Saturday, July 30, 2011

Christian Irony

‎"If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we’ve got to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we’ve got to acknowledge that he commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition — and then admit that we just don’t want to do it." ~Steven Colbert

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Circle of Protection

[For readers of Lutheran Confessions, this declaration deserves close and careful attention. It is signed by our bishop, the head of all of our major social service agencies, and has incredibly wide ecumenical support, even from leaders of denominations who we might otherwise differ from widely. Let's let this document and the ethic it reflects resound widely.]

A Circle of Protection:
A Statement on Why We Need to Protect Programs for the Poor

In the face of historic deficits, the nation faces unavoidable choices about how to balance needs and resources and allocate burdens and sacrifices. These choices are economic, political—and moral.

As Christians, we believe the moral measure of the debate is how the most poor and vulnerable people fare. We look at every budget proposal from the bottom up—how it treats those Jesus called “the least of these” (Matthew 25:45). They do not have powerful lobbies, but they have the most compelling claim on our consciences and common resources. The Christian community has an obligation to help them be heard, to join with others to insist that programs that serve the most vulnerable in our nation and around the world are protected. We know from our experience serving hungry and homeless people that these programs meet basic human needs and protect the lives and dignity of the most vulnerable. We believe that God is calling us to pray, fast, give alms and to speak out for justice.

As Christian leaders, we are committed to fiscal responsibility and shared sacrifice. We are also committed to resist budget cuts that undermine the lives, dignity, and rights of poor and vulnerable people. Therefore, we join with others to form a Circle of Protection around programs that meet the essential needs of hungry and poor people at home and abroad.

1. The nation needs to substantially reduce future deficits, but not at the expense of hungry and poor people.
2. Funding focused on reducing poverty should not be cut. It should be made as effective as possible, but not cut.
3. We urge our leaders to protect and improve poverty-focused development and humanitarian assistance to promote a better, safer world.
4. National leaders must review and consider tax revenues, military spending, and entitlements in the search for ways to share sacrifice and cut deficits.
5. A fundamental task is to create jobs and spur economic growth. Decent jobs at decent wages are the best path out of poverty, and restoring growth is a powerful way to reduce deficits.
6. The budget debate has a central moral dimension. Christians are asking how we protect “the least of these.” “What would Jesus cut?” “How do we share sacrifice?”
7. As believers, we turn to God with prayer and fasting, to ask for guidance as our nation makes decisions about our priorities as a people.
8. God continues to shower our nation and the world with blessings. As Christians, we are rooted in the love of God in Jesus Christ. Our task is to share these blessings with love and justice and with a special priority for those who are poor.
Budgets are moral documents, and how we reduce future deficits are historic and defining moral choices. As Christian leaders, we urge Congress and the administration to give moral priority to programs that protect the life and dignity of poor and vulnerable people in these difficult times, our broken economy, and our wounded world. It is the vocation and obligation of the church to speak and act on behalf of those Jesus called “the least of these.” This is our calling, and we will strive to be faithful in carrying out this mission.

Circle of Protection Signatories
Daniel Garcia
International Coordinator, Kairos Prison Ministry International
Wes Granberg-Michaelson
General Secretary, Reformed Church in America
Ken Hackett
President, Catholic Relief Services
Ambassador Tony Hall
Executive Director, Alliance to End Hunger
Dick Hamm
Executive Director, Christian Churches Together in the USA
Bishop Mark S. Hanson
Presiding Bishop, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Herman Harmelink III
Ecumenical Officer, International Council of Community Churches
Mitch Hescox
President, Evangelical Environmental Network
Bishop Thomas L Hoyt, Jr.
Senior Bishop, Christian Methodist Episcopal Church
Bishop Howard J. Hubbard
Bishop of Albany and Chairman, Committee on International Justice and Peace, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
Sister Mary Hughes, OP
President, Leadership Council of Women Religious
Joel Hunter
Senior Pastor, Northland: A Church Distributed
The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop, The Episcopal Church
Michael Kinnamon
General Secretary, National Council of Churches of Christ
The Very Reverend Leonid Kishkovsky
Director of External Affairs and Interchurch Relations, Orthodox Church in America
Heather Larson
Director of Compassion & Justice Ministries, Willow Creek Community Church
Leith Anderson
President, National Association of Evangelicals
Dr. Carroll A. Baltimore Sr.
President, Progressive National Baptist Church
David Beckmann
President, Bread for the World
Geoffrey Black
General Minister and President, United Church of Christ
Bishop Stephen E. Blaire
Bishop of Stockton and Chairman, Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
Bishop Charles E. Blake
Presiding Bishop, Church of God in Christ
Bishop John R. Bryant
Senior Bishop, African Methodist Episcopal Church
J. Ron Byler
Executive Director, Mennonite Central Committee United States
Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS
Executive Director, NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby
Patrick Carolyn
Executive Director, Franciscan Action Network
Very Rev. Thomas P. Cassidy, SCJ
President, Conference of Major Superiors of Men
Rev. Peg Chemberlin
President, National Council of Churches of Christ
Luis Cortes, Jr.,
President, Esperanza USA
Sr. Gayle Lwanga Crumbley, RGS
National Advocacy Center, Sisters of the Good Shepherd
Dave Evans
U.S. President, Food for the Hungry
Joseph Flanagan
National President, National Council of the U.S. Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Inc.
Dr. Rudi Maier
President & Executive Director, Adventist Development and Relief Agency
John McCullough
Executive Director and CEO, Church World Service
A. Roy Medley
General Secretary, American Baptist Churches USA
Rich Nathan
Senior Pastor, Vineyard Columbus
Stanley J. Noffsinger
General Secretary, Church of the Brethren
John A.Nunes President and CEO, Lutheran World Relief
Gradye Parsons
Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
Bishop Sharon Zimmerman Rader
Ecumenical Officer, Council of Bishops, United Methodist Church
Robert Radtke
President, Episcopal Relief & Development
Bishop James C Richardson, Jr.
Presiding Bishop, Apostle Church of Christ in God
Commissioner William A. Roberts
National Commander, The Salvation Army
Samuel Rodriguez
President, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference
Bishop Monroe Saunders
Presiding Bishop, United Church of Jesus Christ (Apostolic)
Ron Sider
President, Evangelicals for Social Action
Very Rev. Thomas H. Smolich, S.J.
President, The Jesuit Conference
Rev. Larry Snyder
President, Catholic Charities USA
Richard Stearns
President, World Vision United States
Ervin R. Stutzman
Executive Director, Mennonite Church USA
Stephen J. Thurston
President, National Baptist Convention of America
R. Lamar Vest
President and CEO, American Bible Society
Daniel Vestal
Executive Coordinator, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship
Berten A. Waggoner
National Director, Vineyard USA
Bishop George W.C. Walker
Senior Bishop of the AME Zion Church
Jim Wallis
President and CEO, Sojourners
Gary Walter
President, Evangelical Covenant Church
Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins
General Minister and President, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Rt. Rev. Elijah Williams
General President, The United Holy Church of America
Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner
Co-facilitator, National African American Clergy Network
Dr. Aidsand F. Wright-Riggins III
Executive Director, American Baptist Home Mission Societies

