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    Entries in Church (18)


    Rites of Passage in an Individualistic Culture

    As I do every fall, back in October I travelled to Waco, Texas for Baylor Homecoming.  Each year I manage to catch up with a few friends, learning about changes in family life, location, occupation, etc.  This fall I ran into Todd Ferguson, a guy a bit younger than me who works with children and youth at Willow Meadows Baptist Church in Houston, TX.  Among the many things Todd and I discussed while the parade rolled by, he mentioned that he truly enjoyed creating moments that could serve as "rites of passage" for the young men in his ministry.

    Photo Credit: yushimoto_02

    From time to time I've thought of that conversation while interacting with students at Resurrection West or while learning about and analyzing our culture.  In the Christian community, where do we create space for young people to grow up?  In my local church, the obvious answer is confirmation.  But aside from taking on the title "Christian" and knowing that one is "confirmed," how does that occasion serve as a transition point in a young person's journey of faith wherein the confirmand now holds a greater sense of belonging and purpose within the community?  

    In other words, do our confirmation programs do more than affirm individual faith?  Do they bring students in to the body?

    I grew up in a "believer's church" tradition.  I can remember being taught that the Lord's Supper, or communion, was taken by those who had decided to follow Jesus Christ.  If you had not committed your life to Christ, you did not take of the bread and the cup.  I cite this example only to show that once I had made that decision and been baptized, I also knew that I could partake in the Lord's meal.  I had moved from one sphere of belonging (welcome guest and interested observer) to another (part of the body).

    Of course, this rite of passage only brought me so far--I wasn't given any official leadership position or authority.  But it did give me a sense of place within the church.  I had affirmed a personal relationship with God, while also being initiated into a corporate practice of the church.  Something had changed.

    For my friends that have grown up in traditions with confirmation as part of the process of discipleship, how did that moment serve as a rite of passage for your sense of belonging within the church?  What, if anything, changed?

    I ask this question because I am curious: how do our rites of passage work in an individualistic culture?  Other than confirmation, what other spaces do we create in our ministries for people to transition from one way of being to another?  Those two questions are distinct, but related.

    What do you think?


    Can You Guess When This Was Written?

    Americans are great people; there is no doubt about that.  They are great in building cities and railroads...Americans have a wonderful genius for improving breeds of horses, cattle, sheep and swine...American too are great inventors...Needless to say, they are great in money...American are great in all these things and much else; but not in Religion....Americans must count religion in order to see or show its value...To them big churches are successful churches...To win the greatest number of converts with the least expense is their constant endeavor.  Statistics is their way of showing success or failure in their religion as in their commerce and politics.  Numbers, numbers, oh, how they value numbers!

    -Kanzo Uchimura, Japanese Christian evangelist and Bible teacher

    So, what did you guess?

    Could you believe it was written in 1926?  Uchimura lived from 1861 to 1930, studied in the United States, and made many visits to North America in his lifetime.  This quotation was found in Mark Noll's The New Shape of World Christianity: How American Experience Reflects Global Faith.

    At the very least, it raises some questions about how our cultural situation shapes our metrics.


    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.

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