Thursday, March 31, 2011

Remembering John Donne

Priest, Poet, and Preacher (31 March 1631)

Almighty God, the root and fountain of all being: Open our eyes to see,
with your servant John Donne, that whatever has any being is a mirror
in which we may behold you; through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

ALL:   Amen.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Hearing Complaints From Some People

Fidelity as Betrayal: Dr. Gregory Walter at St. Olaf Chapel

An excellent friend, also an excellent theologian, asked me to post a link to his chapel sermon tomorrow. He wrote,

I'm in the middle of a social media fast; could you post my chapel talk link?
I'm giving it at 10am tomorrow.  It's on the arrest scene from Mark.  "Fidelity as Betrayal."
Thanks!  It is live live and then is available as an archival broadcast thereafter.
I look forward to listening to it. Greg's message reminded me why I chose not to take an FB fast this year. FB has become such an important communication medium to me for my work that I can't imagine taking a six week break from it anymore than I would say I was fasting from e-mail or telephone calls.

That being said, fasts and practices that put good boundaries around our use of new and old media are important, and I've been praying for all those who are so fasting.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

No Dog in the Fight

Granted, the best way to indicate not having a dog in the fight might be to not post anything at all on the topic of Rob Bell and heresy. However, I've read enough buzz and news concerning Rob Bell's new book, Love Wins, to at least want to write something simple in response. So, if you've heard of the book, or read it, or have at least a passing interest in universalism, heaven, hell, and the fate of every person who ever lived, then here are a few choice words, intentionally brief, on the topic.

1. The dude knows how to wear clothes. Whenever I watch one of his Nooma videos, I want to run right out and buy glasses like his, or figure out how to get one of his sweaters at deep discount. In fact, most of the time, I'm so focused on the clothes and the style I have trouble attending to the substance. Anyone else experience this?

2. And he has a great video production team. I'm jealous. He released a promotional video for his book. You can learn tons about how to produce beautiful video that also conveys a theological message by watching it and the Nooma series.

3. He pastors a very big church. Very big. So any reactions people are having to Rob Bell's book are also probably caught up in some kind of envy. Maybe not everybody, but it's at least worth pointing out.

4. Now, on to the theology proper. The reason I say I don't have a dog in the fight is because Lutherans (or at least the kind of Lutheranism to which I subscribe and confess) simply doesn't think about salvation and heaven and hell in the way the evangelical world does. I think, as far as I can tell, that the debate around Rob Bell centers in some classic Calvinist predestinarian assumptions about who is in and out of heaven or hell, and all of this connects to the specific kind of atonement theory that informs each of those who either criticizes or supports Bell. There's probably something in the debate around covenantal theology or a few other categories I simply don't follow, so I admit that I may have missed something.

Some of the debate is related to rather ham-handed interpretations of Scripture itself, but I think we can simply gloss those and not worry about them.

Some of the debate is over what is central in the Christian tradition from the early church. Since Origen was declared a heretic, his universalism (with which I resonate; caveat, inasmuch as I am a universalist, I am a Trinitarian universalist of the Origenist or Barthian persuasion, but more of that anon) simply hasn't been an option. But again, that would be a separate essay about the development of universalist options in the history of the confession of the church.

But Lutherans shouldn't get caught up in the debate, at least not in most of the ways the debate is currently being conducted, and for the following reasons.

1) We aren't universalists precisely, because that is simply to say that God elects everyone, and it's awfully difficult to say that in light of the Scriptures.

2) We aren't into free will. We don't even think you can "believe" of your own free will (see Luther's explanation of the third article of the creed in the Small Catechism). So, although we aren't universalists, we also don't believe heaven and hell divides out between those who choose Jesus and so are saved, and all those other unlucky persons who either didn't choose Jesus or never heard of him.

3) We aren't interested in predestination. That's to attempt to peer into the sovereign (another tricky word we seldom use) will of God, and whenever you try to take a look at the hidden God, watch out.

4) We preach election. If you wonder whether you are saved or not, let me say to you again, "You are justified by faith in Christ." Then, the very word you hear has power because it is the word of God, and creates faith (in the Spirit) where there wasn't faith. Which is to say, the solution to the problem of the fate of every person on earth is to preach the gospel. God's word will really do something. If you ask, What about those who haven't heard the gospel yet? I ask in response, Why don't you go tell them they are just, for Jesus' sake? I bet they'd love a bit of good news.

To which you say, But are they saved? To which I say, Why don't you go tell them they are. Better yet, why don't we go together and tell them!