Additional Signatories
Bishop Claire S. Burkat
Bishop of Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Bishop Minerva CarcaƱo
Bishop of the Desert Southwest Conference, United Methodist Church
Kate Kooyman
Christian Reformed Church
Rev. Dr. Ken Booker Langston
Director, Disciples Justice Action Network
Michael Livingston
Director, Poverty Initiative, National Council of Churches of Christ
Carlos Malave
Associate for Ecumenical Relationships, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
Wendy McFadden
Executive Director and Publisher, Brethren Press, Church of the Brethren
Rev. Dr. Stephen Sidorak
General Secretary, General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns, United Methodist Church
Jim Winkler
General Secretary, General Board of Church and Society, United Methodist Church

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Web sites are so 1990

Our new church web site has been "live" for a few weeks now. Lots of content has been updated, and our staff has the goal of having all "static" content updated by August 15th. We'd especially appreciate a review from those who lead ministry areas to see if we've included everything you hope to see featured on the site, and to correct any mistakes or omissions. We'd especially appreciate it if leaders of ministry areas would write new content as needed to flesh out the site. Here's the link:

Thanks so much for your close and careful review. Readers of this blog, or visitors, we especially appreciate comments from those who have never been to our church, how does the page present our ministry?

Finally, I'm looking for a videographer to help us film a welcome video for the front page. Our other video person has moved to the Czech Republic. Anyone game to help us with this?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Prayers for Norway

A prayer for the people of Norway and for all victims of violence and terror

The following prayers for victims of violence and terror were written  for the World Council of Churches following the bomb attack and killings in Norway on Friday 22 July 2011. They have been shared through social media and can be freely adapted for use in local contexts.
As we pray in Christ’s name for people in one country at a time of national distress, we also hold the whole of God’s Oikoumene in prayer, praying that violence may be overcome and the path to just peace be found.

God of life, God of love:
In the face of unbearable tragedy we turn to you;
hear our cry, listen to our prayers, to our words, to our silence ...
God of healing, God of mercy:
Hear our prayers for the people of Norway;
for all in deep distress, for all who grieve, for the injured and the shocked, for those in despair.
May they be cared for and comforted.
For all in the emergency services working long hours to search, to listen, to care, to protect, to heal.
May they be given strength and also find support.
God of mercy, God of peace:
Hear our prayers for all around the world facing terror and unspeakable violence;
May violence be overcome and the path to peace be found.
All human life is fragile, each of us is precious in your eyes,
Teach us to value one another as you value us.
God of justice, God of courage:
We pray for all leaders in times of crisis,
That they may act for the common good, offering hope and not fear.
God of courage, God of transformation:
We pray for our churches,
That they may be places of openness and forgiveness, planting the values of peace and justice in society.
Transform all fundamentalism and vengeance into attitudes that make for reconciliation.
May we learn to be children of your kingdom of love.
God of all grace and all thankfulness:
In gratitude we pray, giving thanks for the prayers and encouragement which come from so many people and places at this time of suffering, pain and mourning. We learn global solidarity in a time of crisis; may we not forget one another in less stressful times ahead.
These prayers and the heavy silence of our hearts we offer in the name of your son Jesus Christ who trod the path of peace in the face of violence.
‎"In my church development work, I encourage congregations to get
ready: ratchet down nonessential spending and free up funds to help the
needy. Stop fighting and start finding fresh ways to serve a despairing
and angry citizenry. See the world as it is, and venture into it. Preach
hope to neighbors who see little basis for it anywhere else." -Tom Ehrich

Read this quote on a friend's status, to which I responded:

 I think I like this quote, but I worry that ratcheting down nonessential spending includes things like giving up a subscription to The Lutheran, spending money on art and music, etc. I'd like this dude to take a look at my church budget and tell me what is non-essential. Salaries? AC? Continuing education?

In fact, some of the fresh ways to serve a despairing and angry citizenry probably include spending money on "non-essentials." Parties. Plays. Poetry. People. My two cents.

Little Rock Rocks!

Although we've been living in Northwest Arkansas for over six months, this weekend was the first chance we've had to get to the central part of the state. Both my wife and I can remember distinctly the year the Clinton Presidential Library and Museum opened its doors. At that time, we lived in Wisconsin. Both of us think highly of his presidency, and we would have loved to visit the library--but Little Rock is a long ways from Wisconsin and not on the way to anywhere, so we thought there was limited likelihood of a visit.

We were wrong. Friday we visited Little Rock, and our first two stops were his library, and Heifer International Village right next door. For those unfamiliar, Heifer International is a non-profit organization whose goal is to help end world hunger. Many families, individuals, and congregations donate to Heifer. They specialize in helping donors understand the significance of their gifts, by designating the amount it costs to provide, say, a heifer for a village or family in need.

The village is an interpretive center, and the neighboring office complex is an award winning "green" building. Even the parking lot is green. 

You can walk from Heifer to the Clinton Library, which we did, in spite of the temperature--hovering around 104 degrees! The Clinton Library is beautifully designed and laid out. They actually use the columns of the building as storage for some of the archived papers. The main portion of the facility takes his presidency year by year. Of greatest interest to our family were the displays of the many gifts he received over the years from various nations and dignitaries, all on display and fascinating to our children.

Here's one quote. Clinton said, "If elected, I'm going to focus like a laser on this economy." That's my paraphrase, but I think it is pretty close. Kind of wish the leadership in our nation were focused on the economy in a laser-like way. Instead, it seems to me there are more smoke and mirrors than lasers right now.

We stayed in the downtown, near the river market, and primarily walked the river front part of town. There are great pedestrian bridges across the water, some spectacular eateries (including a fish place next to Courtyard Marriott that rivals Fayetteville's Catfish Hole), the market itself, a "tunnel" park and fountain, an electric trolley, and interpretive museums on the history of Arkansas (I'm only naming here the places we visited).

On our second day, in addition to what I've listed above, we also drove to Central High School, famous for the Little Rock Nine and desegregation--toured the Razorback submarine--and visited the Daisy Bates house (the architect working on preparing it as a museum offered us a quick look inside, but the baby was asleep so we just saw it from outside).

It's a great little capitol city, a nice drive through the Ozarks from Northwest Arkansas, and we'll go back soon. En route there are a variety of places I want to tour, including Petit Jean, Acxiom in Conway, and much more.

Just further proof that Arkansas is a great state. Just think, if you've ever heard that Arkansas was "backwards," it's so backwards it gave birth to Walmart, Tyson, and J.B. Hunt (all in Northwest Arkansas) as well as Heifer, Bill Clinton, and Acxiom. You be the judge.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Blogs make a difference

My former youth pastor and now bishop of the Gulf Coast Synod is the featured blogger for Living Lutheran - I was the featured blogger yesterday. Check it out!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

History, Allegory, Tropology

"History is the story of things done, which we find in the literal sense; allegory is when through what is done, something else in the past, present, or future is signified; tropology is when through what is done, something which should be done is signified."

