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Showing posts from February, 2014

February 2014 Pop Culture Roundup

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A lot of good stuff in February, so much that I couldn't limit it to five...

1. The first book that I was really looking forward to reading this year was Sara Miles' City of God, released at the beginning of the month. Her Take This Bread continues to influence me in various ways, so I greatly anticipated this latest offering. Loosely speaking, this is her account of Ash Wednesday 2012, where she and other Episcopalian colleagues interact with a neighborhood in the middle of San Francisco, distributing ashes. I say loosely, because the larger narrative is Miles' love of the neighborhood: her service and her prayers are intensely personal and genuine for this place because she really knows the people and the rhythms here. This serves as a cornerstone for her musings about what ministry in this or any neighborhood is like. The entire book is based on her ability to see God among the strange, quirky, and unconventional inhabitants of her city, and to point out how the divine …

"This Dream of Peace" - A Prayer for Epiphany 7

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Based on Matthew 5:38-48

In our most desolate inner places, you refresh us:
affirming our humanity,
naming us as beloved,
inviting us to wholeness.

In these times we are grateful,
safe in your company,
filled at your banquet table.

But even in our joy and in our healing, you insist that we turn and face
those who have cut us the deepest,
who have tried to rob us of self,
who have threatened our wholeness,
who barge into our memories
unwelcome and unwanted.

In these times we are angry,
incredulous at your insensitivity,
declaring that we will not be hurt again.

How will we pursue what you ask of us?

In response, you remind us of your strange nature,
where the sun's rays and drops of rain
fall indiscriminately upon us all,
as if grace also behaves this way.

You are audacious enough to suggest
that our healing is bound to theirs,
that you'd give to people from whom we ourselves would withhold,
that divine love has its own rules.

Only you are able to make space
for this dream of p…

Let's Look at Religious Affiliation Charts and Freak Out

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It really should be no secret by now that American religion is going through interesting times…mostly decline in formal affiliation. This, of course, includes Christian church attendance.

Every once in a while, we need CHARTS to remind our friends and constituents of this fact, as they make everything seem official and factual and, if the need arises, scary. And so we've been privy to some bright new shiny CHARTS lately, used for one or more of the aforementioned purposes.

First up is one that Tony Jones recently shared from the Pew Research Center with a clickbait title with some analysis of what it means.
First, the CHART:

Jones focuses in on the huge amount of Millenials who consider themselves "unaffiliated" and calls the church to account for its failure to engage them effectively. Those who have been paying attention to such trends for the past decade or two would not be very surprised by this; neither is the criticism that the church can do better a new one.
But w…

Vintage CC: Things to Do to Ensure Short, Unhappy, and Ineffective Pastorates

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I'll be celebrating the completion of my first year at my current pastorate next week. Not completely coincidentally, I've been thinking about this post from January 2011. A lot of these are from experience rather than observation. I'm glad I managed them well enough at my previous stop, and hope to keep doing so where I am now.

Approach your congregants as being in constant need of corralling and correcting, with no worthwhile ideas or opinions to speak of.

Constantly be jealous of all the wonderful things that your colleagues seem to be able to do in their churches, and grumble about how you'll never be able to do anything like that where you are.

Read and talk about making changes, but don't ever test the waters or put together a plan on how to do it.

Think of yourself as finally the pastor who's going to come in and show them how to do things the right way after decades and even centuries of getting it wrong.

Don't get too comfortable, and constantly ha…

Small Sips Pays Tribute

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First, this. Back around the time Philip Seymour Hoffman's movie Doubt came out, James Martin, SJ, who served as a theological consultant for the movie, wrote this piece about his experience of the actor/director:
When I asked Phil Hoffman about his directing style on “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot,” he readily agreed with the inherent strength of the parable—or, in his words, the personal anecdote—in its ability to communicate more than a strictly worded directive.“It’s the way I normally direct,” he said. “The anecdotes and stories spark a discussion with the actors and it starts a give-and-take about the character or the scene. And the more personal the better. If I can be open with my life, then the actors usually feel more comfortable expressing themselves through the work.”I asked if he ever felt the need to be more specific in his direction. “Sometimes you have to tell someone exactly what you want, but you can’t dictate,” he said. “You have to keep suggesting. Otherwise, …

The Ejector Ad Eight Years Later

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Since I want to do a bit of reflection this year about where this blog has been in anticipation of its big tenth anniversary, I thought I'd recount one of its more notable moments.
Starting in 2003, my denomination, the United Church of Christ, began rolling out a new identity campaign known as God is Still Speaking. It was centered around the symbol of the comma, borrowing from a saying from comedienne Gracie Allen: "Never place a period where God has placed a comma." The idea behind the campaign was to position the UCC as a distinct, progressive place for people of faith wondering if there could truly be a welcoming, inclusive church for them.
As part of this campaign, the UCC produced three commercials. The first two, "Bouncer," and "Steeple," rolled out at about the same time, with the former in particular causing plenty of conversation and controversy along the way.
About a year after these first two commercials were released and after an appeal…

Let's Stop Calling Them "Church Shoppers"

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When I was in college, I played in a worship band at a United Methodist church some 10 miles away from the school. The church at that point was taking a lot of cues from a fellow UMC, Ginghamsburg Church in Tipp City, which you may have heard of. Ginghamsburg had found great success transforming and growing itself through many of the methods common to megachurches in that time, and this country church in little Old Fort, Ohio was just beginning to find its own niche through some of these techniques as well. Last I checked, they're still thriving, incarnating the gospel in their setting as best they can.

In those days, the primary word used to refer to the people that churches wanted to attract was "seeker." The larger movement went by the name "seeker-sensitive:" a highly attractional-based philosophy where churches did their best to offer programs and amenities that people either disillusioned or unfamiliar with the church might find worth checking out as an …

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