Saturday, May 17, 2008

Small Sips: Racism Alive and Well, UCC Article in U.S. News, No More Internet Monk?

What Racism Problem?: An article on MSN reports on some of the discrimination and hate that local Obama supporters are running into...
For all the hope and excitement Obama's candidacy is generating, some of his field workers, phone-bank volunteers and campaign surrogates are encountering a raw racism and hostility that have gone largely unnoticed -- and unreported -- this election season. Doors have been slammed in their faces. They've been called racially derogatory names (including the white volunteers). And they've endured malicious rants and ugly stereotyping from people who can't fathom that the senator from Illinois could become the first African American president.

The contrast between the large, adoring crowds Obama draws at public events and the gritty street-level work to win votes is stark. The candidate is largely insulated from the mean-spiritedness that some of his foot soldiers deal with away from the media spotlight.

Huh. You don't say.

So, for every Pollyanna anecdote about how people are much more racially tolerant nowadays and how race couldn't possibly factor into whether some people vote for a black candidate, there's a story like the above (and the rest of the disgusting stories in that article) to help keep our heads out of the sand. Whether Obama wins the election or even the nomination, at least he's helped expose, or re-expose, one of this country's enduring problems.

UCC in U.S. News: U.S. News and World Report has a very well-done article on the United Church of Christ in light of the Jeremiah Wright fiasco. The article provides a brief history and recap of more recent trends within the denomination, and mostly focuses on the conservative/liberal battles that have become increasingly heated. Eventually, the article reaches this conclusion:

Whether an unabashedly progressive church can become a growing part of the American religious landscape is still an open question. "They may become the refuge for liberals from all sorts of denominations, " says University of California-San Diego sociologist John Evans, though he sees no evidence that the UCC's liberal branding campaign has worked. In the meantime, just as leaders of evangelical churches tend to be more politically conservative than most people in their pews, so the leaders of the UCC will probably continue to be to the left of most of their flocks. And that may only contribute to the view, particularly among many younger Christians who are leaving both mainline and evangelical churches, that overly ideological leadership is one of the weaknesses of contemporary institutional Christianity.

Does a "liberal brand" have a long-term future in American denominationalism? I've reflected before that, while more "conservative" churches have left the UCC, more "liberal" churches have joined or have been planted. So while older branches are falling away, new branches are being grafted on or are budding. It'll look like a much different tree, but it'll still be standing.

The Still Speaking campaign, in part, has always been about attracting disaffected churchpeople from other places, or encouraging non-churched believers to give our church a try. I think that it'll take a lot more than a commercial and a website to do that (personal invitations and local community interaction, for starters). But that has been the goal, and there hasn't been much to dispute that. The trick, especially in light of denominational trends in general, will be less to say, "Look how 'liberal' our national office is!" and more, "We welcome you right here in this particular church, and if that's 'liberal,' then whatever!"

Yes, very articulate. My kid was up half the night.

A Monk-less Existence?: Yesterday, Michael Spencer (aka The Internet Monk) posted this on his blog:

Dear Internet Monk Readers,

Over the next few weeks, while I am on sabbatical, I will be deciding the future of this web site.

As of today, it is quite likely (though not certain) that this site will come to the end of its almost 8 year run this summer. I am not resolved to this at this point, but I am considerably persuaded that the time may have come to bring Internet to a close.

Should that actually be the decision, this site would go inactive in early July, and a new blog would begin, with an eventual redirect of all IM traffic to the new blog.

That blog would be a much more focused exploration of Jesus-Shaped Spirituality, i.e. the intersection of Jesus studies and spiritual growth and formation. This subject is animating and working in me right now, and I can see much good fruit and practical help available if I pursue that direction.

The first thing that I need to say is that the new blog focus he's thinking about greatly intrigues and excites me. I'm greatly interested in the same subject matter, and have been for a year or two now. So I love the fact that, if he decides to take on this new venture, I'll follow him to his new space with no problem.

That said, this is potentially an end of an era. The iMonk has been around for 8 years. I've only been reading him for about 3 1/2 of those years now, but he has been a staple on my sidebar, and a great jumping-off point for my own thinking on more than one occasion.

I re-read two of his entries fairly regularly, and I commend them to you:

When Loving You is Killing Me: Thoughts on Pastoring the Small Church (and his follow-up, Four Years: Reflecting on a First (and Only) Pastorate)

The Temptation to Quit