[Hugh's wonderfully pithy definition of these sometimes obscure terms, in his Hugh of Saint Victor on the Sacraments of the Chistian Faith: De Sacramentis

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Walking the Neighborhood: Day 4

I admit up front that the high temperatures and humidity have gotten the better of me, and I'm already in a coffee shop blogging after about three and half hours of walking. So analysis of actual neighborhoods and conversations will be shorter than previous posts. Also, those following this blog may have noticed no Tuesday posts the last two weeks. I was in Iowa on vacation two weeks ago, and at a Stephen Ministry Leader Training conference in Dallas last week, two trips I (wisely) didn't want to signify on a public blog.

Today I wasn't sure where I would tread. I took off through our neighborhood to the southwest of the church, re-treading a street I've walked a couple of times, but then turned one block up into a well-manicured and quiet residential area. I walked up two different cul de sacs, and suddenly realized I was turned around in my own neighborhood. Walked Stanton, which I thought would take me to either Rollings Hills or College, only to find that I had gotten completely turned around and was back up on Old Wire Road when I finally emerged from the neighborhood. I still don't quite understand how the streets are laid out in this neighborhood. The hills disguise some turns and corners, I think.

If you just read the above paragraph, but are not from Fayetteville, you are probably as confused as I was while walking. However, this is an unremarked aspect of true peripateticism. If you are learning a place not from a bird's eye view, but on the ground, you will get lost. It's part of the game.

In fact, just last night I was reading a book the title of which might surprise you, Ivan Illich's In the Vineyard of the Text: A Commentary to Hugh's Didascalicon. Yes, I'm actually reading a book with that title, and it's awesome! Trust me.

Ivan writes, "The child's mind [in medieval Paris] was trained to build the memory mazes, and to establish the habit to dart and retrieve in them. Remembrance was not conceived as an act of mapping but of psychomotor, morally charged activity. As a modern youth, from childhood on I was trained to the Baedeker. As a mountain guide I learned to decipher maps and photographs before venturing into the rock. Decades later, when I first arrived in Japan I purchased a map of Tokyo. But I was not allowed to use it. My host's wife simply refused to let me map my way through the city's mazes by looking at them, mentally, from above. Day after day she led me around this, and then that corner, until I could navigate the labyrinth and reach the destinations without ever knowing abstractly where I was. Reference work before the table of contents and the index must have been much more like this kind of mapless orientation for which our modern schools disqualify us." (37)

I have tried purposefully on each of these walks to not see a map of the neighborhood I'm walking before I walk it. I do not have a "bird's eye view" in mind, even though, given the quality of Google maps, it would be easy to do so.

Instead, I experience, in the body, the twists and turns of the landscape. And today I even got lost. Having gotten lost, I decided to take that as a hint from God, so I walked the neighborhood I'd turned to by mistake, including a small side street behind the Jehovah's Witness, Strawberry Lane (Oh, and I tried to stop in and visit Oak Manor Christian Church, which was a beautiful grounds to walk around on, but no one was there). Thus far I had only chatted up some construction workers working on a street on Stanton, but on Strawberry Lane one woman was out planting a new flower garden, in the heat of the day, and I paused to compliment her on her diligence. She mentioned that if you water plants, you can plant most anything, even in the heat. Then she offered me a glass of cold water.

Surprisingly, in all my walking, this was the first person who had ever offered a glass of water. I happen to be of the same mind as this woman, and always offer guests a glass of water or some other beverage, but in all my walks in Fayetteville, she was the first person to do so. One bank I visited three weeks ago gave us bottles of cold water, also very kind.

We stood in the shade of her garage and talked about the neighborhood. Apparently, it had actually been a strawberry field before being converted into a housing unit by developers. This is a small neighborhood I drive around each day to get to preschool or church. A pleasant and neighborly conversation.

Got back on my walk, and fielded a call from a member of our church who had a question about 1 Timothy 2:11, concerning women keeping silent in church and their teaching authority. Without going into the details of the conversation itself, I note that while talking on a cell phone, you stop noticing anything at all about your surroundings. I hung up right as I arrived at my own house, then reviewed in my mind's eye the walk I had just accomplished over the last 15 minutes. Whereas the walking prior to the cell phone conversation was vivid, and I could picture individual yards, turns, streets, etc. the walk while on the phone was all focused on the conversation itself. Clearly you can get from place to place while on the phone, but you don't notice the places very well. The conversation itself, however, was worth the time and inattention to street detail.

[for those now wondering what I might have said about 1 Timothy 2:11, here's my short version. 1) Women do not need to keep silent in church, and they have full authority by right of their baptism to teach and preach. 2) Blah blah blah about context, historical development, relative importance of various parts of Scripture over against each other. 3) The bible is not Christ--it is the cradle in which Christ is lain. If something in Scripture seems against Christ, go with Christ, not with Scripture. 4) If you have more questions, read Pastoral Epistles with Philemon & Jude, The (Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible), which winsomely addresses gender issues in these letters better than anything I've read]

Okay, back to the walk.  I decided today was a good day to visit some important neighbors--my own family. So I stopped in for some lunch, held the baby for a bit, kissed the rest of the family, cooled off in the air-conditioning, and then set off walking again. On the return walk to the church, I took a detour through a neighborhood I had not yet walked, a brand new development just north of the church, Flint Creek. These are houses I always see the tops of because they are on the other side of the fence from the bike path I take to work. It's funny how neighborhoods are. A place on the street in this neighborhood is actually only about fifty feet from the bike path, in order to get there without transgressing yards and fences, I have to walk about an eighth of a mile.

You'll notice I haven't talked with many people on this walk. That's because no one was out! Wisely, they were inside, in the AC. However, even when I don't meet people, I do pray for each house I pass and those who occupy the house. And the walk clears the head. There's really nothing for clarity like a walk. Additionally, I started re-thinking my rule about not knocking on doors. I think for the time-being, this summer, I'm not going to be knocking doors, but now that I know the Flint Creek neighborhood, and it's on my mental map, some time down the road when we want to really reach out to our neighborhood as a congregation, perhaps door-to-door, I'll know the neighborhoods that might be especially fruitful to visit, and be able to create a walking and canvassing plan. So there's value in walks even when they don't include conversations.

Stopped back at church long enough to cool a bit and pick up my bag, then headed for Mama Carmen's. Met a neighbor with a flat tire named "D" and chatted him up for a while. He was waiting for a friend headed over to the house with a spare. Then started walking, only to be offered a ride by Anita from our church. Since I don't turn down invitations while on these walks, I accepted, so had the chance to ride with her to the coffee shop (Thanks Anita!)

