’t exactly destroying mainstream media
  • Kester Brewin on the Judas that we never knew
  • Maggi Dawn on Misquoting Jesus :: When I lost my naive faith, I had the good fortune of coming to land in a place where the Bible is taken in the context of reason and “tradition” (by which I mean the history and practice of the Church, not “traditionalism”), and consequently the inaccuracies, mistakes, inconsistencies and unknowns of the Biblical record do not necessitate an abandonment of faith.  It intrigues me why people continue working, in a negative way, against a faith they have lost. Where does the energy come from? And what kind of a mission is it to spend your life disproving something? Once you’ve disproved something, surely there are more interesting projects to move on to? All the same, I sympathise with people like Ehrman who do lose their faith, because I’ve walked close to that line myself, and see close-up the crisis that ensues when someone who has carved out their life around a profession that goes hand in hand with a belief system that subsequently crumbles.
  • The Book of Bart :: Bart Ehrman’s take on Scripture
  • Jason Evans has a beautiful reflection on Mark Palmer’s life :: Palmer developed community by developing people. I wish I could have the time he had throughout the day. Alas, I live in So.Cal. and I have to work full-time. But this is really only an excuse. The truth is, I envy the way Palmer valued people, saw potential and capacity in everyone and always could listen… I like to talk way too much. Mark developed a sense of community amongst those that called LP their church by helping all who participated to see their value within the community. By focusing on an individual that individual discovered their place at the table, as part of a family… I want to do that for my community.
  • The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Easter Message via :: The mystery of Christian faith is really something we can’t ever put into words because it is about so many things that are all true all at once, but we can only talk about them one at a time. Advent and Christmas and Good Friday and Easter and Pentecost, Baptism and Communion and birth and death are all packed up together, inseparably. But whether in our words or in the course of the Christian year, we usually have to pull them apart and take them in some kind of series. And it’s good that we do, since we have to give ourselves a chance to think things through carefully and to experience the time it takes to get from old to new, from death to life.  But once in a while something happens that pushes it all together again, confusingly and wonderfully, telling us that Advent is already, eternally, overtaken by Christmas, Lent by Easter, death by life. God is always there ahead of us, his future already part of the present. I think that was the gift – or one of the many gifts – I received from our brothers and sisters in Sudan. Yes, we ought as a rule to take things at their proper pace, one thing at a time. But let’s not forget that God is already ahead of us; that there really is an ‘alleluia dimension’ in the very heart of Lent and Passiontide. And the people who can tell us that are people like the Sudanese, who have, quite simply, met the Risen Lord in the darkest times.

Camping Mocks The Homeless

Doug Pagitt’s new blog

My idea for this blog is to call out reductionistic thinking. Not only in culture and in other people, but in me. The opportunity to think in simple ways is so strong and appealing, that without the proper support I will be stuck there.

This seems to be particularly important during a time when the political system will call us all to the either or world.

It seems to me that there is a belief that we are benefited by simple thinking. It is tends to have passion to it. It tends to give one a sense of mission. As if the human mind can only hold one thought at a time and the complexities of the world are confusing.

I suspect that more truth is found in the details than the headlines.

The idea for this came from an expression I blurted out during lent this year. In having fun and telling a friend why I do not enjoy camping I said, ?and another thing, Camping Mock the Homeless?. I was totally kidding, but liked the ring of it. While I was joking, I suppose someone could argue that camping mocks the homeless when we take for enjoyment and leisure that which is a plight for so many in our world. What right do have to turn their sleeping on the ground into our vacation? Doesn’t that just make the issue of homelessness not seem so important? Can one come home from a camping trip, after having slept on the ground for a number of days and really have sympathy for those who are forced to do it?

Now on one level such ludicrous thinking could make sense, but it simply is not true.

Nor are statements like, “we shouldn’t spend money on space exploration, there are poor people to feed!”

Or, “Money to the arts supports pornography”.

Or, “Bread not Bombs”.

Or, “Family Values”

Or, ?Buying gas fuels terrorism?

Or, ?If the Bible is not right on things, it is right on no things?

Or, ?Fasting Mocks the Starving? ? my second choice for the name of the blog.

If these issues were occasional and benign that would be one thing, but people actually base their lives, time and political energy on them.

This blog is my little place to call myself and anyone silly enough to read to find respite from such thinking. For the purpose of putting significant thought into the complexities of the world and our place in those complexities.

Interviewing Daniel Miller

Today we interview Daniel Miller, artist, web designer, programmer, and no fan of the National Hockey League. He is also one of the early bloggers. First with blogspot and later at Daniel’s Journey where a variety of CMS’s have been tried and even developed there. He is also the founder of Intregration Research, a cultural and technological incubator in the form of art collective, publisher and software developer.

What’s your age and occupation? How long have you lived there? Where did you come from, and where do you live now?

29 year old artist, entrepreneur and web developer. I’m originally from Pennsylvania and over the last 10 years have lived in Tucson, Ft. Lauderdale, Washington DC, Sarajevo, Florida (again), and now Dallas, where I’ve lived for one month so far.

