Archive for August, 2006

women, iJesus, prayer, practice

First off, let me go on the record as saying that the last few days’ conversation on this blog (and, to a lesser degree, on the blog of Drunken Tune) has been more thought provoking and rich than just about any conversation I’ve been a part of on the blogosphere. I think we all agree (as many have said) that the DT’s tone and spirit throughout this process — despite being the lone skeptic in a sea of “believers” — has been incredibly admirable.

You are welcome to continue to post comments on the entry below or over at Drunken Tune’s site. He has offered to continue the dialogue for anyone who would still like to, and you may want to consider moving the conversation to his blog; after all, he has been working all day (until after 8 p.m. some days), coming home, and spending several hours each evening responding in one continuous post to a dozen or so comments… yikes!). Like I said, comments are certainly not closed on the post below this one, so I hope you’ll continue to check back. If you came to this blog for the first time as one interested in this intriguing dialogue, welcome! Please consider poking your head back in from time to time; you’ll find that we like to address many tough issues pretty regularly around here. (and pre-packaged, warmed-over answers usually won’t suffice…)

A note to the Christian readers: This conversation should have taught us all something important. The lessons will be different for each person, but please be aware of what God may be saying to you through this dialogue. Also, I hope this dialogue (as limited as this medium may be) has demonstrated that intelligent, loving, non-judgmental conversation is possible with those who are not walking the same path as we are. There are opportunities for such conversations in each of our cities and towns — sometimes under our own roof!

——————————

Now, onto weightier matters. (tongue implanted firmly in cheek…) This story about a Baptist church in New York state was sent my way by Lantern Bearer (thanks!) a few days back. It made me think, though, how grateful I am that Churches of Christ figured out solutions to these types of problems long ago. (cough…cough…)

—————————————-

It’s no secret that Jesus is a frequent subject in the lyrics of many “secular” (for the sake of time, I won’t go into why I reject many things about the common dichotomy between “sacred things” and “secular things”) music artists and bands. (IMHO, some of the more provocative images of Jesus come from “secular” artists, not the Christian music industry) A.V. Club has a pretty good list of songs that feature our Lord, some in serious tones and some in less-than-serious tones:

The A.V. Club’s Definitive Mixlist: The New Adventures Of Jesus

———————————-

Speaking of provocative, this is one of the more provocative (in a good way) God-related things I’ve seen in a while. This was done by the folks at Seattle Metro Church, which was planted by several couples from Harding University. If you have any interest at all in the spirituality of those who do not claim to be Christians, you’ll want to watch this.

———————–

Finally, take a look at JMH’s post about “practicing the kingdom of God.” Simple, powerful stuff.

questions for Christians

DrunkenTune — a participant on this blog since our Christian-Athiest Dialogue a little over a month ago — left the following questions in the comments of the “photoupdate” post, and they are too good to remain there. I want to open them up to the rest of this blogging community to answer. I hope you’ll give them a few moments of your time and answer them honestly.

I’m not sure which is the best way to say this, so I’ll be blunt. I have some questions for those that profess to be Christians, and I’m hoping you can help. You’re the type of Christian [I hate to generalize] that isn’t all fire and brimstone because I happen to not believe. Which is good. I’m not one of those drive-by trolls that’s trying to stir up an argument or start calling names. In fact, I’ve been reading your website off an on now for a while. I even wrote a comment a month ago when I thought things needed clarification. I’m genuinely interested in your answers. I’m not here to point out what I see as contradictions in the Old and New Testaments or call all theists crazy. I happen to find you guys thoughtful enough to emulate in your lives.

What I’m trying to say is that I’m not trying to pick a fight.

I was wondering if you could answer me these questions:

[1] Did you search for evidence, or rely strictly on faith, in your acceptance of Christ?

[2] If you rely only on faith, then is there any other way to accept Christianity over any other religion, or any sect of Christianity over another, besides convenience?

[3] If you rely on evidence you have seen, can that evidence be presented to me in a way that a reasonably critical mind could accept as genuine?

