Would you like to read more than stories of our kids? Visit the other blog.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Branding and the Word

Interesting article over at emergingchurch.info entitled No more tea vicar. An interview with Steve Collins, the article discusses branding the church -- summing up the church with an image and aesthetic -- something particularly resonant with me in the midst of my current McLuhan, medium/message kick.

Collins explains:

branding is, or was initially, about selling - making a clear statement in the marketplace, attracting and keeping customers. organisations that don't see their primary purpose as competing for sales [or haven't until recently] don't have brands, and struggle to create them. the national health service doesn't have a brand, nor do most government bodies. likewise churches - all these things have been 'service providers' [no pun intended] for complex needs not reducible to consumer goods. the recent extension of branding into the construction of the self, and into a general symbolic language, means that these organisations have been obliged to develop branding, in order to deal with anti-branding. by which i mean, that everything you do is now read as branding anyway, so if you don't take care it just looks like bad branding. which is what has happened to a lot of the church.

branding is about clarity, communication, recognition. brands are succinct summings-up of what you stand for. most of the church doesn't have clarity, can't agree on what it stands for, is full of dissenting voices and loose cannons. successful branding requires coherence across the whole organisation, so that people receive the correct message wherever they touch it. everyone has to sign up, everyone has to be on-message. which isn't the church! the parts of the church that are successful with branding are small enough or coherent enough or have a single agreed purpose, such as mission agencies.

there's also the matter of design. brands happen because a small part of an organisation has been tasked with creating a brand which can then be imposed across the whole organisation and all its works. rebranding, say, the church of england would require centralised control of a kind which isn't there. you have to stop mrs. bloggs using the wrong font on the church noticesheet! and rebranding a local church requires sufficient expertise [and agreement] within that congregation, which isn't going to happen in most places.

Being an editor and a graphic designer, I love excellent typography, clean design, and so on. Really, there are few things outside of theology that I get more excited about. I agree with Collins in that the church is having a bit of an identity crisis now. But the church, as the bride of Christ, isn't going to sum up her identity in a trendy typeface, better layout for the church bulletin, or even the image of the cross hung at the front of the sanctuary.

Collins goes on:

this construction of identity, or offering of identity, by the church through material means was not something that happened much in protestant countries. here the construction of the self depended on words, spoken and written, and the 'inner' and intellectual was privileged over the outer and sensual.

This is a poor division of the spoken word from the world experienced with our senses. In the beginning God spoke the world into being -- creating the sensual from the oral. For the church, Christ is incarnate as Word by the power of the Holy Spirit. The church is created and sustained by the invocation of the Word (the preaching of the Gospel), and the administration of the sacraments into which the Word has been placed. (See my post More than words).

Collins talks about branding as being a "succinct summing up of what you stand for." In Word and sacrament, the church not only has a summing up of what she stands for, but the summing up (and gathering together) of what she is.

Wherever Word and sacrament are faithfully administered the church is present. Word and sacrament cannot be administered outside of the body of Christ, because by their very nature they invoke His body.

To amplify, the church is only identified in Word and sacrament. Anything else is merely a lot of tired looking people in the same place at the same time. But see how even the weariest of hearts can be revived in the Gospel. Those who have been given ears to hear by the power of the Spirit are marked with an alien righteousness:

For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.
- St. Paul, Romans 2:28-29

When the incarnate Word is heard and sacraments received, by the power of the Holy Spirit our hearts are circumcised. If the church is to have any brand at all, it is the sign of the cross upon our lives, the mark of the Gospel of Christ.

Collins has made a valid point when he says the church is full of dissenting voices: When so much of the church loses sight of the Gospel, she loses sight of her identity.

Certainly, good design and sensible color choice are valuable. We benefit from color's use throughout the liturgical year, and good design just makes things easier to read. But the church cannot be another subculture of the world, defined by an image, she must be a colony of heaven, defined by the living, breathing reality of the Gospel of Christ.

Friday, November 26, 2004

An update on my grandmother...

My grandma passed away in her sleep last night. Apparently she was very comfortable. It is sad though because no one got to say goodbye. We were all planning to visit for Thanksgiving this afternoon and bring food over to them. She only got to meet Olivia once in the hospital, and we were planning on taking a picture of four generations of women in our family. I wish it could have happened, but I guess not.

I am thankful, though, that she did not suffer long, and that I know she was baptized into the Body of Christ. I hope that the rest of my family will learn to draw strength from this as well.

Please pray for my mom and grandpa, they are both hurting very badly and have a lot of work to do to help get things ready for family coming into town.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

He's said it so much better

This post by Pontificator says so much better a good portion of what I was trying to sum up with my last post. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Medium, message, marriage?