Of course, following this initial assertion, there is plenty more to talk about, and ask questions concerning. But I think you can see how this changes the terms of the debate. Although it isn't expressed in quite the same way Bell expresses, or doubted in quite the same way his doubters doubt him, nevertheless, it does indicate that him getting out and preaching, and taking it to a live audience, is itself not unlike what Lutherans should do, even if we theologize differently.

We're walking different dogs, but I think in the same dog park.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey - Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life

Atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons are among the highest-scoring groups on a new survey of religious knowledge, outperforming evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants and Catholics on questions about the core teachings, history and leading figures of major world religions.

On average, Americans correctly answer 16 of the 32 religious knowledge questions on the survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life. Atheists and agnostics average 20.9 correct answers. Jews and Mormons do about as well, averaging 20.5 and 20.3 correct answers, respectively. Protestants as a whole average 16 correct answers; Catholics as a whole, 14.7. Atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons perform better than other groups on the survey even after controlling for differing levels of education.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Audio of Holden Evening Prayer, Small Catechism 10 Commandments, Sermon

How to get more young people in church (reprinted)

"One of the most frequently asked questions I face as I visit parishes is, "How do we get young people to come to church?" I thought this week I would allow a genuine young person to answer that question. Tamie Fields Harkins served for four years as our chaplain to NAU Episcopal Canterbury Fellowship. Last week she had this to say about that question on her blog, which I share with you here.
Here is a step-by-step plan for how to get more young people into the church:
1. Be genuine. Do not under any circumstances try to be trendy or hip, if you are not already intrinsically trendy or hip. If you are a 90-year-old woman who enjoys crocheting and listens to Beethoven, by God be proud of it.
2. Stop pretending you have a rock band.
3. Stop arguing about whether gay people are okay, fully human, or whatever else. Seriously. Stop it.
4. Stop arguing about whether women are okay, fully human, or are capable of being in a position of leadership.
5. Stop looking for the "objective truth" in Scripture.
6. Start looking for the beautiful truth in Scripture.
7. Actually read the Scriptures. If you are Episcopalian, go buy a Bible and read it. Start in Genesis, it's pretty cool. You can skip some of the other boring parts in the Bible. Remember though that almost every book of the Bible has some really funky stuff in it. Remember to keep #5 and #6 in mind though. If you are evangelical, you may need to stop reading the Bible for about 10 years. Don't worry: during those 10 years you can work on putting these other steps into practice.
8. Start worrying about extreme poverty, violence against women, racism, consumerism, and the rate at which children are dying worldwide of preventable, treatable diseases. Put all the energy you formerly spent worrying about the legit-ness of gay people into figuring out ways to do some good in these areas.
9. Do not shy away from lighting candles, silence, incense, laughter, really good food, and extraordinary music. By "extraordinary music" I mean genuine music. Soulful music. Well-written, well-composed music. Original music. Four-part harmony music. Funky retro organ music. Hymns. Taize chants. Bluegrass. Steel guitar. Humming. Gospel. We are the church; we have an uber-rich history of amazing music. Remember this.
10. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
11. Learn how to sit with people who are dying.
12. Feast as much as possible. Cardboard communion wafers are a feast in symbol only. Humans can not live on symbols alone. Remember this.
13. Notice visitors, smile genuinely at them, include them in conversations, but do not overwhelm them.
14. Be vulnerable.
15. Stop worrying about getting young people into the church. Stop worrying about marketing strategies. Take a deep breath. If there is a God, that God isn't going to die even if there are no more Christians at all.
16. Figure out who is suffering in your community. Go be with them.
17. Remind yourself that you don't have to take God to anyone. God is already with everyone. So, rather than taking the approach that you need to take the truth out to people who need it, adopt the approach that you need to go find the truth that others have and you are missing. Go be evangelized.
18. Put some time and care and energy into creating a beautiful space for worship and being-together. But shy away from building campaigns, parking lot expansions, and what-have-you.
19. Make some part of the church building accessible for people to pray in 24/7. Put some blankets there too, in case someone has nowhere else to go for the night.
20. Listen to God (to Wisdom, to Love) more than you speak your opinions.
This is a fool-proof plan. If you do it, I guarantee that you will attract young people to your church. And lots of other kinds of people too. The end."

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Proper for St. Patrick, Bishop, Missionary to Ireland, 461

Almighty God, who in your providence chose your servant Patrick to be the apostle to the Irish people, to bring those who were wandering in darkness and error to the true light and knowledge of you: Grant us so to walk in that light, that we may bring others to the peace and joy of your gospel and come at last with them to the light of everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Links for Church in the Age of Facebook

Both of the professors teaching Church in the Age of Facebook maintain interesting web sites.

Ryan Bolger, professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, at Bolger's expertise is in missiology and emergent church.