A caveat, if I may. For [3], if any personal experiences are given, which are between your lord and yourself, I’ll have to consider that an absence of evidence that can be presented to me, and instead a reliance on faith. If you quote scripture, that is fine with you, but I do not recognize that as sufficient evidence. I do not mean to offend, only learn. I hope you can help.

photoupdate

Just downloaded these photos of a concert in a local park off my camera so you can see them. It was a big band-style performance last Sunday night — a summer tradition in East Boston. We went with our friends Matt and Pam. Enjoy.

Here we are with our new friends, Matt and Pam. God sent Matt and Pam our way, if you recall, at an Italian festival in East Boston about a month and a half ago. Since then, God has knitted our hearts, personalities, and visions together in a way neither couple ever could have predicted (or planned).
HoltsNeaves.jpg

During the summer, a local non-profit sponsors free concerts in a park near our house. (Look at the skyline behind the band!)
Big Band Piers Park.jpg

Here’s a close-up of our new Eastie buds, the Neaves. (you can find out more about this amazing couple and their calling on their Web site: neavefamily.com — some of their info is outdated, but it gives you a pretty good overview…)
Neaves.jpg

At one point during the concert, I got pretty hungry. Well, there was Pam’s head, so I partook…
SteveEatingPamsHead.jpg

Here we are.
GoodOneOfHolts.jpg

Last but not least, here are some random ones. Damon is now officially a Red Sox fan! Though after the rompings at the hands of the Yankees these last two days, even Damon’s asking, “What have you done for me lately?”
Damon Sox Fan 3.jpgDamon Sox Fan 2.jpg

“…you religious?”

Boondocks.jpg

organic church in alabama

From the August 4 Birmingham News:

Cullman’s organic church

New kind of ministry strips worship of modern trappings to find its elemental roots

KENT FAULK
News staff writer

CULLMAN — Breads and coffees aren’t the only organic offerings at Berkeley Bob’s Coffee House these days.

Food for the soul is dished out Thursday nights at Organic Church, a new Christian ministry meeting inside the 1960s California-style coffee house in downtown Cullman.

Like many church groups, worshipers at Organic Church read and discuss Scripture, pray, and sing. Sometimes they read spiritual poetry or entries they’ve made in journals.

But what the church doesn’t have are committees, a staff, buildings, membership or a collection plate.

“We started off with trying to be the church without the additives of modern church,” said Jason Elam, a minister and founder of Organic Church. “This is our attempt to strip back all the things that were added to the church.”

Elam considers Organic Church part of the house church movement, a term that describes a move back to the way early Christians as described in the book of Acts in the Bible met in small groups in houses.

A recent study, based on interviews of 5,000 adults around the United States, by the George Barna Group says that 9 percent of adults attend a house church during a typical week. While still small, it represents a big increase from 1 percent a decade ago.

Elam said he began considering forming a small group ministry during a couple of events in his life. First was the birth of his daughter, Emily, in 2004. She had birth defects that had to be corrected with multiple surgeries, he said. Soon after the final surgery last year, his wife, Csilla, was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, he said.

Throughout the time of his daughter and wife’s health problems, Elam said their church family at The Father’s House in Vinemont helped them through the crisis. He said he came to believe there are many who love God who haven’t been able to find that kind of intimate relationship in a traditional church setting.

‘Experiment in faith’

“We wanted to try and provide that,” he said.

Elam is testing the idea of whether a church can succeed without anticipating going to a church building and paid staff. “This is an experiment in faith,” he said.

Instead of a house to meet in, Elam found the coffee house to rent for a minimal fee that Elam pays.

Walls are painted with peace symbols, flowers, “make coffee not war,” and a large purple Volkswagen bug with a yellow heart. A small stage sits in a corner where folk singers belt out ballads in concerts and novices sing, read their poems, and tell stories on open-mike nights. Worshippers sit on cushioned chairs or around tables with tie-dyed tablecloths.