You are a well traveled American. How does the rest of the world see America right now compare to how you see your country? If there is a difference? What is causing it?

I feel like I should ask you that question since you are not an American. :) I’ve become un-nationalistic in my approach; I’m more interested in broader trends in power-based relationships, social dynamics, and the like. I actually hate politics, and have observed how it corrupts even at its lowest levels, so I try to keep my own personal politics to the voting booth.

To answer your question, in my experience many people would prefer to see a different president in the next term, and in that we agree. But there are bigger things at work, and I think we are in a unique time where we can all, travel or no, get a better idea for the world’s common values and concerns and work collectively to try and address them.

What is the coolest gadget that you have ever owned?

I’m a pretty low-tech geek; my two main gadgets are a 3 year old Dell laptop and a very pedestrian pair of headphones. I have a Korg D-12 digital recorder that’s nice; we’re about to be reunited after 10 months apart.

Can you tell us a little about Integration Research? Can you give us a glimpse at some of the projects you are working on?

I’ll try to make this brief without giving the standard line. Integration Research (IR) has been fashioned to try and work out new ways for creative people to approach the processes of cultural production and dissemination. We’re specifically looking at technological solutions that facilitate a cultural dynamic that benefits all. The web, blogs, digitization of cultural artifacts, ubiquitous broadband, and the low entry price for professional-level creative technologies have all contributed to a rapid de-centralization of cultural control; but we have yet to develop models that successfully reward these new creators, because culture industries are historically so centralized. We are in a transitional moment, and IR is trying to examine this space and create solutions that work within its new landscape.

Our first project is a piece of personal library management software. It will allow you to enter in anything from books to blenders and then attach metadata to those items–lent out or borrowed and to/from whom, queued for future interest and/or added to your Amazon wish list, for sale and/or added to your Amazon sale items–and keep a historical record of those artifacts. It will also support publish/subscribe via RSS, so that, for example, you could easily publish information about your cultural choices on a blog, and, most importantly, find out what resources are available within various
communities you participate in.

Another project that is in the works is what I call creative management software. It is like blogging with a twist, and will hopefully retain the power of micro Content Management Systems (mCMS) while making all that data more useful and navigating it more intuitive.

We’re in the middle of developing some white papers on all of these topics, so stay tuned in the next few months for that.

What’s the coolest part about living in the Dallas megatropolis?

Decent weather and people. I’ve lived enough places to find my niche anywhere, and know that having community is essential to making a city one’s home.

Your blog has seen a couple different programming languages and content management systems over the years. What has been the best you have worked with? The worst?

Every language and system have their good points and their bad, and they are usually opposite characteristics across platforms. Blogger is simple but feature poor and inflexible; Moveable Type is more flexible but convoluted. One programming language makes X hard and Y easy, the other Y hard and X easy. I’m never going to develop a programming language, but I hope the mCMS that I’m building strikes a good balance between simplicity and flexibility.

There hasn’t been a best and worst yet. This space is still young.

What’s the worst airline or train traveling experience ever?

I’ve spent so many nights in airports or negotiating with sketchy cab drivers that they all blur together. The physical act of traveling is rarely fun or relaxing, but the payoffs and surprises are well worth it. I got lost once walking back to Johnny’s at 4am, and it was cold and I was tired, but at one point it was like a music video–there were people falling headfirst out of pubs onto the sidewalk in front of me, a car pulled up and a gang of people jumped out of it, ran into an alley beside me, and two of the guys started fighting. It was frightening and invigorating and I remember that 2 hour walk fondly.

9pm, Wednesday night – what are you doing?

Sitting at my computer answering your questions. :)

Mac or PC?

Both if I could only afford a Mac.

If Integration Research could get any celebrity spokesperson in the world, who would it be? Why?

Madonna. She personifies success under the old/established structures of cultural dissemination, so there would be a beautiful irony there. She’s the most powerful relevant public figure I could think of and her pocket change could fund IR forEVAR.

If you could summer anywhere in the world, where would it be?

Dang these are good questions! I’m going to have to go with……Vienna. Beautiful, diverse city to begin with and a hop-skip to a lot of interesting places. Wait. Or Sydney, for the same reasons.

Best three weblogs you are reading right now?

Amateur Hour: the me in media, Purse Lip Square Jaw, dooce.

What is one thing that the National Hockey League could do to make you into a diehard hockey fan (for the Canadian readers of my blog)

Um, go back in time, transplant my DNA, and drop me in Saskatchewan maybe?

All of the interviews can be found here (well, except the ones that I haven’t posted yet)

Interview :: Gloria Reimer

I am adding a new feature to my website and it is just a series of light hearted interviews with a lot of people I respect. Look for a couple of week. I will be collecting them all in a central location in the next day or so but will be posting them here as well. The first interview that I got back is with Gloria Reimer. I worked with Gloria for a couple of years at Lakeview Church and Gloria and her husband Jerry are Mark’s godparents. Gloria is terrified of bees, yells at me a lot in anger, appears to have understated her age in this interview, and has been known to give away books I have leant to her to other people as gifts. Gloria and her husband Jerry live in Saskatoon and Gloria blogs at www.gloriareimer.com.