Doug Pagitt, pastor of Solomon's Porch in Minneapolis, MN, at Doug is a leader in emergent church ministries, and has also transitioned to a focus on inventiveness and social networking in church ministry.

Doug's presentations on Monday were largely from his excellent, brief little book Church in the Inventive Age. 

One of the class participants launched a wiki for notes from the class, so you are welcome to browse it to get a sense of the contents of the course.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Further insight into baptism as preparation to do battle with the devil

From the original Rite of Infant Baptism:

We receive this child (person) into the congregation of Christ's flock; and do sign him with the sign of the cross, in token that hereafter he shall not be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified, and manfully to fight under his banner, against sin, the world, and the devil; and to continue Christ's faithful soldier and servant unto life's end.

(from Peter Gomes, The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus, page 119)


Improvement: Makes an organization better by assuming the current building blocks and adjusting the least useful elements.

Innovation: Uses disruptive changes to alter the way things are done to increase effectiveness.

Invention: Introduces an entirely new model that is fundamentally different and not currently in use.

The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus

"The last thing the faithful wish for is to be disturbed" (19).

"Most people do not go to church to be confronted with the gap between what they believe and practice and what their faith teaches and requires" (32).

"When a member of a congregation says to the preacher at the door of a church on a Sunday, "That was a first-rate sermon," he or she is saying that the preacher said all the things with which the person agreed" (32).

"People do not like to hear what they do not like to hear" (37).

(in honor of Peter Gomes, I'm posting some quotes, like a commonplace book, from The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus: What's So Good About the Good News? I'll add a few more as I finish reading. Thank you, Peter, for your ministry, and thank God for his life)

Friday, March 11, 2011

Video of Johnny Cash's Hometown of Dyess, Arkansas

SoLost :: Oxford American - The Southern Magazine of Good Writing

Peter Gomes on Matthew 4:1-11

Re-posted from a colleague:

Peter J. Gomes on Matthew 4:1-11

The Reverend Peter J. Gomes, Plummer Professor of Christian Morals at Harvard Divinity School and Minister at the Memorial Church, Harvard University, died February 28 at the age of 68. For years considered one of this country's greatest preachers, he gained a widely admired public persona when he revealed in 1991 that he was gay--especially surprising news from someone who was an African American, a Baptist, and a lifelong Republican. Later, he became a renowned author as well, particularly his 2002 volume The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Mind and Heart.

In 1995 he also contributed to Fortress Press's Proclamationseries, writing on the texts of Lent for Year A. This is Gomes's reflections on this Sunday's Gospel reading, Matthew 4:1-11, which gives a taste of his sly, thoughtful writing voice. Greatly missed but unforgettable, we commend our brother Peter to God and give thanks for his life and ministry. Peace, Peter.

* * *

The lectionaries are unanimous in their provision of Matthew 4:1-11 as the Gospel reading for the First Sunday in Lent. From ancient times the account of the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness has been read as appropriate to the beginning of a season of spiritual discipline, self-denial, and prayer; and all of these occur within a season of temptation. As most preachers will be unable to resist the temptation to preach on the Gospel, we should spend some time on the issues it presents for the faithful and the curiously uninformed.

Perhaps the most striking thing of which to be reminded here is that this series of temptations follows immediately upon Jesus' baptism and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Matthew 3 concludes with an account of the baptism, the descent of the dove, and the pleasure God took in the baptismal act. The last words before the temptation are these: "This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased." What could be a more auspicious beginning to a new life?

Yet, the first encounter of the newly baptized is with Satan. Jesus does no good work, he performs no miracle, he is not granted a heavenly vision. He is led up, directed into the wilderness where he undergoes trial by ordeal. It is not a small thing to note that the context of the life of the baptized is a constant and ever increasingly sophisticated warfare with the devil. Baptism does not immunize one from temptation or from Satan: quite the contrary, it raises one's consciousness. The newly baptized meet temptations that they could not before ever imagine.

This point may be salutary to those for whom Christian baptism holds still some magical power, and it may help them to understand that at baptism their troubles are only beginning. This will be less clear a point in those places where baptism has become simply an empty rite of passage, a naming ceremony, or an affirmation of the identity of the group into which the baptized is welcomed. In those places where something of the terror of the Christian profession is still expressed in the baptismal rite, however, the point will not be lost. Moviegoers will recall the opening scenes of Godfather III, where the baptism of the third generation of Corleones takes place against a montage of incredible Mafia violence of murder, gore, and assassination. The child is baptized into the very world his baptismal vows are meant to renounce. This is not mere irony or artfulness. The fallen world, with its inevitable and unavoidable sinfulness, is the context within which and against which one makes these solemn vows. It is for this reason that every teenaged confirmation of inquirers' class should be required to see Godfather III as a parable of life after baptism.