“I thought this place was so cool – the environment would compensate for my uncoolness,” Elam said.

Services began the first of May and are held Thursdays at 7 p.m. with anywhere from a half dozen to 25 people showing up. Elam doesn’t preach but rather moderates discussions among worshippers about Scripture. Often a person who attends will bring up Scripture they want to discuss.

Those who attend believe Jesus is the Son of God, died for our sins and was resurrected, Elam said. Other than that core belief, Organic Church has no doctrines, rituals, no connections to a national organization, and no preferred Bible translation.

“I believe the church to be an organism, not an organization,” said Jonathan Graves, of Hanceville, who first found out about Organic Church through an advertisement in a shopper’s guide.

Graves said he likes the family togetherness displayed during the sessions. “Openness and sharing is what Jesus teaches we should have,” he said.

Most, like Graves, also attend church on Sundays at their own denominations.

One minister from a local Baptist church also is among those who often attend. Diversity of the local churches – both Southern Baptists and Catholics have deep roots in Cullman – makes it ideal for what they’re trying to do, Elam said.

“We’ve got every church on the Christian buffet here in Cullman,” he said.

Joshua and Beth Haynes, of Fairview, attend a Southern Baptist church, but said they come sporadically to Organic Church.

One recent Thursday night the discussion evolved into how ritualism can sometimes replace developing deep spiritual relationships in churches .

“It doesn’t mean these things are wrong – it’s just these things can be empty,” Joshua Haynes said.

E-mail: kfaulk@bhamnews.com

“Jesusland”

I’m convinced that more often than not, they see it better than we do. “They” meaning those who do not even claim to be Christians, and “it” referring to the inconsistencies between our lives and the one we claim to follow.

Ben Folds is one of these “theys” who has gotten it right with his song, “Jesusland” (IMHO). It’s been out for a while now, but I just “got it” recently.

For the best experience, watch the music video by clicking here and then going to “footage.” Here are the lyrics as well. These words are convicting. Notice all the things he associates with Christianity.

Take a walk246882.jpg
out the gate you go and never stop
past dollar stores and wig shops
quarter in a cup for every block
and watch the buildings grow
smaller as you go

Down the tracks
beautiful McMansions on a hill
that overlook a highway
with riverboat casinos and you still
have yet to see a soul

Jesusland
Jesusland

Town to town
broadcast to each house, they drop your name
but no one knows your face
Billboards quoting things you’d never said
you hang your head and pray

for Jesusland
Jesusland

Miles and miles
and the sun’s goin’ down
Pulses glow
from their homes
You’re not alone
Lights come on
as you lay your weary head on their lawn

Parking lots
cracked and growing grass you see it all
from offices to farms
crosses flying high above the malls
Along the walk

through Jesusland
Jesusland

Dear Church…

Recently, I have heard older people questioning whether or not the younger generations would be fit to lead the church once the older generation passes the baton. What these older leaders don’t understand, I’m afraid, is that many young people aren’t sure they want the baton in its current state. Call it “baggage,” “red tape,” whatever-you-want, but many young people have serious questions about &emdash; or simply do not want &emdash; the church of their parents (let alone their grandparents).

Sarah Cunningham is one of the young people &emdash; a twentysomething, specifically &emdash; who has some serious questions for the church. She recently wrote a book &emdash; Dear Church: Letters from a Dissilusioned Generation &emdash; which reveals that Cunningham is certainly not alone. I’ll let her tell you about this new book, which is available for purchase at your local Barnes & Noble, Borders, or any online retailer. (I interviewed Sarah via e-mail a few days ago in an exclusive HarvestBoston feature)

For someone on the fence about purchasing “Dear Church,” summarize or tease the book in a few sentences.

Dear Church connects with Christians who are burned out or frustrated with their local church experience, but it doesn’t leave readers wallowing in disillusionment. The second half of the book offers tips and personal anecdotes for readers who seek to sift through disappointment and maintain allegiance to Christ. Dear Church also includes a firsthand introduction
to Generation Y and their approach toward faith, 50 tips on forgiveness, a sweeping apology from the church at large, and a love letter to the church you won’t want to miss.