And now here I sit in Mama Carmen's blogging and avoiding the heat. Praise God for air-conditioning. I may start a new Tuesday schedule. Instead of "walking" the neighborhood" I may "sit" the neighborhood.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Michele Bachmann Is (Was) a Lutheran

In all likelihood, you know that Michele Bachmann is a prominent Republican presidential candidate of the Tea Party variety. Like most presidential candidates these days of whatever political persuasion, she is fighting to Reclaim America. In fact, she spells out her principled position on the front page of her campaign web site, so I quote it here:

Michele Bachmann is a principled reformer who holds an unwavering commitment to the conservative values that helped her succeed as a small business owner, a U.S. tax attorney, a state and federal lawmaker, and a wife and mother. She is a Constitutional conservative who understands that our Founding Fathers established a federal government to preserve and protect the nation while fostering an environment where dreams could flourish. It is Michele's single greatest calling in public service to ensure that the liberties enshrined in our founding documents are handed down from this generation to the next.
What she doesn't mention on her web site, but has come up frequently in the news, is that she is also (or at least was until recently) a Lutheran, member of Salem Lutheran Church in Stillwater, Wisconsin (denominational affiliation: Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod--or WELS). In this post, I don't intend to address her political position per se. If you read my blog regularly, you likely have some guesses as to where I fall in comparison to her position.

What I do want to write about is the significance of her Lutheranism, and her transition away from it, because I think that's worth remarking.

Lutherans are not often in the national spotlight. There are probably a host of reasons for this, some good and some bad. On the good side, we don't think being famous is necessary in order to be of service to the kingdom of God, so Lutherans often quietly just get the work done that needs doing, especially as it relates to social service (think of the very large social service agencies we're famous for-- Lutheran Social Service, Lutheran Services of America, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, and Lutheran World Relief, among others. On the bad side, well, we aren't always spectacular at even telling anyone that we are Lutheran or what that signifies.

Bachmann's Lutheranism has come into the spotlight as it relates to her ties to, specifically, the WELS tradition. WELS are our very conservative brothers and sisters in Christ. I myself am a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Now that I live in the south, I frequently have to explain to folks who haven't heard of Lutherans what the differences are between the various Lutheran denominations. This is always a tedious experience for the hearers. By the time I get done with my long explanation, their eyes have glazed over. I talk about the ethnic specific origins of many branches of Lutheranism, talk about the history of migration to North America, and mention the distinctions between differing methods of biblical interpretation that lead us to our different positions. Sometimes I throw in the joke my old college president used to tell, that he studied the history of mergers of Lutheran denominations in the 20th century, and after all six of the main denominations merged and the dust cleared, they had finally gotten the number of denominations down to nine!

But back to the point. Simply put, Michele's brand of Lutheranism matches her brand of politics. Both are socially conservative in their leanings. Michele first came to the spotlight because of her advocacy of a marriage amendment in Minnesota that would define marriage constitutionally as being solely between a man and a woman. Similarly, her originist approach to the founding documents of our nation are not unlike the approach to biblical interpretation her denomination espouses. In the best sense of the term, that approach can be called "fundamentalist."

More recently, questions were raised about the WELS anti-catholic stance. Here the topic gets a bit more tricky. Bachmann has distanced herself from any intimations of anti-catholic bias. She's wise to do so, since that is a very large block of voters. But I think she also probably may not have known or been familiar with the origins of the anti-papist stance Lutherans took during and following the Reformation, and then sustained well past the overdue date. A recent newspaper article in the Washington Post tried to trace the genealogy of the WELS claim that the papacy is the anti-Christ, only somewhat successfully (many newspapers often have a lot of trouble getting theology right--it's unfamiliar territory for them).

So here's my attempt. The Reformers did see the papacy of its day as the anti-Christ, and labeled it as such. Lutherans for centuries continued to label the papacy as the anti-Christ, and for a very specific reason. Central to Lutheran theology is the assertion that if any person or organization undermines the doctrine of salvation by faith alone apart from the works of the law, and especially if that person or organization does so under the auspices or in the name of Christ, that person or organization is, in a very clear way, functioning as the anti-christ. Why? Because in the name of Christ it is preaching a gospel exactly opposite of the gospel of Christ.

WELS theologians and I would likely differ today on who or what to label the anti-christ, but we wouldn't differ on the idea that we need to try and pay attention to the times and places where Christ is attacked and undermined by those who, in his very name, proclaim something other than who he is.

If WELS wanted to confess this position to the press, I think they'd be better served simply saying that their church tries to be attentive to idolatry and evil in the world, and that sometimes they are concerned that idolatry and evil crop up (perhaps they especially crop up) in places that claim to be good and religious. In its best form, this is a hermeneutics of suspicion Lutherans rightfully cultivate. However, because WELS is so committed to the historical manifestations of Lutheran confessional theology, and the maintenance of those confessions today virtually verbatim, I doubt they would have the wiggle room to say something more nuanced or "of the day."

Now back to Bachmann. Six days before she declared her candidacy for president, she verbally requested to leave the WELS church where they had been members but had not attended for over two years. She did not request a transfer to a different church.

This leaves in question, at least in part, what Bachmann's religious commitments are these days. It also goes to show that, once you're campaigning for president, being Lutheran may be more of a hindrance than a help. She'll be much better served (from a vote gathering perspective) participating in a loose confederation of conservative bible believing churches than a specifically confessional conservative bible believing denomination. That's the religious landscape we live in today.

My hope in all of this is twofold. First, if the press continues to trumpet this topic, I hope they do the WELS the honor of getting their faith right and representing it in a fair and honest way. Second, I hope that political candidates of whatever persuasion can get a fair hearing precisely as the kind of religious persons they are. It's tiresome to me that candidates for president have to leave the peculiarity of their traditions in order to join whitewashed American religiosity. Praise God for candidates who are obviously Catholic, Mormon, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, atheist, or Lutheran. Martin Luther famously quipped that he'd rather have a good Turk than a bad Christian as his sovereign. I couldn't agree more, and I hope a strength of our political system is that you can run for public office precisely out of whatever religious tradition shapes and forms you. Isn't that what freedom of religion is all about?

A Case Study on Church and Media

by the Reverend Clint Schnekloth
July 17, 2011
In partial fulfillment for the Fuller DMin course, "Church in the Age of Facebook"

Although much ado is lately being made of the rise of social networking and the full advent of the digital age, the new media culture is actually more layered than genuinely adventist. The new media does not replace but rather adds to existing media. This seems never truer than with that old workhorse, the book. At the same time many are lamenting the demise of print culture and reading, apparently the reading of literary fiction is on the rise.[1] More anecdotally, I find that in my own personal life, the life of my congregation, and the culture in which I am situated, that increasing numbers of us are looking to books and print resources to make sense of the new world in which we live. We follow Twitter feeds, get our news from Facebook status updates, read blogs, and so on, but in order to do our more sustained and reflective work, we still read books. Some of us read lots of them.

As part of a larger and ongoing project to develop a social media plan for our congregation—one that remains continuingly logo- and biblio-centric—I have invited members of our congregation to read a book, Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church, by Kenda Creasy Dean.[2] Since we are a word-centered and book-loving community, this seemed a wise choice, and the book, though not directly about social media, has everything to do with a topic that should be of interest to anyone studying the church’s use of social media: how, or whether, we are passing the faith on successfully to our young people (as well as a secondary but actually identical question, how we are doing in our own personal faith formation as adults).

