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    Benjamin Meyers on Megachurch Worship, Mediation, and the Screen

    Aside from having a great first name, Benjamin Meyers provides insightful commentary at his blog.  This post caught my attention, thanks to the iMonk (on Twitter), and I found it so wonderfully written that I read it out loud, taking pleasure in the fine details, and how Meyers captures his experience of megachurch worship in a way that resonates with my own.  This is something you need to read, as Meyers does well to draw our attention to how technology shapes and influences the shape of our collective worship, and consequently our character.

    Check it out.


    Transient. Distracted. Elsewhere. :: Planted. Attentive. Present.

    Of the pairing above, which set of words resonate most fully with you?

    Our world is changing, and is undergoing further change.  And as changes take place all around us, they form and tailor us to navigate our world in ways that could be healthy but could also be to our detriment, and if not for us, then perhaps for our neighbors.  This is why it is critical for us to engage with our world in a discerning way, analyzing the emerging patterns, habits, and ways of being that define our age.  In many ways this type of quest is an attempt to hit a moving target, for in many instances the moment we grasp a hint of "what is going on," something new is going on.  The landscape changes.  But that does not mean we should stop trying to hit the target.

    Among my hobbies stands the study of sociology.  I love to know how people work, think, act, and relate.  I love to follow trends and read statistics, particularly when they intersect with patterns I've sensed in my own community.  I also believe that sociologists have much to offer us in understanding ourselves.  And it is just such an offering that Dalton Conley has provided us in his book, Elsewhere, U.S.A.: How We Got from the Company Man, Family Dinners, and the Affluent Society to the Home Office, Blackberry Moms, and Economic Anxiety.  The title captures the content well.

    In his book Conley traces the transition of the common American worker from 1959 to 2009.  He notes many changes.  Whereas his grandparents worked hard to retire at 50, today the world of work "means working more and more hours as you move up a towering ladder of economic opportunity (and inequality)."  Whereas his grandparents enjoyed socializing with friends and family, the modern "knowledge worker" has social ties that are normally just an extension of their work, for one has no idea from whence the next project or great opportunity will come (I see this in my own life.).  While his grandparents, whom he describes as having a "relatively progressive marriage," would eat meals at home with family, he observe that his own family never cooks.  They eat most meals at restaurants or on the run.  Conley observes that the modern individual constantly juggles one's calendar, particularly when one has a family, and most move hurriedly about from place to place.  When people are asked how the are doing, the most common answer is "busy."

    Conley observes that even when we are "here," we are often never "all here."  There is always some distraction.  Email, cell phone, or the constant reviewing of the millions of things "to do" that roll through our mind keep us from being fully present with our friends and loved ones.  As a result, we live in an Elsewhere society that blends work and leisure, home and office, investment and consumption, and public and private.  Conley does not decry this state of affairs.  Instead, he exhorts his readers to come to terms with it.  To live it.  To give in to the Blackberry.  This is reality, he believes, and we are best off joining the game rather than longing from some nostalgic yesteryear to which we can never return.

    Conley ends his book by asking, "Do I make sense?"  It is an appeal.  He knows that as a sociologist he can only formulate a theory, propose it to the reader, and the return will be up to his audience.  Does he tell a compelling story?  Does it fit the grid?  To paraphrase Jonathan Z. Smith, "Does the map fit the territory?"  And to all of those questions I would say yes.  We are more transient.  We are more distracted.  We are elsewhere.

    But for Christian communities, our role is to subvert these realities.  Our story is one of incarnation and grounding, attention and focus, presence and care.  Our story is also one of patience, gratitude, and slowness. We are friends of time.  While Conley's story is compelling, it does not constitute a truthful narrative in which we are called to live.  In fact, it unearths dangerous realities which threaten our life as followers of Jesus.  He names for us the principalities and the powers. And we have good news to share in the face of those realities, which are not realities at all.  They are simply illusion.

    Are you transient, distracted, or elsewhere?  If yes, how can you become planted, attentive, and present, and invite others into that same type of life?


    Kara Powell @ CT's Out of Ur Blog :: Youth Ministry & "The Age of Segregation"

    I have served in youth ministry in the past few years. I've given thought to intergenerational ministry, and have always had a concern that the widespread, accepted approach to youth ministry programming as a "subset" component in the life of the church was undermining our end goal of raising up disciples of Jesus Christ. Students are not exposed to mature Christians, or the wisdom of the generations, and thus lack the resources to imagine for themselves what an exemplary Christian life might look like.  

    I wanted my students to be in worship with a full complement of the saints, both young and old. And I wanted my students to have leadership within those worship gatherings. So do most youth ministers. But our approach to separating the generations has, at times, drawn people into segregated fellowships at the cost of a collective gathering where our witness is more robust.