Talk about the process that led you to write this book.

I had an ideal introduction to the faith as a child. My brothers and I were immersed in church from day one because my dad, Harold Raymond, is a pastor and church planter. Our dad found a wise balance between exposing us to his own take on God and encouraging us to develop and own our own faith. Along the way, I naturally adopted a sense of ownership in the local church. Later, in college, I went a few steps further by getting involved with and eventually becoming a full time staffer at an energetic, innovative church. This experience allowed me a lot of creativity and freedom to lead and, by doing so, pushed me toward deeper involvement in the global church. But simulataneously, adult life revealed some flaws and credibility gaps in church systems that I had not always seen as a child. It was disappointing to me to see areas where the church lost credibility and it was even more disappointing to see my peers distancing themselves from the church at large. This book responds to the disillusionment I saw in myself and those around me.

You put in some considerable research for this book. Talk about the directions the research process took you.

I took a couple different approaches. I did read just about everything I could find about my own generation and about disillusionment in general. And I also conducted some informal surveys of twentysomethings and disillusioned people in real life and online. But most importantly, I really wanted this book to have a personal feel, one that genuinely connected with people who were frustrated. To try to accomplish this, I spent a significant amount of time just talking conversationally with every person I could find about their experiences with and impressions of the church. I talked to people in the post-office, I talked to people at the park, I had what seems like a million conversations in coffee houses. That made for some incredible, eye-opening dialogue. And the more I talked to people, the more they inspired me, saying “You have to finish this project. Someone needs to write this book.”

What was the most surprising thing that you discovered?

I discovered that my own disillusionment was more of a universal problem than I had realized. It seemed like almost everyone who had been invested in church at some level had a concern or frustration related to their church experiences. I don’t remember running into anyone who didn’t have a very personal and often painful story to tell.But what I discovered, at the same time, is that–despite my lifelong exposure to church–I was not personally equipped to sort through disillusionment. I had a tremendously hard time trying to reconcile the issues I saw with the message of Christ. For me, it was a long journey to push past my cynicism and critiques and to find renewed commitment to Christ and his mission. I wanted to capture this difficulty along with some of the solutions, with hopes it would inspire others who were challenged to overcome their frustrations.

What nugget do you think will shock your readers the most?

Maybe the balance? It sounds funny to say people would be shocked by something like “balance,” but I think some people will be. There have been so many books that offer critiques of the church. People sometimes expect this one to be almost a “celebration” of disillusionment–flaunting how savvy it is to be cynical toward the church. But after reading the book all the way through, people are often surprised that the book really is a journey THROUGH disillusionment. In the end, it retains an air of responsibility and wisdom without sacrificing authenticity. And it comes out strongly on the side of the church.

In your view as a twentysomething yourself [this is correct, right?]…

Yes I am 28 now, which is a nice age to be because it puts me past some of that initial idealistic-to-a-fault save-the-world mentality. Whew. That stage of life was exhausting. But I still believe the world can be infused with hope in massive ways. I’m still a thousand percent idealist. I just am a lot more content and a little less dramatic about how I invest toward that end.

…what role does “the church” play in society in the 21st century?

The church may undergo a makeover of sorts. Not necessarily a change of doctrine or even a change of spiritual practices like corporate worship and teaching, but a change of face. Barna, for example, reports that the local church is the primary form of faith experience for about two-thirds of U.S. adults currently. However, he projects that by 2025 the local
church will lose roughly half of its attenders and that alternative forms of faith experience and expression will pick up the slack.Some will say this sort of movement toward alternative church communities, like house churches, is superior because it allows for more personal connections, more life-on-life relationships. But I genuinely do think there are a variety of models or non-models even that can be equally effective, as long as the majority of their efforts are spent on generating internal transformation and not just religious ritual. The reason house churches may be superior to my peers, in my opinion, is more about context and life stage. If right now, that is the form of community that feels real and personal to us, if it inspires us to love Jesus more
and to become more like him, to align more of our lives to His ideals, then we should embrace it without institutionalizing it. A feat which is very tricky.