Warning: The Lutheran Blogosphere Advisory has rated the following post PG-13.

As quoted in my previous post, Marshall McLuhan points out:
"In Jesus Christ, there is no separation or distance between the medium and the message; it is the one case where we can say that the medium and the message are fully one and the same."

"Amen!" I say. . . with one reservation: What about in the consummation of marriage? I'll do my best to handle this gingerly: The message of marital sex is the fully giving of oneself to the other, and the medium by which it is done is the same.

Letters sent between to betrothed lovers are symbols (or collections of symbols, ie. words) of their affection, reflecting a longing to give the self to the other. They're filled with pronouncements of the sacrifice of the dreams, desires, sufferings, and body of the individual, for the unity of the dreams, desires, sufferings, and bodies of the two. In marriage, this longing is consummated.

From St. Paul's letter to the Corinthians:
Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.

This mystery bears a strong resemblance (dare I say, at the risk of sounding too Catholic, correlation) to the mystery of holy communion: At the table, the bride takes Christ into herself (in, with, and under the bread), and in so doing is herself taken into Christ (the church is present wherever Word and Sacrament are faithfully administered; the church is the body of Christ.) The bride and groom are unified in the marriage bed; Christ and His church are unified at the table.

I've always been amazed at the language used in scripture regarding marriage. There's talk of the marriage feast of the Lamb at the second coming of Christ. Too, Love itself is defined as God Himself, and lovers long to be married.

My next question (upcoming post?): if the mystery of marriage reflects the mystery of communion, does the mystery of childbirth reflect the mystery of baptism?

Monday, November 22, 2004

More than words

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God... And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.
- St. John

The Gospel of John is introduced with a tremendous mystery: In Christ Jesus, God has incarnated Himself as Word, that is, He has completely expressed Himself through language.

To borrow from Marshall McLuhan's The Medium and the Light (who I have been encouraged to read by John H and Revd. Humann,) this merging of medium and message is unlike anything else in our experience:

"In Jesus Christ, there is no separation or distance between the medium and the message; it is the one case where we can say that the medium and the message are fully one and the same."

In all other cases, a word is a symbol that communicates a meaning, while still remaining separate from that meaning. Another way of saying it: The word is not the thing itself, but only a representation of that thing.

Except in the case of the incarnate Word -- the Greek logos -- that St. John proclaims. The Word existed in the beginning, was with God, was God, and was made flesh, yet is still Word.

A Word can be spoken, written, and reflected upon. A Word can be from one person to another given and received. What are the implications of possessing the Word of God; the Word that is Christ?

It's very likely that none of this is new to any of you, but the realization of the reality of the Word these past few nights has kept me awake for hours. That the incarnate God is present in my pastor's pronouncement every Sunday quickens my pulse. That He fills a place when His Gospel is preached makes me tremble.

Ephesians 1:13&14:

13 ...that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise,14 Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.

In the tradition I was raised in, I thought the Word was strictly scripture, printed and bound. To open the Word, read the Word, or study the Word was to involve yourself in the pages of the book itself. Surely, I was told that it was living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword, but these descriptions seemed metaphoric, never revelatory. To be in the Word was to me, like being "in" Tolkien or Lewis -- all my attention on their words.

But to be in the Word is to be taken into the second person of the trinity; the fullness of Christ is as near as the invocation of the Word.

To think of it another way: If in our conversation Devona and I, while sitting at our house in Akron, speak the name of my younger brother Mike (who is far away in Wadsworth), it does not cause Mike to be there with us. Maybe it brings to mind his face, or his voice, or some memory about him, but Mike is still in Wadsworth, playing Playstation in the basement and avoiding his homework.

When the Word is invoked, Christ is truly present. We have more than a symbol of Christ, we have Him in truth. By the power of the Holy Spirit, He pricks our hearts and calls us to Himself.

The Word is communicated orally, comes to us audibly, and enters us; we believe it, confess it, and He sears Himself onto our hearts in the gift of faith. The Word is the evangel complete, its medium and message combined. To communicate faith, the Word needs nothing other than to be communicated.

Please pray for my family.

My grandmother on my mom's side is really sick. This is the second time this year she's been admitted to the hospital for congestive heart failure, and it's not looking very good. She was admitted earlier this week, and had to have angioplasty surgery on two of her heart valves. They said that she'd require bi-pass surgery but didn't think that she'd be strong enough to handle it so she will not receive it.

Please pray that she'd be as healthy as she can be at this time. Pray for my grandfather. He doesn't take it very well when she's sick. And also pray that she would live strong in the faith that God gave her in her baptism.