In the Episcopal Prayer Book of 1928, following an ancient formula the godfathers and godmothers are asked on behalf of the child:

Dost thou, therefore, in the name of this Child, renounce the devil and all his works, the vain pomp and glory of the world, with all the covetous desires of the same, and the carnal desires of the flesh, so that thou wilt not follow, nor be led by them?

The answer is:

I renounce them all; and by God's help will endeavor not to follow, nor be led by them.

Baptism may be an act of repentance, but it by no means assures the absence of that for which repentance is required. Instead of selling baptism as a user-friendly way to maintain and extend the church, we should be warning those who wish to be baptized, and those whom we wish to baptize, that life after baptism is full of "many dangers, toils, and snares." If they doubt you, or if you doubt the truth of this, read Matthew 3 and then read on directly into Matthew 4: the sequence is clear and unambiguous.

And so, if we learn first off that the consequence of baptism is conflict with Satan and with one's own self, for both are involved here in this account of our Lord's season in the wilderness, we learn also that the conflict cannot be managed on our own or with our own resources. This will be a helpful and necessary insight to those of your people who, in a fit of moral athleticism, have decided to break with their normal way of doing things, and either give up or take on something, or both, for Lent. Dieters and exercise faddists know the risks of attempted self-renovation by oneself. And, like the alcoholic, they know as well the terrible discouragement of "falling off the wagon." The novice moral athlete will attempt to make up for a lifetime of indulgence with a Lenten crash course in abstinence, and, when he or she inevitably fails and falls down, will think either themselves or the gospel impossible and inadequate. Oscar Wilde said, "I can resist anything but temptation"; and the town drunk said to his reformingly zealous wife, "I've fallen off more wagons than you've ever been on."

The new or renewing Christian will need to be reminded that the disciplines of Lent are not meant to demonstrate moral superiority, nor are they meant to secure divine or human approval. They are meant to toughen the soul. The faithful are to be reminded that these would-be solitary acts are not for oneself alone, but are for the well-being of the whole church. In other words, private virtue is a corporate act, and thus Lent is not meant to be carried on alone or in private. The Sundays in Lent and the extraordinary midweek occasions of devotion, study, and fellowship, are splendid opportunities for Christians to support and encourage one another in their Lenten work. Sharing one's ambitions and achievements, one's fears, failures, and frustrations ought not to be restricted to Alcoholics Anonymous and twelve-step programs. Such Lenten sharing, structured by the church as part of its Lenten program, ought to be seen as a part of the Lenten catechumenate designed to upbuild both the faithful and the community.

Three other points worth commenting upon in this account of our Lord's temptation are that (1) we should consider the nature of the wilderness, (2) we should take seriously the reasonable nature of the temptations, the suavity of Satan, if you will, and (3) we should consider how Jesus uses Scripture. Any one of these would make a splendid theme for Lenten preaching or a midweek study course: all of them help us appropriate to the uses of our own Lenten agenda this account of Jesus' first great conflict.

For many, the wilderness is merely an alternative, and for some, an undesirable one, to the settled places of life. Wilderness may mean to some unspoilt mountain ranges, deep forests, and the places that L. L. Bean equips them to explore. For others, it may mean any place other than where they are. For still others, the wilderness is the very place from which they might wish to escape. We must not let our urban or suburban bias overwhelm us here.

For our purposes, let us at least initially think of wilderness as a place apart, any place other than where we usually are. Therefore a wilderness is not meant to be a miniature version of where we are, a camp with all of the comforts of home. For many of us, wilderness implies the disruption of the routine and the imposition, however temporary, of a new order, usually a simpler one. Lent gives permission for many people to go "into the wilderness," to simplify and clarify. In an undisciplined and overly demanded life, where most of us expect too much of ourselves and of others, permission to reorder and even to reduce some of those expectations, making more of less, may indeed come as a welcome opportunity. The church should help people to figure out how to do it. Corporate law firms hold "retreats," and industry encourages "focus groups": surely the community of Jesus, most especially in Lent, can rediscover the efficacy of the wilderness?

