Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Coptic Christians Protest in Front of Jim Cooper's Office in Nashville on Tues

A group of Coptic Christians, and their supporters protested for several hours in front of Tennessee Congressman (D) Jim Cooper's Nashville office (as well as the site of a coffee shop and the main Nashville Public Library) late morning/early afternoon on Tues. 01-19-2010. They were protesting a lack of U. S. response to the murder of Christians in Egypt and the lack of equal treatment of Muslims and Christians in there. They chanted for for "justice," "No More Christian Blood," and other chants, all while carrying signs, religious symbols, and cardboard coffins to represent those killed (who were pictured on the "coffinns". Although this observer did not here Cooper's name mentioned (granted, it was difficult to understand all the chants,) at least one reoccurring chant was a call for action from President Obama.

Posted by The Tonsured One

Friday, January 1, 2010

The 95% Dillusion

I have recently heard several "sermons" (in some cases literally sermons, in others lectures or authoritative papers, the type I give or write myself) to the effect that there are various phrases and clich├ęs that need to be eliminated from our vocabulary. One is "thinking outside the box" and another is a form of either "we can't because we've never done it before" or "no one does it that way." Interestingly, one phrase suggests thinking and doing things differently from others, and the others suggest conformity. The lecturers consistently (something I find ironic in light of the fact that their arguments themselves seem to be inconsistent) state that when people use the phrases, they are generally being hypocritical in the one case (e.g. by thinking outside the box they mean thinking as they themselves think, regardless of how others think, not thinking in new unique ways,) or close minded regarding new approaches (as in we should do things the way we all have done it in the past.) In each case, it was not truly the phrases that the lecturers railed against but the concepts behind them.

From a logical point of view, I find this difficult to swallow. It makes as little sense to say we need to avoid both promoting thinking differently than the majority (even if we limit the scope of that difference to conformity to our own beliefs,) and always conforming to the majority, as it does to suggest we always adhere to both concepts. I do not know for sure the reasons for the arguments the homilists use, but they make little sense, at least when proposed by the same individuals in single sermons. The arguments seemed to boil down to the beliefs that we should avoid saying no to new experiences because of fear of the new, and that those who go against the stream often are just trying to do things differently for their own reasons. I suspect that there was supposed to be a middle ground argument, that it was alright to go against the stream for the right reasons, but in none of the cases I refer to was this argument ever made. Just "stop claiming to think outside the box" and "stop saying think inside the box."

The real irony for me is that the speakers/writers have all used the arguments that the criticized in their lectures as examples of undesirable attitudes in arguments (or, rather, to avoid arguments) with me. My work in cloud computing, social media, collaborative communication, history and archives has been dismissed as something that was "a fad, too much influenced by the popular culture, just going along with the crowd," on the one hand, and as something that should be dismissed out of hand because 95% of other churches/organizations/business do not do things that way on the other. In short, my ideas do not bear considering because they are both too mush the product of the way everyone else is thinking and because no one else does it that way. Back to the old quote: "Nobody goes to that restaurant anymore; it's too crowded!".

Oh, for my Christian preacher friends who tell me we do not need to institute some of these programs because 95% of the other churches they know about do not do them:

a) I have seen and experienced pretty convincing evidence that you are not up to date on such things. In more than one of my jobs and professional organization activities, I have discovered that there is a growing demand among local churches for this type of work. Those of us who work above the local church level as advisers to others have a hard time keeping up with the demand for our consulting services. The fact that such activities as records management and archives have been brought into the general world of litigation practices have increased the need for local churches to follow specific practices in history, archives, and use of the Internet. The number of churches to successfully implement these things is still fairly small, but these issues have been and are being addressed at all levels of several confessions and denominations, our own included. The statement that "95% do not do things that way" is demonstrably incorrect.

b) Should the (95% number have been correct, it is also likely that close to 95% of the churches of which I know do not have committed ministries to win disciples for Christ in their own immediate communities. Even should that number be lower, do you suggest that we use the same criterion for determining if we want to establish a more committed evangelism effort in the church? "Well, we could try to reach out to the un-churched, even those who have not heard the Gospel, in our neighborhood, but 95% (or 85%, 75%) of churches don't really do that in a committed way, so there is no reason for us to!"