This initial step, selecting a book for common reading by the congregation, is indicative of where our congregation and denomination is as a whole. In spite of our intentions, and as a byproduct of participating in a transitional era, we are still more a church in the age of the book than a church in the age of Facebook. For example, this book is being read by the leadership of our national church in preparation for the ELCA National Youth Gathering in New Orleans in 2012. No blogs were assigned. We tend to be a congregation (and I tend to be a pastor) that looks first to books as formative resources for engagement and growth. In this way I am not unlike the Fuller Doctor of Ministry program itself, which places the reading of and commenting on books at the core of its curriculum for Doctor of Ministry candidates. I have gotten a lot of traction on this invite, with fifty adults and staff agreeing to read the book (in a congregation that averages 275 in worship Sunday mornings). It is clear we have a large culture of readers in the congregation.

What sets this plan apart from a typical “Blank Church Reads Blank Book” program is the consistent and multi-platform use of social media throughout the study, including forms of publicity and methods of content presentation. So, for example, not only are we reading the book and then discussing it in a series of face-to-face conversations—additionally, all publicity for the event was conducted on our various media platforms, including e-mail, newsletter, Facebook, and Twitter, with attention to levels of response to each media used. Furthermore, some members are intentionally reading the book with e-readers. Others are reading the book with us, but at a distance, and participating in the discussion on Facebook. Our congregational Facebook group includes a conversation thread, some of our members are tweeting or blogging content, and a small group of us has even developed a video interpretation of the book that we have entered in the Evangelical Lutheran Church video contest. [3] And I have conducted an informal survey of the impact of the study using Survey Monkey.[4] I also have a cohort of Facebook friends and blog readers interested in reading and discussing the book. I will publicize the results of the survey to the participants, and we will also show the video as a lead-in to a sermon. All of this is what I mean when I argue that the new media adds layer rather than replaces previous media.

In this paper, I will begin with a presentation of the project itself and analysis of it, with appropriate theological foundations and assessment woven into the narrative (Part I: The Narrative).  In Part II: The Hope, I will make use of the project both as a model and critique of how I will develop a social media plan for our congregation. Part I is therefore what we did and what I think about it, in conversation with resources read for the course. Part II is what we hope to do and why we might try to innovate in certain ways, again in conversation with the course and readings.[5]

Part I: The Narrative
            Two primary motivations drove this project. First, the book itself was inspiring and transformative. As soon as I finished reading it (even while I was reading it), I thought to myself, “How can I get as many people as possible in my church to read this book with me?” Around the same time, I was discussing with our church council the question of whether we would regularly read a book (say quarterly) as part of study and discernment, and one member of the council, a highly educated and motivated leader, said, “Pastor, I just don’t think of myself as a book kind of guy. I don’t sit down and read them. You could assign us to read a book, but it would sit on my end table unread. I’m sorry.” Having heard that, and taken it for what it was, a very authentic admission that different media, tasks, and activities engage his day, I thought another thought to myself, “How can I show this book or translate it to as many people in my congregation as possible, in whatever format?” Since many in our church read books, almost all watch videos or television, and all attend Sunday worship to hear a sermon, I decided to present the material both in a traditional read-and-discuss venue, as well as through the creation of a video.

            Why a video? Having read Burgess and Green’s YouTube, I had become convinced that video is more than just a way to present a message to passive recipients—set in the correct context, it is user created content that also engages a participatory audience. YouTube is “users who upload content to the site, and audiences who engage that content.”[6] The process for the creation of our video certainly exemplifies this. At first, I had tried to secure a professional videographer to come in and shoot the video and edit it. However, at the last minute, this fell through, and I received a very apologetic e-mail just two weeks before the due date for the submission of videos for the ELCA video contest[7], saying simply, “I really wanted to do this video for you, but I have so many requests for projects that I can’t get to yours right now.” This confirmed a suspicion I already had, that videographers, perhaps especially for the church, are quickly becoming a high-demand niche market.

            Now the narrative gets even more interesting, and illustrates how church in the age of Facebook works, on the ground. I posted a quick question both on my personal profile and on the church Facebook group page that read, “Anyone with a video camera available to shoot our ELCA video contest interpretation of Almost Christian?” I received a message back from our (recently transitioning worship leader) saying he could, but only if it was in the next two days because he was getting on a plane to fly to the Czech Republic, where he will now live and teach economics. So I posted a quick update, “We have the camera man. Now all we need are volunteers to be in a movie. I need eight participants, four adults and four youth, for tomorrow (Wednesday) at 3:30 p.m. Who’s in?” Within two hours, I had all my volunteers, some driving in from out of town, some simply crossing the street. We shot the entire movie in about 45 minutes, making use of a script I had written for the purpose.

            Then our camera man took the footage, flew to South Dakota (his launching point for Eastern Europe), spent a couple of evenings editing it, and then sent it to me as a very large file over Skype chat.[8] I reviewed it, uploaded it to YouTube, and then transitioned it to the contest page. Three days after filming we had a video live on YouTube and on the ELCA web site.

            Already you can see how interactive this process is. A group of youth and adults (ranging in age from 13 to 84) helped make a movie for a book they themselves had not read but were interested in. A group of adults who had all read the book helped create a video to interpret the book for our church, the ELCA, and the YouTube-verse. By creating our own video on a book we had read, we are participating in a church version of what Burgess and Green remark upon, a “new category of business that enhances the value of information developed elsewhere and thus benefits the original creators of that information.”[9] Kenda Creasy Dean has seen our video, as have editors at Harvard University Press. Both are friends on Facebook.

            However, this is not yet the end of the story. The video, youth and reader created, was also entered in a contest. Our members have taken great pride in the video and our position in the ranking system on the contest web site. So, many of us posted links to the video in our favorite social networks in order to increase traffic to the video, and hopefully solicit votes. As of today, July 11th, 2011, our video ranks sixth, with 105 votes cast for it. I assume many more have viewed it than voted for it, and on YouTube it currently has over 400 views. So the video was not just participatory at the point of creation, but also at the point of consumption. Viewership itself was participatory and interactive in a way different from simply reading the book. In addition, not only was the whole process communal and participatory, but the production and reception of the video contributed to the furthering of the message of the book in tangible and measurable ways, not just within our congregation, but available to the entire YouTube community.

            Finally, I genuinely think translating the message of Almost Christian (or at least one idea from the book) is not simply an act of transitioning a book into video. It is itself missiological. Pete Ward, in his reflections on how he came to care about missiology and worldview as a result of his youth ministry experience, says, “The missiological task in Western culture is made more complex because it is not so much translation from one community or ethnically or geographically located culture to another, but it involved communication of faith between subcultural groups within our own society.”[10] One subculture in our society reads books, another subculture lives on YouTube, and never the twain shall meet unless sometimes groups like our youth group and adult leaders do the creative work of translating from one community to another. Not only this, but the making of such a video is itself an example of “liquid church.” In a small but very real way, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church of Fayetteville, Arkansas, now “lives” on YouTube in a way it did not before. Ward writes, “Central to the idea of ecclesial fluidity is the role that mediation plays in producing and circulating theological expression. Participation in a mediated ecclesial culture extends the Church and animates it to move beyond traditional frameworks.”[11] I am in no way arguing that we have it all figured out. In fact, our primary media strategy, if we have one, is more along the lines of “Experiment. Try stuff!” However, I believe many in our congregation resonate with Ward’s final assessment and question, “The mediation of theological expression in popular culture represents a vital and urgent missional challenge. How can theological capital and the Christian habitus be developed in this context of an extended ecclesial life?”[12]

            So far, all of this has only been a description of the production of our video. We have not yet even analyzed the book project and face-to-face discussions. Although more traditional in nature, even this part of the project clearly illustrates how different church in the age of Facebook actually is. First, all initial publicity for the book discussion was conducted on-line. Although eventually I publish information about studies and church events in our bulletin and newsletter (both print resources), I often float new ideas on social media contexts first to see what kind of traction they have. In the case of this book, response was immediate and sturdy.[13] By the time I actually sent publicity material to our secretary for the bulletin and newsletter, I already had twenty people signed up to read the books and participate in the discussion sessions. Altogether, fifty adults promised to read the book and participate in discussions.