    This quote from Kara Powell, executive director of the Fuller Youth Institute at Fuller Theological Seminary, appeared on CT's Out of Ur blog a few days ago, and captures well the development of youth ministry in the last half century and what I can only hope will be the future of youth ministry (bold emphasis mine):

    "[The church] realized in the 1940s that we were not offering teens enough focused attention. So what did we do? We started offering them too much. All of a sudden churches had adult pastors and youth pastors, adult worship teams and youth worship teams, adult mission trips and youth mission trips. And there's a place for that. But we've ended up segregating--and I use that word intentionally--our kids from the rest of the church. Now we tend to think that we can outsource the care of our kids to designated experts, the youth and children's workers.... I think the future of youth ministry is intergenerational."

    The comments on this thread are interesting.  Check it out.


    Do We "Need" Virtual Community, Or Is It a Bonus?

    I love Facebook, Twitter, and, after a shaky start, I've come to enjoy blogging. Never mind that I wonder how many people actually read the stuff that I write, or my concern that information glut makes it even more difficult to find those places on the web with quality content, or that social networking is an addiction for certain people that I know (like me). I think social media tools are fun, and they've enabled me to broaden my network and involve myself in conversations I could not have accessed otherwise.

    Social media tools have a lot of advantages. I was reminded of this by an article in the June 30, 2009 edition of The Christian Century. Lenora Rand contributed an article entitled, "The Church on Facebook: Why We Need Virtual Community," that was quite enjoyable. In the article Rand shares a personal story of a friend who makes "The Feed" on Facebook a source for her prayer life. Rand also notes that churches are now using Facebook and Twitter to keep parishioners abreast of the latest happenings in the life of their congregation. She sees these virtual communities as a great help in supplementing community, and throughout her article notes the numerous advantages such technological tools lend to our daily lives. Rand strongly concludes:

    These days...given the busyness of our lives and the distances we're separated from each other and from our church buildings, we...need the virtual church. We live in a world in which it takes a lot of commitment to carve out an hour or so on Sunday morning to meet with others for worship, and in this kind of world we need the Facebook and Twitter church, where on a daily basis we can confess our sins, weep together and laugh together, know the intimate details of one another's lives and pray for one another in very specific ways.

    Rand is not saying that Twitter and Facebook should replace our face-to-face gatherings.  She makes this clear in her article.  And I agree with her.  But I won't go so far as to say that we "need" the virtual community that Twitter and Facebook provide, and I refuse to give into the idea that such networks allow us to maintain some form of close connection in a busy world.  I would argue that our "long commutes" to our church communities, or Rand's description of the tremendous amount of commitment now required to gather for an hour on Sunday morning point to a larger problem within our networks.  You could diagnose this problem as hurry-sickness, sprawl, or consumer-Christianity that bypasses the parish church (imagine if we did have to gather at a church near our neighborhood, rather than drive to the congregation of our choice?).  You might have another diagnosis.  But there is a problem.  And Web 2.0 will not solve it.  In fact, it might mask it.

    To cite an example, my cell phone bill recently revealed a rather atrocious reality.  I found that the minutes credited to my data plan--the minutes used to access Facebook, Twitter, or the web--far outnumbered my minutes spent talking with people during the day or at night.  Even if you include my text messages, my time on Facebook and Twitter still dwarfed those totals.  I spend more time voyeuristically monitoring statuses than I do in direct conversations with friends.  Thus, I am able to feign relationship with others at a distance.  I feel connected.  But am I?

    We do not need virtual community.  But we have it.  It is a bonus.  Not a need.  Let's not overstate the case.


    Limitations of the Church Online ::

    Catalyst pointed me to this article from LifeChurch about the limits of the online church.  Check it out.  The comments are particularly interesting.

    When it comes to the church online, it is my observation that practice has been more formative for the theology of this type of ministry, rather than theology driving practice (there is a dynamic relationship here, of course).  In many ways I believe the "online church" expresses a weak ecclesiology, privileges certain institutions and personalities over others, and shifts focus from what has become a critical need in all sectors of Christianity--the identification, equipping, and sending of a new generation of leaders to actually, physically dwell amongst a community of people and disciple them as followers of Jesus.  I wrote an article for Collide Magazine on the strengths and weaknesses of internet campuses and multi-site ministries earlier this year.  You can read it here.

    Until someone makes the case that internet campuses and ministries can fully embody the gospel in a way that reflects our doctrine of the incarnation, I'm going to remain unconvinced that these type of ministries are fully for the good.  While I recognize that some pluses do emerge from these types of ministries, I believe they fail to depict the church as anything more than a voluntary association of individuals who have happened to assent to some of the same creeds.

    Christianity is about more than having the right information.  It is about living a particular and common way of life together while following after Jesus.