Well, at least that would be consistent.

The Tonsured One

Monday, December 14, 2009

How Will They Know Him?

When I was growing up, I went to church. Most folks I knew did, at least in my youngest days. As I got older I met people who went to synagogue, worshiped in some other sort of way as part of another religion, were believers but not church-goers, were non-believers, or even non-believers but still church-goers. During this time, however, even those who did not believe had some inkling of the Gospel, or at the very least the story of the Nativity of Christ. It was on television, in the music, in the paper, in the town square, even in the schools. One was not required to believe, but it was difficult not to at least know. At least in the United States.

In this day and age, in the name of being "open-minded" and inoffensive, we do not openly discuss Christianity. It is not just enough to not believe, we must try also not to know. We don't talk of Christ's birth or the celebration of what was originally a Christian holy day. [Oh, I am aware that there were festivals and celebrations at the time when we celebrate His birth long before the Christians came. I am aware that there is evidence, of varying quantities and validity, that many of the symbols and rituals we dearly love and participate in as Christians may have had pagan origins. The fact of the matter is that the celebration of the holiday (from "Holy Day") of Christ's Mass endured into modern times as a Christian celebration.] It was not and is not, exclusive and may be celebrated in a secular fashion, and as is true of Easter or various saint's days; (although St. Patrick's has become almost entirely secular for those not of the Roman church, I find it refreshing that I have heard a handful of Protestant groups discussing religious aspects of the good man's life in March instead of drinking green beer.) No, what was always around to be learned, whether believed or not, has been pretty much exorcised from the general society unless one is already part of a believing family.

So. Where does that leave us as Christians? I have been pointing out for several years in my church that there are people who not only do not believe, but do not know the story of Jesus and God's love. A visitor to our Sunday School class (but a member of the congregation) also told of experiences she had with children who did not know the story. The class was generally astounded that children didn't even know, but why should they have been? Where would they have learned of it?

If a child does not grow up in a Christian family, where will he or she hear about the Gospel? At school? Not likely. On television? Hmmm, could be, but Sponge Bob doesn't seem to wear his Christianity like an outer garment. From their peers? Since their peers have more or less access to the same information sources, the answer to that one should be obvious. Video games? Not many. I know! They'll just come inside our church doors and ask us! Not.

We have a new generation coming into the world. Some of it is here already. Our teens understand computers in ways we adults do not. They don't remember LPs. They have cell phones glued to their ears and text like we use to talk on the phone. But these are not the ones that I speak of. They were not born into this world of instant-communication-with-anyone-anywhere. They were immersed in it at a young age, but it is the youngest children, and those about to be born, will not even remember the CD. To them, communication through electronic media, the "Net" or whatever replaces it, will be second nature. Distance and time will either mean little or at least have radically different meanings than they do to us. The amount of physical presence necessary to establish and maintain relationships will change, at both great cost and great gain.

This world is encroaching on ours even now, through those who are still young enough to accept and use it. It is much like learning a second language. Someone who is exposed to one at a very early age may learn to think in it and thus speak it as a native speaker. Those who learn it later in life must think in their native tongue and then translate, while older folk just don't understand. But those who learn it, and only it, think in and communicate in it first and foremost. This is their native communication. Electronic media, or its successor, will be the native "tongue" of the youngest generation and is at least one of the preferred "tongues" of many of those who are younger than I but still not as young as the youngest.

So I am back to my original question. How will they know Him? How will future generations hear of my Lord if not through TV, school, general society, music, etc.? Is there some place, some way, that we can let them know our story, see our faith and lack of faith, ask us questions, debate us, come to know us and be known by us, all in a language and medium they understand and are comfortable in? Or should I just wait for them to come through the church doors to ask me to explain a story that, incidentally, they have never heard?
I need to think hard on this one, I guess. Not.

The Tonsured One

Monday, November 30, 2009

Bethlehem Spoke

This is an interesting concept:

"We’ve seen him do good guys and bad guys, folks we can relate to and those to whom we cannot relate, but I believe, correct me if I am wrong, that this is the first time Ray has portrayed a centuries-old town. At least around here."

