To think outside the box…

Go outside

Instagram is a photo-sharing and social-networking website. It’s the hot new thing; or maybe it was the hot new thing last Tuesday but isn’t anymore; things change so fast it’s hard to keep track. But hot or not, Instagram isn’t really innovative. Walk With a Doc is innovative. A local doctor walks in the park every Saturday. Whoever wants to, joins him. There’s not much more to it.

The hot new social networking platform is dinner with friends

This approach has succeeded with a couple of long-running small groups I know of. “Small groups” are a big deal in Christian ministry right now. Those I know of that last for more than a year are like Walk with a Doc. As an example, a few members of the Methodist Church might eat dinner at Lois’s Cafe every Tuesday evening at six. Anyone who wants to join them is welcome. It’s not a 501(c) anything. There’s no list of members; no collection is taken; there’s rarely any overtly religious discussion.

Several loose ends:

  • I’m not sure the preacher entirely approves of the small-group-that’s-about-nothing, but he rarely shows up and hasn’t tried to stop it.
  • When I say dinner with friends is the hot new platform, I don’t mean we should use it to monetize or commodify our social relationships.
  • Many small groups are short-lived. Longevity isn’t everything. If a few people get together to read Romans or paint someone’s house, and they do it and move on, that’s great.
  • “Organic small groups are the hot new thing. Let’s start some, and have a big drive to get everyone to join one. Ask the nominating committee for the names of six people to be the organic small group leaders, and I’ll contact District Headquarters about a charter.” This approach does more harm than good.

Absolute and Abitofhell

From “I believe” to “One does feel”

In Surprised by Joy, C.S. Lewis tells us he “was soon (in the famous words) ‘altering “I believe” to “one does feel.”‘” Those famous words are from the satirical poem Absolute and Abitofhell written by Ronald Knox in 1913. Here’s part of Absolute and Abitofhell. I’ve modernized Knox’s deliberately archaic and very annoying spelling.

Yet something marred that ordered Symmetry:
Say, what did Strato in their company?
Who, like a Leaven, gave his Tone to all,
‘Mid prophet Bands an unsuspected Saul.
For he, discerning with nice arguings
‘Twixt non-essential and essential Things,
Himself believing, could no reason see
Why any other should believe, but he.

(Himself believing, as believing went
in that wild Heyday of the Establishment,
When, on his Throne at Lambeth, Solomon
Uneasy murmured, “Something must be done,”
When suave Politeness, tempering bigot Zeal,
Corrected, “I believe,” to “One does feel.”)
He wished the Bilge away, yet did not seek
To man the Pumps, or plug the treacherous Leak:
Would let into our Ark the veriest Crow,
That had the measliest Olive-branch to show.

This is probably extraordinarily witty, but it’s a bit beyond me. Still, if someone had told me it was written about the Church of England today, I’d have believed it.

UPDATE 15 January 2014: some observations on Monsignor Ronald Knox and Absolute and Abitofhell.

Women as bishops

I attend a Methodist church, and we’ve had women as preachers and bishops for some time. It doesn’t really bother me if the bishop is a woman, any more than if the bishop is a man. The Catholics are pretty much stuck, but if you’re going to be a protestant and choose to have bishops at all, you’ve brought it on yourself. And if the worst thing about the bishop is that she’s a woman, count yourself lucky. But I am glad finally to have found the scriptural warrant for women to be bishops. It’s Isaiah 3:12.

Methodists and abortion

Methodist clergy often (though not always) seem to be to the left of Methodists. The higher up the hierarchy further around the Great Circle of Connection you go, the crazier they get:

“Recently a newly appointed official with the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society explained on her agency’s website that ‘we are a church that is pro-life, not pro-birth.’” — United Methodists Are “Pro-Life” but “Not Pro-Birth?”, seen here

But things seem to be moving in the right direction, if very slowly:

“Like the nation, United Methodism has slowly been stepping back in recent years from the earlier [1970s] enthusiasm for abortion rights. This year’s General Conference was almost certainly prepared to withdraw from the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice had it been allowed to vote. It will happen next time in 2016. And hopefully, as our church becomes more global, United Methodism will once again reflect the historic Christian consensus that is both pro-life and pro-birth.

“As our church becomes more global” means the demographic balance is shifting toward Africa, India, and Korea. Methodists vote every few years on what’s right and wrong, so in a few years performing an abortion may become a sin. No doubt the far left will embrace that change enthusiastically, ’cause while growth is optional, change is inevitable, right?

Google making too many connections

I’m getting tired of fooling around trying to maintain some privacy while using Google Reader, which seems increasingly clunky anyway. It might be easier to just visit sites I like, read what’s there, and move on.

On another topic, Wikipedia says Selah “is probably either a liturgico-musical mark or an instruction on the reading of the text, something like ‘stop and listen’.” Going to the Methodist Church, I was beginning to think it meant connection! or maybe authentic! or that it was the High Priest’s instruction to the hereditary Keeper of the South Door to lower the projection screen and start the PowerPoint. Which, sinner that I am, always causes me to visualize the veil of the Temple tearing from top to bottom.

Technology in church

Read Schuchardt is asked about Media, Technology, and Religion:

How should Christian leaders – clergy, lay leaders, music ministers, etc. – think about using tech in their ministries?

Very very carefully. My first recommendation is to read Jacques Ellul’s “Effect on Churches” section of Propaganda. My second is to recognize that the church is not competing with Starbucks, the mall, or the movie theater for audiences. I think Henri Nouwen gets it right [in his In the Name of Jesus - ed.] when he says that the leaders of the future will be those who have the courage of being culturally irrelevant, because they will recognize that what the soul in technological society truly craves is the worship of the true and living God, not the temporary two-hour appeasement of the burden of self-consciousness that can be had anywhere else and with higher production values. So recognizing that worship and entertainment are not synonyms, understanding how icons (cultural and religious) work both semiotically and spiritually, knowing that “ecclesia” is the people and not the building, and knowing that value is a function of scarcity (and not repeatability), that is where I would start with teaching clergy how to think about tech use in their ministries. By and large, most people hate church for the same reason they hate meetings run by PowerPoint: if I can get this electronically on my laptop at my own convenience, why am I even here?

The emphasis is mine.

A preacher can almost never be persuaded by rational argument not to use fashionable technology. Hiding the extension cord is only a short-term fix. If the projector disappears or “accidentally” doesn’t work, they’ll just buy a new one. Something like TV B Gone might help in some cases, but often these things are hard-wired. Really I think PowerPoint, once in the church, does not go out except by prayer and fasting.

UPDATE 20 December 2011: Christianity and the Future of the Book, by Alan Jacobs