            The next step was to build momentum. I widened the publicity at this point to include all those on my social networks, especially Facebook and Twitter. A few clergy from congregations across the country agreed to read the book and organize readings simultaneously with ours. Here is an example of where social networking allows for great levels of ecumenicity and catholicity to take concrete form, as churches and individuals in various geographical locations and denominational structures interact a common shared interest.[14]

In addition, I invited the author of the book, Kenda Creasy Dean, into the conversation stream of some of the publicity for the event. This is one of the signal aspects of the flattening that occurs with social media—authors and other personalities heretofore inaccessible are now available for immediate resourcing and conversation. The longest conversation threads planning for the book discussion took place in our Facebook group, but I also had some fairly substantial threads on my personal feed, indicating a very distributed if centered level of engagement with the material. Additionally, as we planned for the face-to-face conversations, we made use of additional materials available on Kenda Creasy Dean’s web site.[15] She has designed discussion questions for each chapter of the book. Here is another simple example of the layered nature of the new media. Books themselves are now often more than just books. Books have web sites. Books can expand into the digital domain (I even own a book where they published the bibliography on-line rather than in print because of the already lengthy content of the book itself, James Kugel’s How to Read the Bible).[16] The point here is that even books themselves participate in the new digital era, and we have tapped those resources to deepen how our group engaged the book.

            Finally, some notes about the face-to-face discussions are in order. Although teaching a class or facilitating a book discussion are, in all likelihood, typical of church learning contexts, facilitating the discussion in light of our social media usage and strategy did make me assess the face-to-face discussions in a slightly different manner than prior classes I have taught. For one, it was interesting to note that a number of people attended the discussion who a) never participated in the pre-social media discussions, and b) rarely if ever attend bible studies or other kinds of classes. There is something unique about a book discussion that attracted a different kind of learner. This is likely a reproducible insight. In other words, a class based on watching a series of videos, or using a computer lab, would attract another set of learners. Different folks respond to different media in different ways. That is a small insight, but one to keep in mind. Similarly, as those of us experienced in classroom encounters can testify, the give and take of conversation contributed to a greater level of insight into the content of the book than had other forms of engagement with the book itself. This is to say that just reading the book does not do it all. Processing media like a book verbally with a group of learners is important and formative.

Part II: The Hope
I have been arguing that the use of new media is more layering than replacement. However, many scholars believe that the development of new technologies does often have the effect of submerging others, and they argue awareness of this is essential to ethical reflection on the role of technology in our lives. “Human making is always a perceiving and bringing to expression of the given creation’s material order. Put in other terms, when we facilitate the expression of one level of material order, we necessarily submerge and perhaps in time lose touch with another… the establishment of new social and material orders always entails the subsumption or reconfiguration of previous patterns of order.”[17] So, before I proceed to discuss those aspects of new media I celebrate in ministry and anticipate using in innovative and creative ways, I will try to identify here, at least in part, what has been subsumed or reconfigured.
First, I note that the use of social media and video to interpret the book in our congregation has had the net effect of more highly engaging some people, while excluding (not necessarily intentionally) others. Those who do not wish to be on Facebook, watch YouTube videos, or, for that matter, read books, are not brought in to the discussion. In social groups and churches, something like this phenomenon is always happening, but because of the particularly sticky nature of social media, the distinction between those who are participating and those who are not is even more starkly apparent, and those of us who are “in” may notice less or even forget about those who are not.

Second, and perhaps also unnoticed or unremarked upon, is that inasmuch as we are spending time engaging social media to communicate, we are not spending time elsewhere. This may seem obvious, but there is limited time in the day, and if you are on-line for two hours, those are two hours not spent having coffee with a friend, hiking a trail, or volunteering at the nursing home. Two hours on the computer engaging social media is time spent with others, to the extent that you are “with” others in the social media environment, but it is time not spent with those who are offline. So in the case of this book study, social media engagement and production of the video, though potentially beneficial for those on-line who engaged it, was not a strategy that impacted those in the nursing home, those in prison, or anyone off the grid.
For example, Dwight Friesen in Thy Kingdom Connected celebrates scale-free networks and the opportunity for connective leadership in those networks. The kind of connectivity we have been illustrating through this project “sparks one’s imagination for incarnationally presencing oneself in the places of disruption within one’s own network. You can be a reconciling presence, knowing that you are not there to ‘fix’ others but to open your heart to mutual transformation through relationship.”[18] True, as far as it goes, but digital media has the net effect of creating two different places, a digital place and a real life place, where one would need to be incarnationally present, and the layering I have been celebrating can only happen when participants reside in both places, digital and face-to-face. For those who only live face-to-face, or are only present on-line, in the new media context they may be missing out on half the story.[19]

Theologian and philosopher Albert Borgmann has leveled one of the most damning critiques of technology. He notes, for example, that technology tends to exclude the poor and the marginalized rather than incorporating them. Additionally, he worries that technology mediated community is lacking in festivity and celebration. For these reasons and others, “technology ought to be revoked as the dominant way of taking up with the world and relegated to securing the margins and underpinnings of our lives. Within that environment we must make a clearing for the celebration of the Word of God. But since technology as a way of life is so pervasive, so well entrenched, and so concealed in its quotidianity, Christians must meet the rule of technology with a deliberate and regular counterpractice.”[20] Although I believe Borgmann is on to something, his suggested counterpractices are so nostalgic and anemic as to be of only nominal value (read poetry out loud and eat meals together), and his critique of technology lacks nuance.