Thank you, everyone in advance. I'll let you know how she's feeling when she comes home from the hospital as soon as I hear news.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Life is hard...

... but it's harder when you're sleepy. Posted by Hello

Friday, November 19, 2004

Why not have church at Starbucks?

In the comments on Church: The rules have changed, my friend Eric asks:

Why not have church in Starbucks? If good coffee and overstuffed furniture get them in, AND we give them real "T"ruth... isn't that the best of both worlds? or are straight backed wood pews more godly...? I say that's the same fault on the other side.

My response would probably take 40 separate Haloscan comments, so I decided to just post it: Here goes...

Eric's argument makes the assumption that more people would be attending church if it just had good coffee and cooler furniture. Funny, most of the people I've met don't go to church because they think it's wrong, not uncool.

In a conversation I had the other day with a non-believing friend at work, he mentioned how fed up he was with so-called Christians trying to force their beliefs on him. He's sick of being told he's only going to get to heaven if he does x, y, and z. He doesn't know if heaven even exists, and if it does, he's certain that he's not going to get there by hating his homosexual friends.

The problem he has with church is not with its furniture, its music, or its snacks. He can't stand the church's doctrine -- or at least what he's heard of it.

Of course he's going to hate the church for its doctrine. His entire church experience (I know from other conversations) have done nothing but saddle him with the Law. When I shared the Gospel with him -- that Christ Jesus justifies the wicked through his death, burial, and resurrection, and that no one can work their way into heaven -- he was amazed. For the first time in His life, he heard the "T"ruth.

And it didn't happen in a warehouse church, while grooving out to electro-dub-synth-worship-pop and watching MTV Jesus style.

This guy, the most postmodern friend I have, would never get close to a warehouse church. He loves the outdoors, being away from urban culture, drinking a few beers, and roughing it. Where does that leave the emerging church?

I'm all for meeting at Starbucks (or better yet, the pub) for some theological discussion. Why not? Starbucks makes great coffee, and I know quite a few places to get a good pint. In fact, I'd much rather get my coffee at Starbucks and my Guinness at the pub than outfit my church with an espresso maker and tap. Something tells me that Rick Warren's Saddleback StoutTM (40 Days of BeerTM!) is going to Saddleback suckTM.

Why modify the church to look more like secular culture when the culture does the best job of looking like itself? Why don't we Christians get off our butts and into culture, and share the Gospel there? I know why most days I don't: I'm a sinner. But I guess I could also blame it on my church's pews.

You ask "Why not have church in Starbucks?" Well, namely because Starbucks probably wouldn't appreciate it. If my friend from work becomes a Christian, we could meet at 'bucks and devote ourselves to apostolic teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread and prayer, but at some point between the second hymn and Old Testament scripture reading, the manager might get a little upset.

Why not have church at church, and coffee at Starbucks? And if I get a chance to tell someone the Gospel while standing in line for a cappuccino, let's pray I'm not too much of a pansy to do it.

Cute, but not what I'm looking for

This is an idea I have for Holiday pictures with Olivia. I can't see the point of paying for a studio when we have this great camera to take pictures with. I don't think this is quite up to par, but what do you think? Does anyone have any other ideas? I was thinking of putting her in a box that's all wrapped up and sitting her in front of our tree. Well, when we get a tree that is. Posted by Hello

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Church: The rules have changed

"Hey kids! You ready for church? It's communion Sunday!"

Wonder if I can get WiFi from my pew?

From the Ooze: Church: The rules have changed..

Welcome to postmodern evangelism, where we all worship at Starbucks. Didn't the boomer generation try this by playing Foreigner for the "special" music? (What's so special about a top 40 hit, anyway?)

From the article:

The past few generations have been called "the emerging generation", and with them has come a breaking free of the traditions that have become deemed as going nowhere in this new culture. We have a longing for community, a need for a creative outlet, and a desire to experience the mystical and deeply spiritual aspects of God. What is relevant to our culture? As I look for the places that are sought after, I see coffee houses, concert venues, places to hang out, places to be a part, and places where we can express ourselves, places where we can just rest, read, or just be still with God, places where we are both productive and rested. This is Church, a place where everyday-life and spirituality mesh.

Living everyday life in church sounds like some form of postmodern monasticism.

Because "coffee houses, concert venues, places to hang out" are well-attended, does that mean the church needs to become more like them? The grocery store is well-attended, too.

Are these trendy spots drawing diverse crowds of young and old, rich and poor? In my neighborhood, young, middle class people are the best customers of concert venues and coffee shops.

