Thursday, March 31, 2011
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.
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Sunday, March 27, 2011
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
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
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
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Ryan Bolger, professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, at http://www.ryanbolger.com/ Bolger's expertise is in missiology and emergent church.
Doug Pagitt, pastor of Solomon's Porch in Minneapolis, MN, at http://dougpagitt.com/ 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
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)
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.
"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)
Saturday, March 12, 2011
Friday, March 11, 2011
Andy Arnold, the Tech Geek at the ELCA Youth Ministry Network (http://elcaymnet.org/_blog/Tech_Geek) 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.
Thursday, March 10, 2011
Wednesday, March 09, 2011
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, 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
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.
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.