The suavity of Satan must never be underestimated. Their temptations are all "reasonable." That is the ingenuity of them. Like all good temptations they tempt us to do the right thing for the wrong reason, or the wrong thing for the right reason. All of us wish to be good and to do good: that is our glory and our curse. And because we want to do the right thing we will be easily tempted to do anything. It is not our vices that will get us, but our virtues, and Satan is smart enough to know this. There is an aphorism, source unknown and hence available at will to everybody, which says that a surplus of virtue is more dangerous than a surplus of vice, because a surplus a virtue is not subject to the constraints of conscience. In the zeal for goodness, or the achievement of a good end, many on the way will be tempted to many wicked things. That is the stuff of drama and politics, and of human nature. It is the wide way down which Satan invites Jesus to travel, and it is an efficient and cost-effective way. Bread for stones is good economics, a demonstration of the effective power of God would save much preaching, and the delivery of the kingdoms of this world to Christ would spare us the need for evangelism. Few modern-day preachers would be able to resist all of that.

How did Jesus? He used Scripture. From this we learn that Jesus knew Scripture. He had read and studied his Bible. Even more to the point, we learn that Jesus knew that his situation was not unique. The devil had been at work before: these blandishments were not novel, not unique. They exist anywhere and everywhere the heirs of Adam try to make sense of their knowledge of good and evil on their own and by themselves. The Bible is a record of such encounters, and it provides counsel on how to cope with these matters. Jesus knew this and made appropriate use of what he knew. 

Do you know how to go to church?

A picture of the Lutheran Thursday evening bible study group at Seaside Haven in Second Life, March 10th, 2011, 8 p.m. Second Life Time.

Andy Arnold, the Tech Geek at the ELCA Youth Ministry Network ( recently asked if I might write about Second Life (SL) for his blog. I'm a total newbie on SL (my avatar is now fourteen days old), but I already know the perfect (Johannine) thing to say to readers of my own blog, as well as readers of his:

"Come and see."

The thing about Second Life is that if you haven't been on it, you'll think it is a game. It's not. You'll develop a whole bunch of opinions and ideas about what Second Life is or isn't, all based on your experience of living in Real Life (RL). But this isn't Real Life, it's Second Life, and there's no better way to discover the theological, philosophical, existential, sociological, anthropological, and cultural implications of Second Life than to simply go there.

If you had asked me, "What is Antarctica like?" and I replied, "Come and see," you could, rightfully, challenge me and point out that it's cost prohibitive and time-consuming. And you would be right. But Second Life is free, the software to view SL is free, and anyone reading this blog already has access to a computer. So what's holding you back?

I think what holds us back is actually what keeps non-church goers from visiting a church for the first time. It's intimidating. You wonder how you should dress, how to talk to people, where to go, whether you know the right time, etc. So if you visit Second Life, consider it an exercise in experiencing what everyone who has trouble visiting church feels when they get invited to church. Echoing that famous title of Marcus Borg, it will be liking meeting church again for the first time.

Then, once you've created an avatar and logged into SL for the first time, let me suggest that you find a friend or companion for your journey. Visit the Anglican Cathedral on Second Life, or St. Matthew's by the Sea, both of which offer regularly scheduled worship services and the daily prayer offices. Or attend the Lutheran bible study on SL, 7 p.m. Second Life Time, at Seaside Haven. You can teleport to this location by searching for it through the search tool. My avatar is MiroslavTweedy. You can search for me and send a message.

At this point, you'll begin to discover the huge potential platforms like SL offer for community and worship. Don't have access to a community for daily prayer where you live in RL? No problem. Just log in at the right time and you're praying compline! Looking for a bible study that meets at a time when you can stay in your pajamas by the fire after putting the kids to bed? Voila! This is one major mission frontier, and I'd like to engage as many youth leaders and church leaders as I can in imagining what ministry looks like in the virtual world. We have not even begun to tap into the possibilities.

No, Second Life isn't the only game in town. There are many other virtual worlds, and the scene is constantly changing. Five years from now the technology will be more robust, and who knows what possibilities will exist. The point is, this is what's happening now, and it is an immense opportunity to either augment what you are currently doing in RL ministries, or be a missional leader creating community in a place where real frontier ministry is happening (literally, in one case, because I've met a lay monastic who leads worship in a Western-themed sim on SL!).

I imagine some readers spend time in other virtual worlds like World of Warcraft or Everquest. If you do, I'd love to hear how you are imagining building Christian community there.

A Lutheran friend I've met on SL provides her RL class participants with basic instructions on how to get started on Second Life. Follow these instructions and you'll do great.

Comments:  A basic Second Life account is free.  You do not have to spend any money in SL unless you want to.  You will be given ample opportunity to shop for hair, clothes, skin, and accessories for your avatar, as well as homes, cars, etc. (none of which  you need).  You can ignore all of them.  If you want new hair or clothes, there are a lot of free things available.  I am willing to help you find them.  However, changing your appearance takes time and is neither required nor necessary; the starter avatar works fine.