Is the church supposed to attract people with her perceived coolness? When all the churches have started serving great coffee and provided a comfortable place to plug in your laptop, where will we go to hear the preaching of the Word? The story of the Cross doesn't do a lot to make the unchurched comfortable. It tells them that they're sinners and forgiveness comes through Christ, and Christ alone. How well does that message go with biscotti?

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Emerging E*CA

TransformingChurch.com is a new emerging church site sponsored by the ELCA-Southeastern Synod. I'm trying to make sense of their mission statement:

The Commission for Transforming Congregations was born out of our vision to become the Great Commission Synod. Our mission is to equip congregations to thrive in a changing world. It is this mission which directs the work of the Commission. Members of the Commission view congregational transformation as people passionately engaged, moving outside of the walls of their church and engaging their community, reaching the church homeless, moving people from membership to discipleship, creating channels for the Holy Spirit to work. The mark of transformation – changed people changing lives!

My thoughts:

  • It's out job to create channels for the Holy Spirit to work? As a person of the trinity, I thought He was capable of doing work Himself. Certainly the Spirit works through baptism, but it is not the work of the pastor or any man, but of the living and active Word of God.

  • What does "engaging culture" mean? "Engaging" from dictionary.com:

    1. To involve oneself or become occupied; participate: engage in conversation.
    2. To assume an obligation; agree.
    3. To enter into conflict or battle: The armies engaged at dawn.
    4. To become meshed or interlocked: The gears engaged.

    The only use of the word I can see as sort of fitting would be the first, "to engage in conversation." The church has a responsibility to preach to people, and people come from some kind of culture. I guess speaking the truth about Christ (calling people to repentance, preaching the gospel) could be "engaging the culture," but beyond that I'm really unsure of what the emergent church is looking for.

    Let's remember: We are aliens and strangers in this world. The church's culture is the Gospel, her language is the cross of Christ, her food is His body and blood. By her very nature, the bride of Christ transcends the temporal culture of this world.

    When the church is not gathered, her members are called to their vocations. Perhaps this is the church's conversation with culture: The body of Christ dispersed in offices, schools, houses, on the streets and in the community. Any other effort the church makes to engage culture has always (and always will) seem superficial and false, because the church cannot be secular culture, and has not yet replaced it. Christian contemporary music began as an effort to engage culture, but ended up creating a ghetto of mediocre music and vapid lyrics.

  • "Changed lives" sounds great, but there's danger in a term so ambiguous. In my experience the phrase potentially disguises legalistic leanings, specifically that a Christian's highest calling is to benevolence or self-righteous perfection, rather than the Gospel. If "changed lives" means a person's acknowledgement of sin and belief and joyful acceptance of forgiveness of sins through Christ, then I'm with you.

    Either way, changed people don't change lives. Change is internally driven. Any positive change in the life of a Christian is the fruit of the Holy Spirit, not of some happy person clamoring about their changed life. Perhaps a person can affect another's external circumstances, but none of us can do surgery on the spirit.

Your thoughts?

Monday, November 15, 2004

Great new site

Lex orandi, lex credendi looks to be another pretty cool blog to start reading. I'll try to remember to add Contra to our blogroll next time I get around to updating it.

Friday, November 12, 2004

The Foolishness of God...

Jon posted this poem I like quite a bit, and thought would be a good conversation starter:

The Foolishness of God...

Perform impossibilities
or perish. Thrust out now
the unseasonal ripe figs
among your leaves. Expect
the mountains to be moved.
Hate parents, friends, and all
materiality. Love every enemy.
Forgive more times than
Camel-like, squeeze by
into the kingdom through
the needle's eye. All fear quell.
Hack off your hand, or else,
unbloodied, go to hell.

Thus the divine unreason.
Despairing you may cry,
with earthy logic--How?
And I, your God, reply:
Leap from your weedy shallows.
Dive into the moving water.
Eye-less, learn to see
truly. Find in my folly your
true sanity. Then, Spirit-driven,
run on my narrow way, sure
as a child. Probe, hold
my unhealded hand, and
bloody, enter heaven

by: Petoskey Stone

Jon, (or anyone else who may know) is Petoskey Stone really the name of the poet, or a pseudonym?

Come on now... Vote for us! Again!

IntolerantElle is beating us by one vote today. I know her blog is great, as well as intolerant, and she is pretty cute, too. But come on now! Olivia is the cutest thing on the planet, don't give her a complex at only three weeks old. Vote for us, we continue to stand for all things Lutheran, and all things adorable!

Come to think of it, Olivia can be slightly intolerant as well, so if you really need intolerant you can get it here!