I have heard sermons that sounded as if they came from centuries-old buildings, but having done a bit of speaking myself, I shouldn't throw stones. (Is there a pun in there?)

I have often heard folks say things such as, "If those walls could speak, what stories they could tell." Makes you wonder what stories could be told by the walls of various tombs in the Bible, including those of Lazarus and Christ.

The Tonsured One

Monday, November 23, 2009

Dog-Like Intensity

Guest blogger "Fluffy's Mom" asks me to add a short post for her.

Her husband often comments on the intensity of the stare that he receives from their dog when they eat, the dog hoping for a morsel to fall within her reach. If he looks back, her intensity increases, to the point where her excitement almost overcomes her. She shakes, wags her tail, moves her feet up and down, but never takes her eyes off the man or the food.

"Fluffy's Mom" wonders what our lives would be like if we kept our eyes as focused on Christ as the dog does on her husband's food. The husband, in turn, wonders what our lives would be like if a mear glimps of Christ looking back caused us to increase our intensity of gaze and to fill with excitement to such a point that we were almost unable to stand it.

Since we know that Christ is always looking back, my guess is that the ball is in our court.

Several of us, tonsured and otherwise.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Social Media and the Church Number 1 (I think)

There was an interesting post on the Methodist communication blog (here) the other day by the General Secretary of UM Communications, Larry Hollon. It was in Q&A format, though since he is listed as author I assume it was not really an interview. (If I am wrong, please correct me and I will update.)

I note that Rev. Hollon endorses taking new steps to “re-engage with the younger generation.” He notes, quite correctly, that there is much competition in the communication world for the attention of young folk. He says that, in the short term anyway, we should engage in social media to reach these folk. I couldn’t agree more. I am not sure, however, that we mean the same thing when he and I say “short term.”

I agree that personal, physical interaction is the best way to bring folks to Christ, but I suspect that the nature of on-line social networking will change to such a degree that it won’t be an issue of whether we use that as a stop-gap way to reach young folk until we get them in the door of the church. I think we will find that there will be a more advanced version of social networking that will replace the current one. This one may offer more interaction than previous versions and perhaps both do a better job of meeting needs and prove a bigger challenge to those who would pry its users from it and into the doors of a physical church. This may need to be a longer term solution than Rev. Hollon beleives.

I also suspect that as people become more used to social media, it will seem more common place, and many folks will crave the human touch that we, as yet, cannot experience by any means than being in actual presence with one another. Yet, social networking does offer ways to interact with folk that may not be reached at all. It is not true that the good is the enemy of the best. The enemy of the best would either be the worst or “nothing.” When discussing alternative ways of dealing with people, we often act as if the choice is between the best (such as people attending Sunday school, joining small groups and participating in corporate worship) and the good (such as people meeting online, discussing their faith in chat rooms and worshiping alone in their house or through interactive Internet.) I believe, from discussing things with quite a few friends from a group to which I belong and who primarily interact with church through the Internet, that the real choice is often between the best and nothing. These men and women will not set foot through a church doorway, (and having heard their stories I tend to understand why,) and it will be the Internet or nothing. Before they were online it was nothing.

I have had several discussions with pastors who I suspect would not agree with UM Com’s views, as they believe that “in-the-door” is the only way. I cannot tell if Rev Hollon is just being cautious or if he believes that the only use of social networking is a tool to reach kids and then let more traditional means take over. What he does not comment on is the fact that trends (see Pew research) are also moving in a direction of increased use of these networks by older age groups and by businesses. These media, or the ones that replace them, will likely be as prevalent as the telephone, television and e-mail are today. While, as I said, it may be that when such things become more common place folks will crave the closeness of human beings, they may use the Net to arrange those connections.

I also expect that many will see the on-line relationships as very real. I don’t see myself in that category, at least not to the extent others might, but neither do I agree with those that think God is too small to work through the Internet. The soldier on the other side of the world, the agoraphobic or bed-ridden person who relates through the Internet, the person living in a snowbound town or a country where they have no worship place; I tend to believe that the Holy Spirit will intervene and bring them closer together. And if for them, why not for others?

The Tonsured One