Creating an Account and Downloading SL

To begin using Second Life (SL henceforth), go to and click on one of the big, orange, “join now” buttons.  You will first be asked to choose a name and a starter avatar.
      Your user name and password:  You cannot change your user name, so choose carefully! (My advice:  Choose a name that is easy to type. 
      Your starter avatar:  You can choose from any of 12 starter avatars—six male and six female.  You will be able to change your avatar’s appearance and clothing after you start using SL, but you don’t have to. 
      You will have to supply a valid email address and your birth date in order to create an account.  Messages sent within SL will default to your email if you are not in-world when the message is sent. 
Once you’ve created an account, you will probably be taken to a download page.  You will have to download and install the SL software, referred to as the SL “viewer”.  The current version is “Viewer 2”.  Please download this version. 

Getting Started in SL

The first time you launch SL your avatar will be at a location known as “Welcome Island”.   There, you will find signboards with directions for basic skills (walking, turning, flying) and you will be given the opportunity to practice them.  You can learn enough about SL to get started in about ten minutes, though you’ll eventually want to know a bit more than the basics.  You might prefer to start with one or more of the links below. This is a video (called a “machinima” because it was created in a virtual world) about Welcome Island.  It is short and will give you a very good idea of what to expect when you get there.  You can watch video tutorials here.  “Moving around”, “finding places”, and “chatting” are important.  “Making friends” and “customizing your avatar” may be of helpful but are not necessary.  “Shopping” and “land basics” can be watched if you decide you want to spend money. This is a written quickstart guide.  All of the directions are written and illustrated with pictures and diagrams.  It is focused on the interface that you see on the screen.  I recommend you spend a little time in SL and then come back to this when or if you want to learn more. 

      Getting started is where the learning curve for SL is the steepest, but most people get past it.  Those who don’t have typically skipped Welcome Island!  If you become too frustrated, let me know and we’ll arrange for a time when I can help you.

      If you decide to do this with a friend or classmate, you should be aware that there are numerous, identical, Welcome Islands.  You will almost certainly end up on different Welcome Islands.  There are ways to do the orientation together, but it is probably simpler to do it separately and then join up later.  You can follow the link below to meet.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Sermon for Ash Wednesday 2011

 Text: The Reverend Clint Schnekloth
Music: Dr. Robert Mueller on organ
(audio available soon)

I imagine a plague of locusts as a mash-up
Of the worst aspects
Of a flood and a tornado

Inexorably darkening the landscape,
Localized ravenous wind,
Small wings clacking and crazing the mind.

Faithful Paul, like a migrant worker gleaning grain
Following the voracious locust harvesters
Limping against hope, against God

Imagine such a poor, pathetic man offering
Living water, piercing word, and fragrant meal
To a starving, barren, needy world.


Endurance. Afflictions. Hardship. Calamity.
Beatings. Imprisonments. Riots. Labor.
Sleepless nights, hunger, punishments, dying.

Mercy. Mercy. God.

Earthquakes. Revolutions. Famines. Floods.
Dictators. Confusion. Distance. Disorder.
Prayer-less nights, lonely mornings, deadening days.

Mercy. Mercy. God.


Although our constant, caring, shading trees
Have, as of yet, not martyred
Themselves of leaves at the ravishings of locusts,

Nor have our prayers burnt to ash
the fire of our passion,
Or lofted incensed and desperate to heaven.

Yet we have been spared. Good God, we have not even fasted
Moderately or immoderately. We are those lukewarm ones
John’s vision declared you would spit out.

Reconcile it, God.


Paul can claim purity, knowledge, patience, kindness,
Holiness of Spirit, genuine love, truthful speech.
The power, the power, the power of God.

The weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left.
Drive, passion, a heart for the lost, travels upon travels,
And foolish boasting in a life not his own.

He can go even further, into ecstacies, tongues,
Preaching, apologetics, epistles, collections for the poor,
Tents, yes, even tents. The man built tents.

Return it to God.


Joel has seen how barren a field can stand
Like Samson’s shaved head shorn of every hair,
Weak and abject and pitiless.
He suggests trumpets, not the bugle boy of company B,
[something bugle boy like here]
Not the long slow blast of Taps
[play taps here]
But the long pure blast of a messenger,
“Call the fast, gather the people, assemble?”

As if there were safety in numbers.

Because maybe, just maybe, if we all stand here in this place together
And huddle close like Emperor Penguins in the bitter Arctic Cold
And if we repent, even the very old and infants at the breast,
If we call out, loudly, even the newly married or otherwise occupied,
And if our pastors weep, loud, and long, like inconsolable starving babies.

Maybe, just maybe, that will be enough. To appease what?
To make up for who? To get us where?

What then? What comes after all the loud repenting?