Olivia and Rob, tired after a day of heavy campaining. Posted by Hello

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Why am I so weird?

I just had to pick up a bunch of peas off the floor because I decided to eat my ramen noodles and peas with chop sticks while trying to hold a hiccuping and burping baby in one arm. I don't know what possessed me to think this was a good idea.

Writing in the Right-hand margin

I consider myself a writer. I also (try to) consider myself an academic. At one point I even considered myself an artist, though, I'm not sure if I have enough time to consider myself one any more.

With those titles comes the assumption that I would hold the same agenda as most artists, writers, and academics. I feel that all the time as a liberal arts major at a public university. That's why I loved the article Bunnie linked to in her blog earlier this week.

It came at an interesting time, too. I happened to run into my favorite professor from high school over the weekend. She was an amazing inspiration to me in school, and really helped me to develop my skills as a painter and a photographer. She pushed me to pursue my dreams of fashion design and helped me to land an interview at a private design school. She is a very challenging and helpful woman to whom I owe a lot.

It was surprising to see her now because of how drastically I have changed since high school, and how much she has stayed the same. I turned down the design school, and I have changed my pursuits from fashion to literature. I am married, and a mother, and intend to have a large family. I'm a Christian, and I value the idea of "absolute truth." And I am not a feminist. At least not the way I'm expected to be.

This woman is definitely the typical "angry at men" feminist, and proud of it. She's the head of the art department at my old high school, and she teaches Women's Studies at the university I attend.

She was excited to meet my husband and my baby, but she didn't realize she was meeting me for the first time as well. She asked, "So, are you still doing any art?"

"Well, I'm writing," I responded. "And, I'm studying literature at the university."

"Oh, I'm teaching Women's Studies at the same school, you should take my class. I made a movie as well, which was shown in New York and Chicago, you can get it on the internet, you should look it up. It deals with the ideals that are expected of women. You know, Mary, and how she's perfect, and how that turns into... Barbie..." She said, and waited for my unconditional approval.

"Oh, that's very interesting," I replied. "I don't really agree with you. But it is interesting and I'd like to learn more about it to see why."

She did not expect that, but it is exactly what I expected from her, and I think it is what all liberal and fine art people expect. Liberalism. The same point was made in the Chronicle of Higher Education which Bunnie linked to.

The first protocol of academic society might be called the Common Assumption. The assumption is that all the strangers in the room at professional gatherings are liberals. Liberalism at humanities meetings serves the same purpose that scientific method does at science assemblies. It provides a base of accord. The Assumption proves correct often enough for it to join other forms of trust that enable collegial events. A fellowship is intimated, and members may speak their minds without worrying about justifying basic beliefs or curbing emotions.

It is safe for these people, in their bubble of sameness, to bounce uninspired ideas off one another, and get a big "Hurrah!" Nothing innovative happens, and no one even notices.

Now what would happen if I did go look up her movie and watch it? What if I did let her know what I think? What if I had given her more that just, "I don't really agree with you," but instead sat down to tell her why? Sadly, I think all that would have happened is we'd get mad at each other, and the conversation would go no where. That is why there are so few conservatives in these markets. We can't co-exist with out fireworks. That's why there are things like Christian record labels, and Christian colleges. We can escape the fight if we just make our own place to go.

What if, instead of running away we walked right into the big mess? I commend Andy in his pursuit of academia, especially in the History department. I commend him for bringing up religion in settings that it might not go over well, and hashing out the details with people who disagree (Now everyone knows why he's such a talented arguer). I hope that to a lesser degree, as an undergrad, I am able to do the same. I hope to, at least, state the other opinion in a formal setting just to force the left to look over their other shoulder for once. Hopefully, I can do it well enough that they might keep looking my way for a few seconds, long enough to realize that there might be something worth while over here.

I don't even care if I change their minds. I just want to be heard.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Vote for Us! We have a cute baby, and we're Lutheran to the Core!

Vote for us! We stand for all things Lutheran!

Close communion
Infant Baptism
Theology of the Cross
Large Pipe Organs
Marrying former Nuns (not in our case, but I was once a Roman Catholic)

So give us your support, we'll keep all of your Lutheran values, and post many cute Olivia pictures during our term as Blog of the Week.

Posted by Hello

With support from:

Chris Halverson

Love and Blunder. It is the incumbent, it talks about post-modernist preaching, it is Lutheran, how can it lose?

I'm Devona, and I approve of this message.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

An emerging question

The semper reformanda of the church demands a constant critique of ideas and interpretations both new and old. Since writing my post Preaching to postmoderns, I've been reading a lot of materials from emerging church movements. I'm left with one definite impression: This could be the "next big thing."