What’s your age and occupation. How long have you lived here, where did you come from, and where do you live now?

I am over 35 and am the Pastor of Ministry Facilitation at Lakeview Church in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Our family has lived here in Saskatoon since September 1990 when we were transferred from Brandon, Manitoba.

You work at a large church working at empowering the laity in ministry. What’s the largest obstacle in keeping people out of ministry? How do you get around that?

Empowering the laity to serve is my passion. One of the obstacles to serving is people are not sure how they are wired to serve and need assistance in finding out their Spiritual Gifts and exactly where they want to serve. Other tools like discovering your personality, abilities and looking at your life’s experiences are of value as well. Another obstacle that we all struggle with is the time element. People are just too busy in their lives to fit anything more in. However, my greatest passion is to give people freedom to be ministers exactly where they are planted whether in their homes, businesses, workplaces, gym, neighbourhoods, professions, knowing that first and foremost we are Ministers for Christ and everything falls in behind that. That makes me excited! Free to serve anywhere!

Thursday night at 8:00 p.m., where are the Reimers and what are you doing?

Thursday nights in the Reimer household is Small Group Night. We have a group of about 10 to 12 people who meet weekly to connect, share life together, eat, laugh, study Scripture, pray and look at how we can help each move along in our spiritual journeys.

What’s the best part about living in Saskatoon? Do you miss anything about Manitoba?

The best part of living in Saskatoon is the people. That was one of the first things we noticed when we moved here was how friendly and helpful the people were. It has not changed. We have many wonderful friends in Saskatoon.

The part I miss most about Manitoba is that I grew up in southern Manitoba where the summers are hot and humid. I loved the heat and the wonderful growing weather we had there. Great people in Manitoba as well. All our family originated in southern Manitoba

What’s the best book you have read in the last year? What made it good?

I just finished reading Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott. I loved the book. Her style of writing is so original and honest. I laughed and I cried. There were also some profound truths in the book which I copied into my ” quote” book. Great book A very freeing book to read!

Is there any chance I will get back any of the books I have leant you over the years?

Jordon, of course you will get your books back. I have a special place where I keep all the books you lend me. It is becoming quite a nice resource library!! [editor: in other words I have no hope at all]

What was the weirdest thing you ate while in Asia? (if you answer dog, I am never talking to you and Jerry again)

I am not adventuresome when it comes to trying new foods, but Jerry tried pretty well everything. Having a completely cooked frog put on the table in front of you was something I did not handle well. Of course Jerry ate it and thought it was just fine!

Most annoying thing about living in Saskatoon?

The -40C weather in the winter and the mosquitoes in the summer!

How many cups of coffee do you drink a day?

I am down to 1 cup a day. I went off coffee for Lent and am now trying to discipline myself to 1 cup a day. [Ed: I can’t see that lasting]

When you look at the western church, what is one thing you think we have gotten wrong and do you think it is possible to change it?

We have created out own “church” culture where we are totally insulated from the real world and never touch the world outside of the church. We have our own rules, movies, books, bookstores, movies, videos, schools, baseball leagues, and the list goes on. It is sad to see how little we as Christ followers make a difference in the “real” world. We are too busy going to all our own activities. Is it possible to change? The only way it will change is if we quit living “safe” and be willing to risk living outside of our comfort zone. There are small pockets of Christ followers who are moving in this direction. However, overall I believe the church is too complacent and comfortable to change the culture they have created for themselves.

Who is your choice for the greatest Canadian contest (other than the obvious pick, Brian Mulroney)

Kim Campbell!! Why? Because she was the first female prime minister of Canada!!! Wayne Gretzky for all you hockey fans out there!!! All kidding aside, I haven’t given it much thought up to this point. Ask me next week!

Essay on space, the web, and community

I was going to post this essay earlier this week but lost it when w.bloggar died on me. You win some… unless you use Windows 98 I guess. I have been thinking about community lately. Strong ties and weak ties and that sort of thing. The other night I was hanging out with a couple people I went to college with, Lorne Cornish and Trevor Knight. During school we were shot at, jumped out of a third story dorm room (that almost killed me… snow is not the soft fluffy cushion we hoped for) and did a variety of other things that common sense and good judgement should have stopped. To be honest, I am kind of surprised I survived the night. There are quite a few people I keep up to date with my past and whenever we get together, we often talk about the past and am always surprised how many people have dropped off the face of the earth. Wendy and I are no better. Both of us skipped high school reunions because we had little desire to go to them and I have to admit, there are people that get dropped of Christmas letter lists once in a while. There is nothing wrong with those people, you just lose touch after a while.