What changes must it make? What must stay the same?

Personally, I would most like to see the church move further toward being intentionally inclusive. I want to think past simply stating “all people are welcome” in words and put some significant energy into building and maintaining relationships in diverse parts of our communities. This is what paints a true-life invitation that shows Christ’s care and desire to transform all people.When I say that, I am not just throwing the “race card.” Focusing on race alone would be a very narrow understanding of what it means to “go into all the world.” There are plenty of groups defined by other characteristicsâ&emdash;their education level, their family arrangement, their income, their disabilities and so onâ&emdash;who are on the margins of the church. To get at these, we may have to shift a little bit of focus away from in-house programs into more natural, more organic opportunities. For example, I would like to see churches inspire their small group leaders to go beyond book discussion with twelve fellow church attenders once a week and to mentor twelve people from their routine social circles. But my own ideas for how the church “should” change won’t necessarily match up with everyone elses. I think the beauty of personal tensionsâ&emdash;individual observations about how the church could improveâ&emdash;is that each of us can work out the tensions we see in our own lives. We can use our dissatisfaction to bolster the church’s weaknesses. And hopefully, if I put my life energy into building a more inclusive church and you put your energy into a completely different source of concern, in the end, by our collective efforts, Christ wins.The things that needs to stay the same is the focus on Jesus and his message. God designed Jesus to embody all the truth and enlightenment that our world could ever need. Where Jesus is lifted up, regardless of model or generation, He draws all men to himself.

Many of the readers of this blog (including myself and my wife) are experimenting with less traditional “forms” of church than we grew up with (ie house/simple, emergent, cell churches, among others). For many of us, this change came from seeing how far the church seems to have strayed from the biblical precedent and the example of pre-Constantinian Christianity. What are your thoughts on this phenomenon, which George Barna has found is more prevalent than anyone thought? Is this consistent with your findings for “Dear Church”?

One of the most important things to note when talking about how church is changing is that the need for change and the move toward change is not new. Throughout church history, there have been cycles of change and renewal that have given rise to many faith movements. The Reformation. The Great Awakening. The SECOND Great Awakening. And so on.We don’t have to fear change or even be absolutely focused on anticipating it or responding to it exactly right. Change is a natural life process and as it applies to the church, we know it is one that will not drain the church dry. From the first time Christ mentioned the word “church” in the gospels, in Matthew 16:18, he told us all we needed to know from the beginning. The gates of hell, or some translations say the forces of evil, will not prevail against the church. The church may change, but it will never die. It will live on until the climaxâ&emdash;its wedding day with Christ.

As I write a book about disillusionment, its funny how many times I find myself calming the panic that once gave me concern. These days, I am not worried if people are going to go to home churches or if they are going to church in a coffeehouse on Friday night or anything similar. If they are furthering their understanding of God’s principles defined in the Bible, if they are worshipping, if they are reflecting and praying toward living out God’s aims, if they are opening themselves to feedback from other followers of Christ, then I bless them. I bless them and I say “Live out what God is doing in your life as fiercely as you can. Work your faith over in your mind and your heart until it is seeping out of your daily life. It is only then that we ARE church and we LIVE church in a way that makes our concerns about whether or not a specific steepled building with pews is full to the brim become unnecessary. When we are all aligning ourselves with God and internalizing and living his ideals with intensity, no one will be afraid the church is dying. It will be more obvious than it has ever been that the church is alive and thriving.In closing, the fact that the church will always be evolving is a sign of health–a sign that an organism isn’t dying. At one level, it is a enormous positive to see younger generations struggling through their own reservations and reconciling their own doubts because this illustrates their wish to truly own and live out the mission of Christ within their own generation. I hope older generations will encourage them to seek the answers they need and come along side them to shed some light on their path to truth.