I've compiled a list of emerging church links below in the hope that all reading this blog can begin to learn about this movement and develop opinions and arguments. I'd love to hear your comments. I'd like this to be the beginning of an ongoing discussion of the issue.

Questions currently on my mind:

  • Because of the nature of the movement, can any observations about the orthodoxy of the emerging church movement be made, or must they be dealt with on a church by church basis?

  • Does the emerging church movement confuse the kingdom of the right hand/kingdom of the left hand doctrine?

  • Are the postmodern philosophies underlying the movement antithetical of catholicism (small c) by their very nature, or can they be adopted by orthodoxy?

Here are the links:

Defining emerging church:

Emerging church resources:

  • The Ooze - Self described "conversations for the journey." Very large emerging resource.

  • Future Shape of the Church - A definition of emerging church and a few articles written by a proponent.

  • Next Wave - Site on church and culture

  • Emergingchurch.info - Another site for essays, articles, discussion. Similar to the Ooze.

  • Vintage Faith - "Exploring the emerging church and vintage Christianity."

Emerging church blogs:

Emerging churches:

Monday, November 08, 2004

Doth this offend you?

I am always amazed by Jesus. Last night I reread John 6 for the first time since my catechism. Christ frustrates my wisdom so easily.

25 And when they had found him on the other side of the sea, they said unto him, Rabbi, when camest thou hither? 26 Jesus answered them and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled. 27 Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed.
28 Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God? 29 Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent. 30 They said therefore unto him, What sign shewest thou then, that we may see, and believe thee? what dost thou work? 31Our fathers did eat manna in the desert; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat. 32 Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world. 34 Then said they unto him, Lord, evermore give us this bread.

Here we are, the disciples of Christ, theologians of glory to the bitter end. We ask Christ for some work to do, and he tells us "Believe on him whom he hath sent."

"Ah, okay. Well then, give us heavenly food that we might know you're the one -- convince us with a miraculous display!"

"But you've seen that food before, your forefathers ate it and died. My Father wants to give you the true bread. Bread that gives life to the world."

"Sounds good! When do we eat?"

35 And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst. 36 But I said unto you, That ye also have seen me, and believe not.

41 The Jews then murmured at him, because he said, I am the bread which came down from heaven. 42 And they said, Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? how is it then that he saith, I came down from heaven? 43 Jesus therefore answered and said unto them, Murmur not among yourselves.44 No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.

51 I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.

Of course, this doesn't sit too well.

52 The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat?

Jesus isn't going to water it down for us.

53 Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.54 Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.

Even now, as one who whole-heartedly confesses the true presence of Christ's body and blood in communion, something inside me is shocked by his words. Meat indeed? Blood indeed? Really? I sound like one of the disciples.

60 Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is an hard saying; who can hear it?

I want so badly to see the look on Jesus' face when he gives his quick reply:

61... "Doth this offend you?"

He won't recant. No matter how much the truth repulses the sensibilities of his disciples, he will not water it down. And so many of them walk away.

We want so badly for Christ to come along and taste, smell, look and feel like everything we've always wanted. Perhaps our generation is not guilty of asking for a magnificent prince to smash an oppresive empire (unless you're an American Democrat) like the Jews did, but we still want a Jesus other than this one.

In his Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis notes a similar effect when reading scriptures describing heaven, and makes an excellent observation:

Heaven is, by definition, outside our experience. The scriptural picture of heaven is therefore just as symbolical as the picture which our desire, unaided, invents for itself; heaven is not really full of jewellry any more than it is really the beauty of Nature, or a fine piece of music. The difference is that the scriptural imagery has authority. It comes to us from writers who were closer to God than we, and it has stood the test of Christian experience down the centuries. The natural appeal of this authoritative imagery is to me, at first, very small. At first sight it chills, rather than awakes my desire. And that is just what I ought to expect. If Christianity could tell me no more of the far-off land than my own temperament led me to surmise already, then Christianity would be no higher than myself.

Our senses have been so affected by the fall that we cannot rely on them to tell us when a thing is good. As Lewis goes on to explain:

If our religion is something objective, then we must never avert our eyes from those elements in it which seem puzzling or repellent; for it will be precisely the puzzling or repellent which conceals what we do not yet know and need to know.

The Creator of the Universe, God Himself, comes riding into town on an ass. If we had never read that specific bit of scripture describing the triumphal entry ourselves, and some liberal artist were to paint Jesus so humbled, we might even call the artist a blasphemer.

1 Cor. 1:18 For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.

This is the way the kingdom comes. God Himself would have it no other way.