Actually, nothing. Nothing comes after the repenting,
And nothing leads up to it.
There is, simply, just enough to weep about. Just think.

Christchurch. Egypt. Columbia.
Haiti. Sudan. Uganda. Libya.
Afghanistan. Iraq. Iran. Ivory Coast.
Malaria. AIDS. Slavery. Violence.
Cancer. Plagues. Droughts. Disaster.

Return to the Lord your God. Return it all to the Lord. Who else can take it?


There are faithful ones who stand firm in honor and dishonor,
Bad reputation or good, counted as hypocrites but are not,
Completely unknown yet should be famous,
Taken for the dying but are alive in Christ.

Punished, but all the more rejoicing for it.
Owning nothing, so that others might have great wealth.
Owning nothing, yet having everything.

Loving, just loving. Loving each other. Loving God.
For what else is there in the meantime but loving?
Loving Jesus. Jesus loving. Loving God. Godding love.

So in the end we return to Christchurch, for though
There are other disasters and other plagues,
There is a symmetry on Ash Wednesday
To an earthquake in Christchurch, to which a Maori Christian could say,

"Why do we wait for a crisis to realise just how precious we are to each other? We've got a whole society out there saying, "Love me before I become a statistic! Don't wait till something goes wrong. Love me today!" I hope that out of the rubble, not just materially, but spiritually, psychologically, that the lessons we learn from tragedies like today, and there will be more . . . lets love each other! Lets not wait.

Be reconciled to God.
Return to the Lord your God.
Have mercy on me, O God.
Be reconciled to God.
Return to the Lord your God.
Have mercy on me, O God.
Be reconciled to God.
Return to the Lord your God.
Have mercy on me, O God.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

A Series on Virtual Life #2: Are we playing?

Some of the friends I've made on Second Life responded to my first post in this ongoing series on virtual life by clarifying to what extent they consider Second Life to be a "game." This is a helpful clarification. For example, Jayzz wrote,

I don't speak of Second Life as a game. To call it a game misrepresents it to gamers and non-gamers alike. Non-gamers will think it is just a way to while away time; gamers will try Second Life and will be at a loss for what they are supposed to do. I stick to calling it a virtual world, and sometimes point out that you can play games within SL just as you can within RL.

I agree that getting clear on the terminology of second life is important. Life together on second life is not real life (RL). It's virtual, on-line. However, it has some features of other games, inasmuch as it is a simulation of real life (for example, would you consider a flight simulator to be a game, or have features of a game?) Furthermore, it's true that on Second Life much of the world is not a game, but you can play games within SL. There are whole sims devoted to role-playing (in fact I met a chaplain today who travels to a sim where everyone role plays being in 1860s Colorado, complete with the clothes and roles appropriate to the time period... when he travels to this sim, he offers worship to role-players there). There are also less involved games available while in SL, such as checkerboards, etc. And there are simulated "games," like water slides.

So, by offering clarification here on games and what we mean by play and gaming, I don't mean to contradict Jayzz, but I do think SL offers an opportunity to approach the philosophy of gaming in a way fruitful for the study of worship and theology. The content of this blog post should also point up just how innovative SL is as a platform. It's so generative that it requires the exploration of new philosophical categories and the reconsideration of the definitions of terms like gaming and play.

"Ludwig Wittgenstein was probably the first academic philosopher to address the definition of the word game. In his Philosophical Investigations,[5] Wittgenstein demonstrated that the elements of games, such as play, rules, and competition, all fail to adequately define what games are. Wittgenstein concluded that people apply the term game to a range of disparate human activities that bear to one another only what one might call family resemblances." (Wikipedia)

That's about right, and important. So, considering Second Life again, although there isn't direct competition in the way there is competition in World of Warcraft or other fighting games, there is "play." You choose an avatar, a playful way of being in the world. The avatar is not you... it is your avatar. I don't think I'm diminishing what being an avatar is by saying it is like playing with dolls. Just watch small children play with dolls and you'll see what a "serious" activity it is. 

Most avatars also have a name that is not the RL name of those who are in SL. This is important for privacy, but it also lets participants "play" by role-playing a name or character different from RL. I remember doing this back when I was French class when I was in high school. I was Eduard. And while I was speaking French, my Eduard avatar was slightly different from my non-French persona.

In fact, all of this draws attention to the fact that pretty much all of our life is mediated, we just don't always notice it or admit it. Each of us "plays" almost everywhere without calling it that. I play a role as a pastor, dad, father, friend, blogger. In fact, who I am on my blog isn't quite who I am in person, and that's interesting. Everything is mediated, and SL simply points this up a bit more strongly than other mediations because it is digitally mediated.