It kind of relates a bit to my post a couple days ago when I mentioned just briefly, the idea that community for many people is very much linked to a space. Before I go on, I should point out that community is one of those words that I think the church overused. Brian McLaren and Len Sweet said this about community in their book, A is for Abductive

An overused word in recent Christian vocabulary. To experience “community”, see almost anything but Community.

I agree with them. It is overused and I think the church has gotten its description of what it is wrong in the past. My post generated a lot of e-mail and I have enjoyed replying to them but thought I would post something here as well. Here are my thoughts.

Much of our community is linked to space (or lack of space). In the good old days, every house would have a front porch, a place where people would hang out in the evening, sipping tea on a swing in more or less public view. You could interact with people just by being out and about. It was community on accident on the basis that it wasn’t that intentional. When I lived in Lawson Heights in Saskatoon growing up, much of our family life happened in the front of the house. The drive way was both a hockey arena and a basketball court (umm, sorry about the hedge, flowers, and garage window) and we had a front step that was sheltered enough to sit out on and enjoy a cup of coffee in the summer and still be in the shade (that and the dude behind our house would sunbathe naked… that kind of ruined our back deck for us). It was an important part of our family life. I am amazed by the amount of people we got to know while sitting out in the front of our house in the evenings as they walked by. Now, the dominant architectural structure of most homes is a double or triple garage out in the front, no public space and the deck in the backyard is where people spend their time (some chose to sunbathe naked). It is very is private and away from the street life (yet not from our back deck). Community has changed from accidental to intentional. You don’t wander into a backyard accidentally. You need to be invited and according to books like Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone : The Collapse and Revival of American Community and Michael Adam’s Fire and Ice: The United States, Canada and the Myth of Converging Values, it isn’t happening anymore. It isn’t just our lack of verandas either. It happens on a variety of levels. When I was going to college, I took the bus to school. For $30 a month, I got free transportation, got to know a whole lot of people, and didn’t get the plethora of parking tickets my later years earned me. Of course when I drive, I drive alone most times. Our cars reflect the time we spend in them. Mind blowing stereo systems. The Honda Element makes into a bed easily. Many have GPS technology so you don’t even have to ask for directions (as if I did before). Phones so we can more work done. We spend way more time in them but it is another private space where you don’t meet other people accidentally. They are self-enclosed environments.

How I shop has changed too. The mall replaced the row of neighbourhood shops and now the mall is under siege by the big box retailer and the Internet. From my local community to a commercial community to now the Internet. The banks may be the first to encourage less interaction with high paid staff and more with a .com but they won’t be the last. This week was a noticeable week in that I actually went into not just one but two bookstores instead of clicking once one Amazon.ca.

Even coffee, the social drink of the masses is customized to go. I don’t drink out of a coffee mug anymore. I drink out of travel mug and if I am going out for coffee, most often it means I am going through a drive through.

I live in a neighborhood in Saskatoon called Mayfair. From what I have read, it is one of the older neighbourhoods in Saskatoon. It is a quaint older neighbourhood. Blue collar but kind of cool. Yeah the crime is kind of high but I have to admit, other than some character, it doesn’t mean a lot to me. I am not part of the Mayfair community as there is very little commerce. No cafe’s anything resembling what Ray Oldenburg would call a great good place. There is nothing other then chain restaurants (like too much of Saskatoon, Greek food). All over the west side there are abandoned neighbourhood grocers and confectionaries that have been bulldozed, converted into homes or just boarded up. (although I hope that changes in the future). I’ll admit it, living in Mayfair means very little to me. It is just where my house is. Same with living in Lawson Heights. Same with Deer Ridge Estates before that (you could drop a bomb there in the morning and no one would call it in until they got home at 7 p.m.) and Queensland before that. There was very little day to day life to anchor me to my neighbourhood and more and more to pull me out of it. Most cities are designed this way. Saskatoon has great freeways and we use them. City council is discussing big box developments rather than coffee bistros. It will get worse before it gets better.

While in the era of solid modernity we were tied to a very small area. We farmed, worked, lived, and shopped all within a small place… in both urban and rural areas. In the cities you see the spread of suburbs and the rise of the malls that first signified urban change. I really noticed in rural Saskatchewan a couple of years ago when Wendy and I drove down a highway to the town where my ancestors had farmed. It had been over 20 years since I had been there. In 1980 my grandparents used to take me driving, looking at the crops, and through all of these small towns that seemed to be all over the place. Now all of them are gone or are on their death bed. What tied people to the land for generations was destroyed in 20 years completely by technology (a farmer can farm more land easier) and globalization (prices are lower than they were 20 years ago and WTO rules changed transportation subsidies which closed down rail lines and elevators). Urban centres have gone through a similar transition. North America’s love with the automobile not only created some really bad rock songs but also helped change us into a convenience society. We want it now and we want it easily. Parking even became a pain so we fled from downtown cores to the suburb malls for that and one stop shopping. As for walking? Well we now need to do it not to get anywhere but as exercise, something to hide the fact that we drive everywhere.

