Wednesday, November 05, 2014

The View From Here: My Daughter and My Phone During Worship

A couple of weeks ago, I brought my children with me to worship. My wife was playing organ at one church. I was leading worship at Heinz Chapel for the campus ministry. How to get the kids to the zoo for the Zoo Boo that afternoon? Yes, come with me, because I was closer. No problem, although being a campus ministry service, there is no nursery available for young children, like my four-year old daughter.

So I was leading worship, but not preaching. That task fell to my Episcopalian counterpart that morning. My daughter and eight-year old son sat with me in the front pew. My oldest child, the eleven-year old boy, found a seat several rows back, behind a pillar where he could remain apart from us. And of course my daughter got antsy. So like many parents, I handed her my phone. She played a few games, but ultimately went on to her favorite activity, taking pictures. I did not count how many pictures she took, but it was quite a few. A couple of days later, I sat there deleting them. For about half an hour. At some point during the deletion marathon, I paused and realized that these photos, bad as they were, were recording the view from my daughter's perspective. Given her perch, what exactly was there to grab her attention. It appears that several things piqued her curiosity... some of them were actually service-related... but how long could anyone expect to sit still if there wasn't something to grab... and hold... his or her attention.

Countless shots of her feet and/or the floor

The pew, my jacket and the stained glass 

Her foot again... but somehow turned it into an animated gif. How did she do that?  

 Me reading along with the lector

Brother... who appears put off by the close up 

 The lector... again. 

Brother would not do well with paparazzi 

 Worship selfie

Something caught brother's attention 

Sermon time 

 Hymnal racks

 Woodwork of Heinz Chapel, pulpit, chancel and altar

Some things clearly caught her eye. Things that were going on during the service or in the space around her. The most often snapped pictures though were of her feet and the immediate space around her.

Maybe we should set more youngsters, heck why not everyone, loose with cameras during worship to see what they are seeing. What holds their attention? Are there obstacles, both literal and figurative, in their way? Of course some of these things are natural for a four-year old. Not everything will be overcome. And we would hope that as they age they begin to participate more fully. We cannot make worship appeal only to four-year olds. We do not need a lowest common denominator worship. But it cannot hurt to ponder occasionally how everyone perceives our worship... Four-year olds included.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Holy Ground at 35,000 feet

A couple of weeks ago I had a meeting in California for campus ministry that demanded a great deal of focus and attention, which of course, between that and the travel with short turn around, let me drained. So I was looking forward to the return trip where I could become anonymous and delve into the page of notes I had made for my upcoming sermon.

Because of the demands of the meeting, I had failed to check-in online exactly twenty-four hours to the flight so I was dealt a lousy boarding number. While I had managed to score a window seat on the flight out, I knew I wouldn't even get an aisle seat. I was going to be stuck in the middle.

My strategy then was simply to grab the first available center seat I came upon on on the side of the plane that would be facing north during the flight, since the north side would not have the sun shining on it. That side of the plane is cooler, at least in my mind. As I walked back the aisle, I saw my target, dropped my laptop bag in it so I could work, and stowed my shoulder bag. And then I discovered to my horror, that the guy I would be sitting next was a guy who had been loudly talking with another guy at the gate about their Italian heritage. Everyone can recognize an evangelist, whether religious or not. This guy was an Italian evangelist. His identity was thoroughly steeped in the history and culture of Italy and he was happy to talk to anyone about it. And I dreaded this.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Campus Ministry... Why I Do It...

Sometimes in campus ministry, just like in regular ministry, we don't see the effect on people's lives. With campus ministry it is a little more exacerbated, since we usually only have a person around for four years or less. But every once in a while, God's presence shoots across your field of vision so that you want to take off your shoes because you know you are on holy ground, and you are humbled because you were part of it.
One of our alums, Kelsey, is in Madagascar for a year of Young Adults in Global Mission. She has begun a blog to let folks know of her experiences... the blog post that I am sharing might be the best way to explain why I love campus ministry and the type of work that goes on there.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Ham on Nye: Sandwiching Evolution and Creationism Together

How do you get creationists and scientists together in the same room? Bring leading spokespeople from each camp for a debate. Last night, as many know, Bill Nye, the appropriately named "Science Guy" and Ken Ham, the founder of the Creation Museum in Northern Kentucky squared off in a debate of sorts, to argue their case for creationism or evolution. (The debate can be watched here)

To be honest, the event felt less like a debate and more like two ships passing in the night, like two parts of a sandwich that wouldn't come together no matter how much one chewed them. Not much of a surprise, I guess. Debates work best when the conversation takes place between people who share a common matrix of beliefs, even while they hold disagreements, even significant ones at that. Ham and Nye don't have disagreements, they are in fundamentally different universes. How each viewed science was at issue. Nye clearly supported the scientific process as it is taught and practiced in research. Ham looked at science as only a crutch for finding support of his own view. If anything supported the standard scientific model over the creationist model, Ham found ways to dismiss or discount the finding rather than question his own model.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Pastor Dad: Questions in the Dark

My wife and I have from very early on with our kids created a rather involved bedtime ritual. All of our prayers are sung, and with the exception of the first, a variation of "Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep" sung to "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star", based on elements of the compline liturgy. This bedtime liturgy evolved out of a first child who would not stay in a toddler bed alone. Many nights I would lie on the floor with my head resting on his mattress until he would fall asleep. In that time, he seemed to soothe easiest if I sang. I had lots of tunes that I would use, but I fell into the habit of singing parts of compline because I was praying it fairly regularly. The traditional tune of "All Praise to Thee My God This Night" fit the moment. And the verse which precedes the nunc dimitis, "Guide us waking, O Lord, and guard us sleeping..." even though sung to Gregorian chant was perfect before  we eventually said the Lord's Prayer.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Church of the Geek

Another project I have been working on for the past six months or so... The Church of the Geek Podcast, with the Rev. David Hansen.