Consider this definition of play from the book Homo Ludens:
Summing up the formal characteristic of play, we might call it a free activity standing quite consciously outside 'ordinary' life as being 'not serious' but at the same time absorbing the player intensely and utterly. It is an activity connected with no material interest, and no profit can be gained by it. It proceeds within its own proper boundaries of time and space according to fixed rules and in an orderly manner. It promotes the formation of social groupings that tend to surround themselves with secrecy and to stress the difference from the common world by disguise or other means.
One commentator on Homo Ludens writes, "The important thing for the reader to understand is that Huizinga does not think that play is in any way trivial or less than serious. In fact, he argues that play is a wider, more all-embracing concept than seriousness. Because the idea of seriousness excludes play, whereas the idea of play can very well be taken seriously."

Or consider this approach to a theology of play in Johnston's The Christian at Play:
"I would understand play as that activity which is freely and spontaneously entered into, but which, once begun, has its own design, its own rules or order, which must be followed so that the play activity may continue. The player is called into play by a potential co-player and/or play object, and while at play, treats other players and/or "playthings" as personal, creating with them a community that can be characterized by "I-Thou" rather than "I-It" relationships. This play has a new time (a playtime) and a new space (a playground) which function as "parentheses" in the life and world of the player. The concerns of everyday life come to a temporary standstill in the mind of the player, and the boundaries of his or her world are redefined. Play, to be play, must be entered into without outside purpose; it cannot be connected with a material interest or ulterior motive, for then the boundaries of the playground and the limits of the playtime are violated. But though play is an end in itself, it can nevertheless have several consequences. Chief among these are the joy and release, the personal fulfillment, the remembering of our common humanity, and the presentiment of the sacred, which the player sometimes experiences in and through the activity. One's participation in the adventure of playing, even given the risk of injury or defeat, finds resolution at the end of the experience, and one re-enters ongoing life in a new spirit of thanksgiving and celebration. The player is a changed individual because of the playtime, his or her life having been enlarged beyond the workaday world." (p. 34)
I seem to have shifted into creating a common place book on the topic of play, but maybe that's ok. I'm playing with a new concept, and these definitions are helpful. Now try this. Go back and read the Johnston quote above. Is this not a fairly awesome definition of worship? Or prayer? Are play and worship close to the same thing? In which case worship on SL is as authentic as worship elsewhere, and perhaps even more so because it is play nested within play...

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Best Reads in Church History | Idea for Clergy to Publish Seasonal Reading List

A clergy friend of mine recently wrote:

Dear Friends and Colleagues,
So it's my custom to have a suggested reading list each year for my parish. I have stepped it up this year with a seasonal reading list (4-5 suggestions ranging from devotional to heady), beginning this Lent.
For Eastertide, I would like to give a suggested that's focused on Church/Christian history. do any of you have suggestions of books that you would suggest that range from "good entry point" to "may be considered a technical and academic - but accessible".
I respect you all, and your insights, and know you may know of texts outside my sphere of contact.
To which I responded:

1. The Churching of America, 1776-2005: Winners and Losers in Our Religious Economy, Revised and Expanded Edition, Rodney Starke. I've never learned more about American church history than from this book. This book rocked my world.

2. A Secular Age, Charles Taylor, for the truly heady in your midst. For a book of history and philosophy, it has been very widely read, and Taylor's concept of the social imaginary is going to be critical for future scholarship.

3. How Religion Divides and Unites Us, Robert Putnam, it's on my reading list but I haven't read it yet. It doubles as history and important sociology of religion analysis.

4. Christianity: The First Three Thousand Year, Diarmaid McCullouch. Maybe the best new one volume Christian history.

5. Early Christian Mission (2 volumes), Eckhard Schnabel This is a study in early church history, specifically the period of the apostles themselves and a history of how they did mission.

6. Dietrich Bonhoeffer 1906-1945: Martyr, Thinker, Man of Resistance, Bernard Schlingensiepen This recent biography of Bonhoeffer is the best current offering out there.

7. The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity, Philip Jenkins If you're from North America or Europe and want to know what God is up to worldwide, this is the book.

8. The Missionary Movement in Christian History: Studies in the Transmission of Faith, Andrew Walls I'm a sucker for the history of Christian missions, and this is one of the best.

9. How to Read the Bible, James Kugel. Although technically a work in the history of exegesis, this study comparing how the early church and rabbis read Scripture compared to how modern historical critical scholars read scripture is shocking and informative.

10. Phyllis Tickle, The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why (emersion: Emergent Village resources for communities of faith) I'm not sure her analysis has convinced me, but she does an excellent job of describing the situation we're in and offers pointers on where we are headed.