While we are spending less time doing other things, we are spending a lot more time doing others (like driving). For many it is work and work is trying to create a place where you can work longer and happier. Companies like Pixar, Microsoft, Bloomberg Financial, and IDEO have realized the importance of this and have put great effort in creating workplaces where accidental contact happens more and not less, realizing that this kind of contact is good for creativity and it’s staffs mental health. Ideo has used the neighbourhood concept for office organization for years. Team members need to be able to talk to each other and feel comfortable. If that mean hanging a wing of a DC-3 from the room, that is what it takes. Steve Jobs knew this during the launch of the Mac computer. The Mac building had pirate flags hanging all over the place and that galvanized the Mac team. According to Richard Florida, these features are not just wants but needed if organizations are going to recruit top talent. Creative people like working together.

Proximity still matters for some people. A person I know has complained that the location of their office away from their team isolates her from them and leaves her out of the loop. It isn’t hard to understand, her office is in another wing and therefore isn’t getting people talking outside her door or people just wandering in. When I was at Lakeview, I was surprised at how a change in office space changed my relationship with my co-workers. Moving from a larger (and heatless) office in the back corner to a smaller (and hot) office in a busy hallway changed the way I got information. I wasn’t intentionally excluded or included in more or less information but the location meant that it just happened. There were also offices that I was rarely in, not because of my feelings towards the person but because they were out of the way and I rarely thought to walk down there to chat. I think of all of the conversations that I had with Mike Gingerich when we worked together. Many were about football (Mike shares my fascination with NFL minutia) but most happened because of my proximity to the staff coffee machine and we both drink coffee (and the phrase, “Coop, want a refill?”). Of course now with probably 10 miles between our coffee makers and not 10 feet our relationship has changed. Same with a bunch of former co-workers.

A decade ago that is probably all I needed to say about community. It is linked to space. The time together in the same space, the less community. Through out history humanity has seen strong ties weaken when common space was removed and people went on their way in different directions. Some organizations tried to remedy this with class reunions or church camps with the goal of bringing dispersed people together again but that was temporary until the next gathering was planned and attended.

I think what has changed for me is that there are now strong and growing ties for me that are developing that don’t have any common space, at least not in the traditional sense. Those ties have grown because of the web. E-mail, weblogs, Yahoo! and MSN Instant Messenger. Even the occasional webcam chat. The weak ties of meeting at a conference once have been strengthened by technology considerably. Where at one time a business card might be exchanged, lost and forgotten about, today they are ongoing conversations.

I never could figure out why some relationships seemed to grow and some seemed to disappear. The answer for me can be documented by my cell phone and my Yahoo! Messenger. I am finding I have better relationships with many who call my cell phone than those who communicate through other means. The answer is easy. While both phone numbers are on my weblog, most people who connect to me, also connect via Yahoo! Instant Messenger. When they want to chat with me and it is important, most use my Yahoo! Instant Messenger. Of course I am not always online or am away from my computer. They naturally make the assumption that I am mobile or away from my office (and my phone) and call my cell number.

When I shared this theory to some people, there was two reactions. Several said, “that makes sense to me, I would do [or do] the same thing”. Others said, “I can’t imagine posting my cell phone number. I would hate to give it out.” Or, “That’s why I don’t have a cell phone!”. They also seemed horrified when I said that I don’t answer all of my cell phone calls and let them go to my voice mail when I am in the middle of something or someplace that is more important than getting my phone (like driving while drinking coffee… not enough hands).

Technology adoption is more than just learning how to use it. Lots of people have cell phones that send SMS messages but few actually use that feature to keep up with anyone. The smart mobs that Howard Rheingold describes in Smart Mobs in Tokyo are few and far between in North America despite the fact that we have the technology to do it. Having e-mail is different in being comfortable using it for regular communications. Lot’s of people who use e-mail are reluctant to use it for anything other than transmitting virus’s. We have more technology than ever before to keep us connected and yet for many people, it is very hard for them to rethink and think outside the established boxes in regards of technology. Peter Drucker tells the story of the first executive training conference. It was about using the telephone. It was cancelled because no executives could conceptualize using them. That still happens but now with e-mail and weblogs. Learning how to use a piece of technology is one step. Learning how it can improve your ties to people in another story. Futurist Patrick Dixon in his excellent book FUTUREWISE says that it will be 2020 before the post-millenialists (as he calls them) achieve enough mass to kick the habit of space and meet much more virtually than we do now.

Rethinking space and technology is vital I think to understanding community in the new millennium. Smart Mobs was the first book that made the link for me between space and technology. In small Tokyo apartments, teens that may not even have their own room have their own cell phone. In a place where privacy is almost impossible to come through, SMS messages give them a chance for privacy and communication. It literally carves out some private and personal space for them that they may never have otherwise. The other example is technology as bridging space and allowing conversations that may never happen otherwise. The other night Rudy Carrasco and I bridged several thousand miles between a blizzard stricken Saskatoon, Saskatchewan and a rather balmy Pasadena, California via webcams and Yahoo! Instant Messenger. IM became the common ground and redefined space for us. It helped change a physical reality easily and for free (well after the Thinkpad, Powerbook, DSL lines and some cameras are paid for).