Take, for example, a sentence from his book, one I believe Borgmann would argue applies especially to Facebook status updates or Twitter feed content: “I have concentrated on the tendency of technology to dissolve the depth of a genuinely public and celebratory life into a sophisticated machinery that yields an easily and safely consumable commodity.”[21] Let us grant, for the moment, that perhaps status updates are like this. So, instead of getting a group of diverse people together for a birthday party, we all just post “happy birthday” on a friend’s wall and call it good. That in itself would be worthy of Borgmann’s critique. However, few make use of social media to replace birthday parties. Instead, as I have been arguing, Facebook enhances and layers the birthday experience. You still have a birthday party with your family and friends, and you receive birthday greetings from 200 or more friends on Facebook on the day of your birthday. There simply was nothing quite like it in the past. It is celebratory precisely in the way Borgmann is hoping for, but precisely because of the technology available.
Borgmann’s thesis is also problematic because he fundamentally misunderstands what technology is and how it functions. He argues that technology should be revoked as the fundamental way of taking up with the world, as if we could actually do that. Contra Borgmann, to take a Heideggerian insight, “technology is not things we make but the way we live.”[22] It is not a set of objects we take up to engage the world; technology is a form of being in the world. Even forms of being in the world that do not make use of electronic technologies and social media are still “technologies,” in this sense, and it is more apt to compare different technological forms of being in the world than to argue for a pristine non-technological form of being in the world over against a technological one.

That being the case, I conclude this essay with a series of explorations, inspired by our readings, in class discussion, and the Almost Christian book project, of how our congregation and my ministry might innovatively and inventively engage new media as we seek to be church in the age of Facebook (and now Google+).

1) A church of produsers: I hope to regularly keep in mind that I am doing PR more often than I think, and that church is better understood as a conversation. I really do not want to be selling a product to people, but instead I hope to be encouraging the body of Christ in produsing media that is then made use of and benefits the very community that produses it. Each member is able to see and evaluate everyone else’s contributions, driving greater identification with the overall mission and ethic of the congregation as a whole. In a church context, this might mean that potential learners in adult education would participate in the planning process and selection of study material, and then evaluate later how they as a group did at selecting study material that helped the group grow in faith. Similarly, I may conduct an assessment to see how a congregation might “produse” sermons.[23]

2) Scale free networking. Social networks like Facebook or MySpace are scale-free non-hierarchical, enabling us to reimagine the kingdom of God in such terms.[24] I am daily blown away by how important this development is. I often converse with presidents of seminaries, CEOs of publishing houses, and a whole host of people via Facebook and Twitter that I would not have dreamt of having easy access to a decade ago. On the same day, I chat with teens and elderly members of my congregation, and missionaries we support in other countries. Often these conversations with people I appreciate being in dialogue with happens through indirect connections. We prefer to think of networks as direct, so we try to leverage them to impact directly the people or groups we are directly in contact with. However, networks often have their greatest power and impact as they pattern out through indirect and secondary connections.  When we are organizing in networks of faithful ministry (for example, in a small group bible study) it may not even be the direct network of the group itself that has the most powerful transformative or redemptive impact, but what flows out in the synergistic nodes of relationality in which each of the small group participants is situated. The scale-free nature of new social forms of media makes this happen in sustained and transformative ways.

3) Let’s play: “You must be prepared to be a child again, to learn by playing around.”[25] This insight is true on two levels. First, part of our congregational media policy, and my own practice, is to just try stuff out. Do not be overly fearful of new media. Be careful, but play around. However, the deeper insight here is that play is native to many social media contexts, and if the church is going to be in ministry in these areas, we need to learn how to play. I offer two examples from recent conversation. A biblical scholar, AKM Adam, related to me in recent e-mail correspondence, the following,

Relative to your specific thesis, I wonder whether there isn't a comparison to be made between the catechumenate and the process of enculturating new members into a MMORPG guild. I mention this because of my experience as a guild admin and class lead (priest, of course) in the very long-standing Warcraft guild We Know whose guild master is Joi Ito, recently named head of the MIT Media Lab. Joi has lots of published presentations and interviews on how leading and organising a guild taught him about corporate management, and he would probably talk with you if you asked nicely. But I was at work on the backend, so to speak, trying to help cultivate customs for positive social interaction. Our guild didn't allow racist, sexist, offensive language in /guild chat, and regulated group behaviour in a way as grown-up as we could possibly achieve. You may be a gamer yourself, or may know about games — that they tend to bring out the early-adolescent male child in players — and we early on had a lot of trouble with overexcited members saying they were going to fuckin' rape some Horde, or someone else shouldn't be such a girl, or that such-and-such an item was gay, or that their group leader was a retard. We had to pull people aside, gently and persistently, to say that we just don't talk that way in We Know; that we have members who are gay, who are women, who have children with Down syndrome, who have survived rape. Some people quit the guild, some people groused a lot about "free speech", but by the time I retired two years ago, we hadn't had to rebuke anyone in longer than I can remember. If you joined We Know, you signed up for our way. The longevity, popularity, and success of the guild suggest that something is going right.

This is just one, if powerful, illustration of how getting out to play, but in a specifically Christian way, makes a difference. Similarly, I took a group of college age youth out for lunch a couple of weeks ago. It ended up being an all male group. All of them game, and our conversation centered on Assassin’s Creed and World of Warcraft. It was clear, even from our brief conversation, that young adults are working out their identity in these gaming contexts, trying to balance life, work, and play, and are, you could say, native to that environment. In the same way that a day for me would not be complete without some time for reading, a day for them would not be complete without gaming. The church, our church, most churches, have not really tried to figure out what it means to be where gamers are, and to play with them.

4) Creation and hope (eschatology):  I tend to think that creativity and an eschatological imagination go hand-in-hand, and to the extent one is encouraged in the church, so is the other. Doug Pagitt exercises this kind of hopeful creativity when he writes, “This is the Inventive Age. It’s an age when we have no idea what’s coming next or where it will come from—and it’s thrilling.”[26] It is that last tag, “and it’s thrilling,” that says it all. Hopeful anticipation of what will be created, what God is bringing about in creation, is part and parcel of the new media era. Compare a comment in John Drane’s recent book, After McDonaldization. “The re-imagination of a relevant biblical eschatology should be a top priority for today’s Christians… hope is at the heart of the Gospel, and yet no Christian tradition seems to have any sort of serviceable eschatology for the twenty-first-century world in which we live.”[27] Openness to God’s future and creativity seem to go hand in hand. “Being the church in the Inventive Age requires us to be open to the spirit of God conducting change in all areas of our systems and structures. It requires us to be fully engaged in our faith today. And that just might mean inventing the future.”[28]

5) Grassroots, energized hobbyists: I simply love it that many folks in our congregation take so much ownership in who we are as a congregation that they “geek out” over it. People who are geeks of any sort tend to invest lots of creative energy, and pour their love into something purely because it interests them and their passion for it pours forth. This is an apt (if under-represented) way of being a member of the body of Christ, and it is a way of being I work to encourage in our congregation. This is less about assigning people ministries, but rather setting them free to nerd out over what really perks their interest. Consider this quote from the senior director of LucasArts: “We really just needed to make the game a lot more accessible to a much broader player base. There was lots of reading, much too much, in the game. There was a lot of wandering around learning about different abilities. We really needed to give people the experience of being Han Solo or Luke Skywalker rather than being Uncle Owen, the moisture farmer. We wanted more instant gratification: kill, get treasure, repeat. We needed to give people more of an opportunity to be a part of what they have seen in the movies rather than something they had created themselves.”[29] The I have made to myself: do a self-evaluation to see to what degree this kind of thinking informs how we operate as a church. Then pray and approach it again with a “let’s geek out together” mind-set.