Olivia's Baptism Update

As far as we can tell Olivia's big day is going to be the first weekend in December, so that means Sunday, December 5th. Can we wait that long? I guess so. We just thought that would be the best for everyone, no one would be traveling already, and it gives everyone some time to plan it into their schedules. Everyone is invited, even if you have to cross an ocean, but we understand if you can't make it. The service will be held at 10:30 at Hope Lutheran Church, 999 N. Portage Lakes Drive, Akron Ohio. If you need directions email, or comment. We'll let you know. P.S. this isn't the same church we got married in, in case you're wondering, so if you came to our wedding it's not gonna help you find our church.

So everyone keep in mind that if they want to see Andy and Ellie before Christmas, this is the time. But at least make us believe that you showed up to celebrate Olivia's washing, not the Stagers. They're cool and all, but the forgiveness of sins is way cooler.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Internet Thank You Cards

Here's Olivia enjoying her beautiful Rose blanket, a la Theresa. Doesn't she look so dainty? We love it.

This is Olivia getting ready to watch her U2 DVD that was given to her by her Godfather, Andy. It was actually given to Rob when we found out we were pregnant because according to Andy, "This is a part of her catechism, just as much as Luther's SC and the Bible." We've since learned that Andy also intends to catechise Olivia in beer. Thank goodness for Ellie.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Preaching to postmoderns

Rev. Paul McCain and Glen Piper have already linked to this article over at Associated Baptist Press, but if you haven't read it yet, you should. The piece quotes a bunch of so-called emergent church leaders commenting that sermons are about to reach their expiration date for the postmodern generations, and something different is needed:

"I don't think we will have master orators much longer," predicted Chris Seay, pastor of Ecclesia in Houston and a frequent commentator on postmodern culture. "Art, dance and music are new forces that will play increasingly larger roles" if the church is to be relevant to the Millennials, today's teens and young adults.

The postmodern person "celebrates experiences" and wants to "engage all the senses," he explained. "They have shorter attention spans and they process information differently from earlier generations. They learn through narrative -- stories -- and the visual is very important."

This kind of talk is all over the church lately, specifically the bit about postmoderns processing information differently. Frankly, I have a hard time buying it. The whole argument is predicated on the popularity of entertainment media and its format, intersected with youth's declining interest (and attendance) in most churches. Just because the two things are happening at once doesn't mean they're related.

I'm a recent college grad living in a trendy metropolitan area brimming with disenchanted postmoderns. Not a single one that I've ever spoken with has quit going to church because they couldn't "process the information" presented there. In fact, most of the time it's the opposite: They've completely processed the church's message, and plain and simple didn't like it.

And please note: I talk to other people in my generation. When I want to communicate with them, I don't do a special dance or break out my guitar and serenade them. So far, it looks like everyone is processing just fine.

Whether directly or indirectly, what's really happening here is an effort to make the church more entertaining. The article goes on:

Author Brian McLaren, pastor of Cedar Ridge Community Church outside Washington, D.C., agreed. "We're facing a transition from the familiar/normal to something less formal. Songwriters and music publishers play important roles in the theological formation of a congregation -- even more than the pastor. I'm pretty sure people don't catch themselves humming the sermon during the week."

It's scary to read things like this from a pastor. 1) If songwriters and music publishers are replacing pastors, who is responsible for their training, ordination, and call? 2) When did we get so superficial that we started judging a sermon's worth by the catchiness of its "tune?" Some of the worst music being written today is the most melodically memorable.

Why has the church become so obsessed with beating culture at its own game? If we are competing with the world to leave the deepest sensory impression, we're always going to finish last: Christians walk by faith, not by sight. God has bound Himself not to good feelings, but to Word and Sacrament. He will be there regardless of how we feel about it.

There were a few things in that article that made sense to me:

Two other strong emphases in postmodern Christian worship -- the desire for community and the desire for contemplation -- also are apt to influence the preaching, several session leaders at Baylor University's "Music and Worship in an Emerging Culture" symposium agreed.

The contemplative moments preceding confession in our Lutheran liturgies are some of my favorite. Communion -- the basis for all church community -- I love even more.

Absolute honesty also makes people more willing to hear the hard things," Seay argued. "We do a disservice to the gospel when we make the people in the Bible out to be better than they were and we pretend to be better than we are," he explained.

Amen to that. Let's say it and mean it: "There is no one righteous, not even one." As a child, I was always confused when our Sunday School lessons admonished us to imitate Old Testament characters, as if they were somehow perfect.