Salam Pax, the Baghdad Blogger brought a piece of Iraq to us everyday in his posts and when he lost his internet connection during the bombing, the war was brought to the world in a way that CNN and Fox News could not do.

TheOoze is another space for me. TheOoze is visited by one hundred thousand people from 90 countries everyday. But where is TheOoze? Some would say in Spencer Burke‘s garage. Others would post to where it is hosted in London, Ontario, Canada while others would just point to www.theooze.com. All three answers are correct. In fact none of us go to TheOoze, our browsers bring TheOoze to us. Whatever the answer, it has been “visited” by millions since it launched and even though we aren’t sure where it is, many call it home. It is a space and home without any physical characteristics at all. So what are people finding there? Each other. Just like we have during so many other periods during our history. The difference is how we measure proximately has. Technology has allowed culture to be much more fluid and still keep in touch and keep those ties. Where as the ties weakened over space and time, we can now keep in touch and talk like we are in the same room. Actually Leighton and I often instant message each other while in my living room or while sitting around the same deck table (it’s like he is right there).

I don’t think the issue anymore in whether or not the technology is good enough anymore (it is). As Len Sweet has said, in the western world, it isn’t about technology “have and have nots”. It is about technology “want and want nots”. We can connect to each other where ever we want but are we will willing to rethink and reconceptualize our relationships to the point of making those kinds of changes. That is the question.

The e-mail that I exchanged on the subject agreed up to this point but people have asked the really hard question, “what happens under today’s paradigm when that space is removed?”. For most people I have talked to, the sense of belonging ends right there. Different job, city, or church and the ties that tied people together socially seemed to change and weaken. I had an instant messenger conversation with someone a while ago and she talked of never putting down roots in a church anymore. Her career took her to different cities and it was hard to know that once she was gone, those connections were lost. Another thing is what happens to people whose work schedule doesn’t align properly with church schedules? Instead of being torn from the space, they are unable to get to the space to connect with in the first place.

Wendy shared with me about the church that she grew up in. It was in a university town and a lot of university students came through the doors, got involved, became part of the churches leadership and then moved on when done school to pursue careers or get more education. A couple of years later someone would ask, “has anyone kept in touch with [insert name here]” and often the answer would be no. Once the common space (the church campus or programs) were removed, the ties were broken.

How is that any different than a workplace. Of course what you do in that community is different. Praying, worshipping, serving, tossing eggs at Lutherans and so on but are the ties any stronger? That I don’t know. How does one measure those ties? What determines strong community? I was pondering this question over in my mind when I started reading Robert Webber’s Ancient-Future Evangelism: Making Your Church a Faith-Forming Community. In it he said,

Social networking in a post-Christian world will primarily happen where people eat together in homes of Christians and in neighborhood communities where faith is shared. Eating has always played a central role in the Christian faith.
Jesus’ own eating habits are frequently highlighted in the Gospels. His behaviour “recreated the world….Instead of symbolizing social rank and order, it blurred the distinctions between hosts and guests, need and plenty. Instead of reinforcing the rules of etiquette, it subverted them, making the last first and the first last.” In this way Jesus both embodied the kingdom and prophetically anticipated the kingdom. Furthermore, there were no preconditions to eating together. Conversion was no prerequisite to fellowship at a common meal with Jesus. Instead conversion became a consequence of eating with Jesus. Likewise in the early Christian church eating together continued to be a vital part of community. (Acts 2:42-47). Today a crucial aspect of evangelism be of eating together. It is the primary context for establishing relationships that lead to discussion of things that matter. The success for example, of the Alpha course in reaching people is that friends and neighbors gather around food.

Webber’s thoughts reminded me of something that Kevin Rains wrote over at Vineyard Central about the centrality of the meal. (I have edited the section a bit, follow the link to get the full description)

The Importance of the Common Meal
Meals together are crucial to the building of a close-knit and joyful community. Over the course of an internship, more time is spent sharing meals than is spent together in any other activity. Mealtime is, accordingly, the most powerful setting in communal life for a wide range of important activities, such as forming and maintaining friendships, learning how to listen and ask questions, being mentored, hearing Scripture, and learning to cooperate (e.g. preparing the meal, setting the table, cleaning up afterwards).

The Atmosphere
Meals are for pleasure, not for business. Unless it’s unavoidable, we steer away from the discussion of burdensome and difficult subjects during this important time. Business can usually be cared for at another time. We look forward to the shared meal, knowing that here we can relax, enjoy catching up on the events of the day and one another’s lives, and have a good home-cooked meal. The table setting is important as well. Disposable plates, utensils, and cups are avoided whenever possible. Aside from their contribution to a growing waste problem in America, they reflect the illness of an overly-busy, convenience-driven, and lazy society that has little regard for the consequences of its actions. We want to communicate in multiple ways (e.g., fresh flowers and candles) via the common meal that we care, are grateful, and have time. For us it’s a mini-Sabbath.