Our sixth episode went up tonight. "The Ascendancy of the Geek" What happens when the outsider moves to the inside? You can find our reflection here.

Monday, January 06, 2014

Advice for Atheist Churches

A friend pointed out an article over at the CNN Religion Blog about Atheist Churches... and of course, their almost immediate fracture after seeking to spread. 

A brief excerpt from the article: 
In October, three former members of Sunday Assembly NYC announced the formation of a breakaway group called Godless Revival.
“The Sunday Assembly,” wrote Godless Revival founder Lee Moore in a scathing blog post, “has a problem with atheism.”
Moore alleges that, among other things, Jones advised the NYC group to “boycott the word atheism” and “not to have speakers from the atheist community.” It also wanted the New York branch to host Assembly services in a churchlike setting, instead of the Manhattan dive bar where it was launched.
Jones denies ordering the NYC chapter to do away with the word “atheism,” but acknowledges telling the group “not to cater solely to atheists.” He also said he advised them to leave the dive bar “where women wore bikinis,” in favor of a more family-friendly venue.
The squabbles led to a tiff and finally a schism between two factions within Sunday Assembly NYC. Jones reportedly told Moore that his faction was no longer welcome in the Sunday Assembly movement.
The split seems to be fueled by a fundamental disagreement in organization and purpose. The emergence of atheism into a more accepted existence has shown that Atheism is not in fact monolithic. With even fewer doctrinal guardians than American mainline protestants, these atheist assemblies now have to figure out who they are when engaging the larger community. 
In the midst of this discussion, I cannot help but see similarities from the early church. One of the questions Engelhart asks in the blog is if disbelief is enough to hold the Atheist Churches together. I say "No." Why? Because belief was not enough to keep the Christian Church together. I suppose it is more accurate to say that "Belief in belief" is not enough, borrowing from Stanley Hauerwas' comments that American religion is about belief in belief. (See this 2010 article in the Guardian as an example)  While the early church lived in the Roman Empire, an illegal religion sometimes persecuted harshly, the  early church could live with any profession of "Jesus is Lord!" Once they were legitimized by Constantine, the cracks in the belief began to show. Belief was not enough to hold them together. Schism and heresy began to split the Christian Church apart as leaders began to hash out what they believed about this Jesus guy and why he mattered. Throughout the history of the Christian Church, the followers of Jesus have shown with increasingly regularity that we are far more comfortable perpetrating the brokenness, sometimes over substantial matters like fundamental questions of who Jesus is, and more often over irrelevant questions like the color of the carpet in the sanctuary. What ultimately keeps the Christian Church together is Jesus, that resurrected God-Man who still shows up in our gatherings, even when we get him all wrong. He shows up in Word and Sacrament and in our life together so we can practice the grace he gives us. Belief alone leaves us Christians fractured still. It is no small miracle that any Christian Church has survived for two millennia. In the same way, I do not believe disbelief (or maybe disbelief in belief?) will hold the Atheist Church together. they will need something more.
But a bigger issue came to mind as I read the article. The Atheist Church is copying the model of the Christian Church, a model many Christian Church leaders are wrestling with because it seems outdated. The gathering to listen to people talk about stuff might be interesting (might not since not every sermon in a Christian Church is necessarily interesting to everyone), but one of the things that the Christian Church is facing, is how to engage people in those moments. And many religious leaders are altering the way the Christian Church deals with that time. We no longer live in a period where people will sit for the "Tell me" but are looking for "Show me." Don't just talk about praying. Pray. That time is being opened up for something more participatory and experiential. 
The Atheist Church needs to discern questions of identity, meaning and purpose. And they should not just duplicate the model of the Christian Church. Be true to what you believe and live into that. Make your gatherings reflect that. Even Engelhart recognizes something is amiss in this new Atheist Church movement. She wrote: 
Instead of a thoughtful sermon, I got a five-minute Wikipedia-esque lecture on the history of particle physics.
Instead of receiving self-improvement nudges or engaging in conversation with strangers, I watched the founders fret (a lot) over technical glitches with the web streaming, talk about how hard they had worked to pull the service off, and try to sell me Sunday Assembly swag.
What’s more, instead of just hop, skipping and jumping over to a local venue, as I once did, I now had to brave the tube and traverse the city.
Perhaps something was lost. in the move to a larger, organized effort. At a time when people are decrying organized religion, perhaps organized atheism is not any better. 
Why do I care though?  Why am I bothering to offer advice to atheists? Most likely because I believe the God I follow in Jesus is not the sort who observes boundaries. He doesn't just stick with his own people. He is out there. And if the Atheist Church has anything good to offer the world, it will be because Jesus is there since nothing good can come apart from him. And maybe, we in the Christian Church might learn something more about what Jesus is up to in the process. 

Friday, January 03, 2014

Church-geeking out over 2013

Here is a blog post I did for the Church of the Geek podcast page, where I look over 2013 geek/church events...  and even manage to invent a new word.

Read it here.

Happy New Year everyone!