I worry that all of this emergent church business is the same old confusion of Law and Gospel in new wrapping paper. Want a message that will prick hearts, no matter the presentation? "For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God," but "while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Growing up in the spotlight

Olivia wanted to share how much she enjoyed her first Halloween.

Now on to my post...

I was talking to Rob on our way to church on Sunday about how technology changes the way we grow up. For example, my mom had a black and white TV growing up until she was a teenager. Her parents didn't have a TV until they were adults. That changes drastically how they learned about the world.

I was raised with full cable. I watched MTV, HBO, and VH1. I learned about events as they happened, and didn't have to wait until the morning to read it in the paper. The world had become significantly smaller for me than it was for my mom, and even more so than it was for my grandparents.

Now the world has become even smaller. Rob and I have chosen not to have cable, or even an antennae to watch TV with because it's too hard to control what you see on TV, but we do have highspeed internet. Not only do we have it, but we use it all the time. We learn about people and ideas from all over the world. We share in the personal lives of people we've never met. We know that 5 years ago a large man that calls himself the "Terrible Swede," who is neither terrible, nor sweetish, joined the LCMS on Reformation Sunday. There's no way my mom or grandmother would ever have dreamed of knowing things like that about people they've never met.

It's kind of weird that our worlds have become so small, and everyone is OK with sharing themselves so personally with strangers. I have come to know people that live in different countries, Britain, and China, more closely than my own next door neighbor.

Not only are we invited to share in the lives of countless strangers, but we are sharing our lives with these strangers as well. Our daughter was more or less born on the internet. There is a picture posted on this blog of her less than 24 hours old.

My question is: how is this new technology going to change the way my daughter grows up? How will she relate to the world differently than I have? How will she feel about growing up in the spotlight? Will there ever come a day when Rob and I stop posting about her? Our lives, your family's and ours, have become so much less private. We are all out here on the internet for everyone to see.

I'm not too worried about it, to be honest. People freaked out about Rock and Roll, the radio, TV and movies, too. So far we're all surviving. We'll survive this as well. But it will be interesting to hear our daughter talk about Theresa, Erica, John H. and the countless other people we treat like friends in this house that we've never even seen in real life.Posted by Hello

Thanks Bunnie

In honor of Election Day:

Save the Geese!

Thanks Bunnie.

Don't forget to vote. Our waterfowl are depending on you!!

Monday, November 01, 2004

Restoring what? Bad theology?

Leafing through one of the area's free community papers, I came across this ad written by minister Donald R. Cooper, for the Church of Christ in Wadsworth, Ohio which he pastors:

In our last article we pointed you to the challenge which Christ issued to His disciples when He said that one who desires to follow Him must first be ready to deny himself (Matthew 16:24). May we look further into what Christ requires of those who desire to follow Him. Might we consider that a disciple of the Lord must "take up his cross." From this passage we learn that there is something that man must do to please the Lord. No man is saved by faith only. Nor is man saved by grace alone. These two virtues are certainly involved in man's salvation, but neither one is sufficient by itself. This truth should be obvious from our text, and there are many other passages in the New Testament which support this fact. Denying oneself requires more than faith only or grace alone; taking up one's cross requires more than faith and grace; following Christ requires more than faith and grace. Perhaps we ought to consider Hebrews 5:8,9 which remind us of the importance of obedience in the plan of salvation. Don't be misled. Take God's word as your guide (2 Timothy 2:15).

I've never read so much bad theology in such a small space. One only has to read Romans 3 to see that Mr. Cooper has everything wrong:

19 Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. 20 Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. 21 But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; 22 Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: 23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; 24 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: 25 Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; 26 To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. 27 Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. 28 Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.

As far as I know, Churches of Christ like this one are products of the Restoration movement, which was supposedly all about getting back to the Acts-era church and losing all those nasty creeds and confessions that divide believers up. "Theology" was a bad word for many of the movement's founders; they saw the work of the church to be benevolence and missions, not doctrine such as rightly dividing the Word and properly understanding and administering the Sacraments.

The really creepy part: I was raised in a Restoration movement church. No wonder I got so burnt out on modern evangelicalism. Though the church I grew up in worked hard to hide its Restoration foundations (they labeled themselves "non-denominational", all sermons generically consisted of "love God, love your neighbor" -- average modern evangelical fare), all their ministers were from Restoration Bible colleges, and many of their statements of belief were taken right from the mouths of the movement's founders.

Also on the ad they placed the tagline: "A friendly church." I can agree on some level. All the people at my old church were very friendly. In fact, the only thing that made it hard to leave were the friendships that I had there. But doctrine like Cooper's is not "friendly" at all. It's downright hideous.

My question: If you're going to believe that salvation is by works, why not just be a Roman Catholic?