The Food
It’s difficult in a communal household to satisfy everyone’s individual tastes and preferences without making life exceptionally difficult for the cook(s). Our general goal is to offer a meal that’s both nutritious and good-tasting, with options for omnivores and vegetarians. We try simply to use good sense: avoiding meals high in fat, cholesterol, and simple sugars. We shoot for whole grains, legumes, vegetables and fruits, option for fresh food when available rather than canned or frozen food.

Food and community. It makes sense that they are linked. When I think of good friends, I think of food and hospitality in the home or restaurant. I think of LT and John Campea (how did that link get past the editors) before John moved to Hamilton. With both Leighton and John, I have eaten countless meals together. I sometimes take that for granted. I come from a long line of good and gracious hosts and Wendy is a wonderful host too. I think one of the things I have missed since John has moved to Toronto are the mini-Sabbaths. Sunday night football at Boston Pizza and watching almost the entire NHL playoffs and a lot of WWE Smackdown over pizza and Coke at my place. I can’t remember one important thing being said during those games and maybe that is what makes it right. There is an intimacy that goes beyond running into someone over a meal. One may bump into his or her enemies and even make small talk but rarely does one break bread with them. Why does it have value? I think because it takes effort. It isn’t accidental. To go out and share a meal it takes time, resources, and effort. More effort than what it seems it should but I think that is what makes it worthwhile. Some meals take risk in a new recipe or even cooking something that is a little beyond you. Even a meal out takes us out of our natural cycles. John and I didn’t end up at Boston Pizza on accident. It took some phone calls, a baby-sitter for Mark often, driving across the city, and even a pickup at John or my place when Alison or Wendy were out and had one of vehicles with them.

Now community is much more than just eating together but when I think of the people I consider valuable parts of my life, they are the ones that I know have inconvienced me when they needed me and I would have no problem calling them when I needed help and not at all surprisingly, they were there for me too. Not coincidently, they are ones that I have had in my home and have fellowshipped with them. I tell my church, it is never to late to call and never too late to come by. You always say, “no problem” but really I am saying, “you are worth the hassle” and my friends and church are. Don’t consider office hours, rules, or boundaries. You are more important than that. I think that is what a meal is saying. It is a hassle but our friendship is worth that.

I think community starts not when are all living in proximity to each other but when we are living with intentionality towards keeping those ties together. When community moves from the accidental community of bumping in to each other at Safeway or Jakes (hmmm, free wifi) to a much more intentional community, I think we are getting somewhere. Things of value are supposed to take some effort.

Intentionality is great but what about living in a liquid and fluid culture where ties are not to a land or community but to a company? I was thinking about McKinsey Consulting. McKinsey is one of the largest consulting companies but many of its staff are recruited and hired by their clients. In their own words

McKinsey is committed to helping our clients. We are equally committed to hiring and developing outstanding talent. Those who join our Firm find themselves part of a collegial culture, shaped by shared values. When consultants leave McKinsey, their connection to our culture and our people remains strong. The Alumni Center offers ways for alumni to maintain their connection to the Firm and to each other.

Do we ever think about those that leave our local churches in any way? Not very. I know many churches will recommend a church that shares their denomination or values (like a WCA church) but do any of think of finding a way to preserve and maintain those relationships. I know of one church that maintains an e-mail list for people who have moved away to keep them connected but most church websites I have seen are more focused on bringing people into the church rather than providing meaningful connection for those who can’t be there.

If we do live in a fluid and changing culture where people are not tied to this place like they used to, does that take a different way in looking at how we do things. McKinsey as a company may have some flaws but by creating an alumni network, they are acknowledging reality that people do move on but values them where they are. I lent out Joe Myers excellent book, The Search to Belong: Rethinking Intimacy, Community, and Small Groups but one of the things I walked away from that book with was the idea of valuing people where they are. I wonder what it would look like to value people with connections in the past as we do connections in the present.

It would be a change from the “experience it live or don’t experience it at all” paradigm of many organizations. I suggested to a few churches that they use blogs to not only hype the future events but to document and reflect on past ones at all. None of them have taken me up on it. An lot of time was spent on hyping the future but almost nothing about it when it has past. I can understand. Most church staff are evaluated on bringing people in to the building, not making connections to people who have left or can’t get there. And that may be a big part of the problem. When I use the old clichés about the net changing everything and being a disruptive and discontinuitous technology, everyone agrees. When I talk about it needing to change expectations and skills for communicating the Gospel, people get defensive and mad. It is almost as if people were saying, “the net can change everything but don’t expect me or my church to change.” Andrew Careaga’s blogged about Search Party 2002 and he said this