            6) We’re all avatars now: Social media has drawn our attention to the fact that we are never unmediated in relationship to one another. We always present ourselves in specific ways. In this sense, we all had avatars before there were avatars. “Mediated environments like networked publics [simply] formalize and alter the identity process of self-presentation and impression management.”[30] Since I work with youth, and care about youth and family ministry (as does our congregation), we are called to attend to how this has become the native habit of a new generation. This is “the first generation to have to publicly articulate itself, to have to write itself into being as a precondition of social participation.”[31]

            7) Overcoming heteronomity: Our church and denomination has always struggled with this issue. Most Lutheran churches began as ethnic churches—Norwegian, Danish, German, Slovak. We still struggle to authentically manifest ministries that make sense to cultural and ethnic groups outside those we already are made up of. One danger of the social media landscape is that by using social media, we will simply reinforce this tendency. “Many of the distinctions college students make in relation to social-network sites are not merely about taste; they are also about the preservation of social status and privilege.”[32] I believe this may be the item on the list I have the least clarity on, but I do know awareness is half the battle, so our staff will spend some time thinking through how to overcoming heteronomity, not simply as a church, but also in the social media realm.

            9) Convergence: “Convergence does not depend on any specific delivery mechanism. Rather, convergence represents a paradigm shift—a move from medium-specific content toward content that flows across multiple media channels, toward the increased interdependence of communications systems, toward multiple ways of accessing media content, and toward ever more complex relations between top-down corporate media and bottom-up participatory culture.”[33] I believe I have already illustrated in Part I of this paper how we have focused on greater convergence, but I reiterate it here as one of our top continuing strategies and approaches for engaging church in the age of Facebook.
            10) Media literacy education for youth: I conclude with a list of media literacy ideas from Henry Jenkin’s book on convergence culture. I am fascinated by the way in which our church might take the lead on this, not just as a church, but within the community, and in so doing be both missional and inventive. So much of our culture fears change and fears new technology even while it engages it. This might be the new Sunday school movement, churches inviting families and children into contexts where they can increase:

1) “The ability to pool knowledge with others in a collaborative enterprise”
2) “The ability to share and compare value systems by evaluating ethical dramas”
3) “The ability to make connections across scattered pieces of information”
4) “The ability to express your interpretations and feelings towards popular fictions through your own folk culture”
5) “The ability to circulate what you create via the Internet so it can be shared with others”
6) “Role-playing both as a means of exploring a fictional realm and as a means of developing a richer understanding of yourself and the culture around you”[34]

Each of the items on this list would need to be contextualized for a confirmation, high school, or Sunday school context, and adapted for age appropriateness. The list itself, however, is a solid tickler list for how to proceed. As I prepare for fall programming and teaching, I believe I will start by simply making use of this list for the two major classes I am teaching, one for adults on Canon, Creed, Confession, and Comparative Theology and the other on the Augsburg Confession for high schoolers.[35] Setting this list against the content of the curriculum I am putting together will inevitably set up a creative interplay that will make the classes dynamic and intrinsically missional. This is not only a solid strategy for being church in the age of Facebook—it is also a faithful continuation of the ongoing study project begun with the discussion of Almost Christian and companion video.

[1], accessed July 11, 2011.

[2] Kenda Creasy Dean. Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling the American Church (Harvard University Press, 2011).

[3] For the contest link, For the Youtube lnk,, both accessed July 11, 2011.

[4] Although the contents of the survey document create too large of a file to attach to this Word document in the form of an appendix, I can send the results of the survey to you by e-mail if it is of interest.

[5] Note to Professors Bolger and Pagitt: As a reminder from our earlier e-mail correspondence, the paper is negotiated as twenty pages in length rather than thirty-forty because of the research and video development components.

[6] Jean Burgess and Joshua Green, Youtube: Online Video and Participatory Culture(Polity Press, 2009), vii.

[7] ELCA Video Contest,, accessed July 11, 2011.

[8] This happens to be my favorite tech discovery this year, that you can send files, of absolutely any size, over Skype chat. Just drop it into the dialogue, and the recipient clicks to open and download.

[9] Jean Burgess and Joshua Green, YouTube: Online Video and Participatory Culture(Polity Press, 2009), 4.

[10] Pete Ward. Participation and Mediation: A Practical Theology for the Liquid Church(SCM Press, 2008), 13.

[11] Ibid. 17.

[12] Ibid. 191.

[13] I have actually found, over time, that I can float ideas in the Facebook context, and if they do not gain traction, I do not move forward with them. So Facebook in this sense funcitions as a laboratory, and group members know that is part of the group function.

[14] I should add one learning by way of what did not work. No one I know personally uses Second Life, and although some have heard of it, they are skeptical. So I have not yet successfully organized a discussion of Dean’s book on Second Life. I would very much like to, but I believe there may be two significant barriers. First, folks on SL may not be interested in discussing books. Second, members of my congregation may not be interested in creating an avatar on SL.

[15], accessed July 11, 2011.

[16], accessed July 11, 2011.

[17] Brian Brock. Christian Ethics in a Technological Age (Eerdmans, 2010), 57.

[18] Dwight Friesen. Thy Kingdom Connected (Baker Books, 2009), 88-89.

[19] I am reminded, for example, of Henry Jenkin’s chapter in Convergence Culture on the movie The Matrix. I had always wondered why I had so much trouble understanding the third movie, Matrix Revolutions. Somehow, as tuned in as I typically am to sci-fi cinema, gaming, etc., I had totally missed that “the filmmakers plant clues that won’t make sense until we play the computer game. They draw on the back story revealed through a series of animated shorts, which need to be downloaded off the Web or watched off a separate DVD.” This very well could be how some of our members might feel if they only see our video, or only read the book, or only see an e-mail from myself asking them to take a survey relative to the book discussion and movie. See Henry Jenkins, Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide (New York University, 2006), 96.

[20] Albert Borgmann. Power Failure: Christianity in the Culture of Technology (Brazos Press, 2003), 94.

[21] Ibid. 45.

[22] Brock, 32.

[23] In one of two of these final points, I have re-evaluated commitments I suggested in my class reading log, and am now cataloging them here for more intentional use and engagement.

[24] Friesen, 31.

[25] YouTube, 73.

[26] Doug Pagitt. Church in the Inventive Age (Sparkhouse Press, 2010), 27.

         [27] John Drane. After McDonaldization: Mission, Ministry, and Christian Discipleship in an Age of Uncertainty (Baker Academic, 2008), 16, 27.

[28] Doug Pagitt, Church in the Inventive Age (Sparkhouse Press, 2010), 111.

[29] Henry Jenkins. Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide (New York University Press, 2006), 172.

[30] danah boyd. Taken Out of Context: American Teen Sociality in Networked Publics(UC
Berkeley, 2008), 119.

[31] Ibid. 120.

[32] Craig S. Watkins. The Young and the Digital: What the Migration to Social Network
Sites, Games, and Anytime, Anywhere Media Means for Our Future (Beacon Press, 2009), location 1182.

[33] Jenkins, 254.

[34] Jenkins, 185.

[35], accessed July 11, 2011.


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