We’ve been asking the wrong questions about the Net. And we’re still asking the wrong questions. Even those of us who think we get it.
What are the right questions? I don’t know if I know what the right questions are. But I know some different questions we could be asking.
Instead of asking, “How can I make my page cool?” or “How can I get more hits on our church website?” or “How can I establish community with our church website?” why don’t we try asking, “How can we engage Internet culture by joining in on the conversations that are happening all over the Net?” or “How can we be a part of the community that already exists online”?
Instead of talking about static billboards (websites), why don’t we talk about the dynamic conversations springing up all over the Net — on blogs, in chat rooms, over IM, on many and sundry forums, via Usenet?
Instead of debating among ourselves whether authentic community can exist over the Net, why don’t we go out into all the world of cyberspace and be part of the community that does indeed exist on the Net? Who knows? Maybe the church can add some authenticity to what’s there? (Assuming we have the market on authenticity.)
Instead of trying to lure people to our websites, why not go out where the people are? I got a lot out of Andrew Jones’ comments about Jesus going to the parties at Matthew’s house, at Zaccheus’ house, etc. And sending his disciples out among the lost sheep of Israel. That seems to be a model of missional and mission-focused ministry that would work on the Internet.

That is a big change as church and generally community have all been location based. The idea of doing what Andrew Careaga is doing maybe missional but it is a huge paradigm shift for most church leaders today. It seems as if Patrick Dixon’s predictions for 2020 are already starting to arrive today to my life quite a bit ahead of schedule. It will be interesting to see how things evolve and adapt… if they evolve and adapt at all.

Fasting/feasting though Lent

Jonny Baker posted this at the Grace Lent Blog.

Lent can be more than a time of fasting; it can be a season of feasting.

We can use Lent to fast from certain things and to feast on others.

Lent is a season in which we can:

Fast from judging others; feast on the Christ dwelling in them.

Fast from emphasis on differences; feast on the unity of life.

Fast from apparent darkness; feast on the reality of light.

Fast from, thoughts of illness; feast on the healing power of God.

Fast from words that pollute; feast on phrases that purify.

Fast from discontent; feast on gratitude.

Fast from anger; feast on patience.

Fast from pessimism; feast on optimism.

Fast from worry; feast on divine order.

Fast from complaining; feast on appreciation.

Fast from negatives; feast on affirmatives.

Fast from unrelenting pressure; feast on unceasing prayer.

Fast from hostility; feast on nonresistance.

Fast from bitterness; feast on forgiveness.

Fast from self-concern; feast on compassion for others.

Fast from personal anxiety; feast on eternal truth.

Fast from facts that depress; feast on verities that uplift.

Fast from discouragements; feast on hope.

Fast from lethargy; feast on enthusiasm.

Fast from thoughts that weaken; feast on promises that inspire.

Fast from shadows of sorrow; feast on the sunlight of serenity.

Fast from idle gossip; feast on purposeful silence.

Fast from problems that overwhelm; feast on prayer that undergirds.

from a Benedictine website as quoted in The Tablet, 3 March 2001, p. 325

Thomas Merton and his camera.

My friend Karen Neudorf sent me this wonderful quote about Thomas Merton and his photography in an essay by Esther de Waal

In recent years, I’ve come to much appreciation of Thomas Merton. There is a real prophetic person. If you haven’t yet discovered Merton, you’re very lucky for great riches await you. A Trappist monk, living therefore by the Rule of Benedict, I’ve come to know him recently through his photographs. They’ve told me a lot about the way he saw the world. They express how much he lived out of the Rule. Imagine Merton living in his hermitage outside the Abbey of Gethsemani in the blue Kentucky hills. The good friend who lent him his camera, John Howard Griffin, a remarkable journalist, said that the way Thomas Merton focused on people was also the way he focused on things. He was totally present to the person or thing before him. Listening, he let each person, each thing, have its own voice. He stood back never tying to possess, to label, to organize.

Merton didn’t believe that we come to God through the truncation of our humanity but through the wholeness of our humanity. All the senses are to be valued. He told his novices that the body is good; listen to what it tells you. He recognized that all the senses, particularly the senses of sight, sound and touch can teach us much. In those hermitage years, he was nurtured by long periods of silence, getting up at two in the morning to pray. Those hours before dawn enfolded him in the gentleness of the world around his hermitage. He learned those relations with his body and the world about him produced joy, openness and dialogue. I think that he used his camera to express this. He walked gently through the woods around the hermitage using his camera as a contemplative instrument. What and how he saw came out of his hours of prayer.

While writing a book on Merton using his photos, I saw that you’ve just got to stay with the simplicity of his vision, standing in front of piece of wood and some stones, which we otherwise might easily pass by. The texture and the relationship speak to him. Seeing an old workbench with a nail and all the scars of that battered wood, he stands back and lets it express itself in its own voice. He doesn’t want to control or to possess. It’s as if he goes beyond the things themselves to their essence, to the integrity of the things.

In the last little while I have apparently frustrated some readers for not being “on topic” and building my photoblog and stuff like that as if learning an art was a bad thing. It’s funny but when I look at my photo projects, they reflect much more of me and my journey than the words on my regular blog. The photos tell stories I can not articulate and speak from a part of my mind and soul that I am not always in touch with. I keep hoping the more pictures I take, the more of my spiritual life and mind will I uncover.