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I think many of you are friends with Elizabeth Keller on Facebook, and as such may have noticed the posting she made last week. I asked and she said she was willing to have it posted here, as well (it is an excerpt from a paper she wrote in seminary). I think it is an interesting look at the differences between the generations in the church, and raises some pretty good questions about where the church, and culture in general, go from here. I pulled some excerpts from her posting and put it below:

As we enter into these various stages of life, our dependence, activity, leadership and stewardship are supposedly dramatically affected by the generation from which we come. Strauss and Howe describe four generations: the Idealist (boomers), the Nomad (busters), the Civic (bridgers), and the Adaptive (builders). These generations cycle over and over again through four different turnings, the First Turning is a High (when Boomers are born, 1946-1964), the Second Turning is an Awakening (when Busters are born, 1964-1984), the Third Turning is an Unraveling, (when Bridgers are born, 1984-2006), and the Fourth Turning is a Crisis (when Builders were born, 1925-1942, and – and now, the children born today, 2005-2026!).

Because Boomers are born into a High Turning, they are formed in their youth as Idealists, living into a time of overcoming crisis and moving into prosperity. Busters – like myself – are born into a Turning of Awakening – when spirituality and religion are questioned and explored and moral values are challenged; we are referred to as Nomads. This Second Turning requires us to focus on our inner-worlds and typically becomes a time when “social unrest has broken out.” During this time the Boomer generation was rising into adulthood – and began breaking boundaries, starting revolutions, and rebelling status quo.

The Third Turning then arrived between 1984-2006, when the Bridgers were born – a time of Unraveling. Our culture again shifted from the inner-world focus to outer-world focus. During this time we tested new approaches and new applications, so as to suggest that “previous norms and social expectations come apart, but their replacements are still being tested and constructed.” The Bridger Generation is thus referred to as the Civics. Because the spiritual awakening time before them served rather intense, in this Turning comes the desire for a “little fun.” […]

[…]Born in 1975, “they” call me a Gen X’er or a Buster, since we “busted” the booming birth-rate drastically. Strauss and Howe describes my Nomad and/or Buster Generation as “a recessive Reactive Generation who grows up as under-protected and criticized youth during a spiritual awakening, then matures into a risk-taking, alienated rising adult, mellowing into a pragmatic midlife leader during a secular crisis, and thus, maintaining respect as a reclusive elder.” Can’t wait!

Living through my youth and now living into my rising adult years, I will explore historical waves and events that further influence the Buster generation. We are described as apathetic and cynical – even slackers. Raised in families with increasingly high divorce rates and mothers who entered the workplace, we are known as the “latch-key” kids, who develop deeply committed friendships, rather than intimate family relations, at least more so than other generations. As another result, we are described as independent, resilient, and adaptable, thus, not needing someone telling us what to do (Hmm, perhaps, these details describe me a bit!). In the same breath however, we very much expect immediate and ongoing feedback. We grew up with the release of cable television and MTV (though I didn’t!). We witnessed the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster, the Persian Gulf War, and Tienanmen Square.

Becoming working adults in an economic recession in the 1990s and 2000s, we know the hardships of unemployment and job insecurity. As a result, we are less loyal to an organization, than we are to our careers. In addition, we dislike authority! We reject rules. We prefer effective mentoring where clear expectations are provided, but then we are empowered to figure it out on our own. Thus, instead of working for someone, we prefer to work with someone.

Our generation also experiences delayed adulthood. We delay getting married and raising children, and we prolong our education (that is, taking longer and longer to complete our degrees) and establishing our careers. At the same time, consumerism consumes us, and we are in debt, living way beyond our means.

Because we experience our rising adulthood in a delayed and prolonged, living at the edge of survival sorta’ way, we have very little to offer financially. Carl Eeman in his book Generations of Faith, suggests that fundraisers, whether from the church or other organizations, focus stewardship for the Nomad or Buster generation in means of time and talent, and not as much treasure. In part, Eeman suggests this approach due to the life stage cycle in which we reside currently; as rising adults, we do not have the extra income or resources to give due to the above-mentioned issues of educational debt, marriages and children, and moving from job to job. However, we do value giving our time and talent. What Eeman does not say, is how this generation will respond to stewardship as Midlifers and/or Elders. He also neglects to connect issues of stewardship with the issues of our faith formation.

How then does our generation shape our faith formation? We mistrust traditional values and institutions and as a result, religion for us, is complex. Some of us are indifferent; while others of us believe in a Higher Power, but are more accepting of a plurality of religions. We struggle with disbelief, “I believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). We always wonder – will you be there for me?

However, if we do manage to convert to a spiritual pathway, a faith formation, then Carl Eeman suggests that we become passionate disciples, committed deeply to religion. Because we were forced to search solely in unearthing our faith, we then hold a stronger zeal for it. Eeman also suggests that we are much more action-oriented than word-oriented; we are the “embodiment of faith active in love.” This idea ties well with the above-mentioned suggestion from Eeman that fundraisers should focus their efforts on time and talent, since the Busters prefer putting our faith into action.

Once we convert to a spiritual pathway, how then do we connect our spirituality with the community and/or church and/or causes? Where do we give our time, talent and treasure? The Busters deeply desire authentic community. Yet, while we desperately desire deep community, we can also be smothered by it, for we seek an individual uniqueness. It is a tension in which we constantly struggle. Struggling to overcome our institutional mistrust and embracing our newly converted faith, we seek out community, but only inasmuch as we can feel valued as an individual. Again, these underlining issues connect well with the idea that fundraisers should encourage Busters to utilizes their time and talent, so that they are empowered to put their faith into action, while demonstrating their individual value, and eventually learning to embrace the church community.

In addition, the Busters find ourselves deeply loyal to causes and thus, that is where we give our money – to causes, not to people, like the Boomers. Interestingly, we minister to confront issues, not for personal satisfaction, like the Boomers. In contrast, the Builders give money to missions and minister out of duty. Lacking overall trust in people (from the brokenness we experienced as children), including authority, religion, and institutions, we are completely cause and issue-oriented, out of these, we give our loyalty, our money, and our devotion. Give us a cause – and put us into action!

I am interested to here what y’all think!

Last week I had the blessing of attending Peace Among the Peoples, an ecumenical peace conference which gathered together peacemakers from around the United States, and also a few from Canada. There was a lot of focus on preparing for the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation in Jamaica next summer, as well as visioning for the future of peace work together as the Decade to Overcome Violence of the World Council of Churches comes to a close. A lot of good conversations were started.

But one that fascinates me was one that began with the first two set of presentations, and became an underlying theological conversation for the entire conference. It is one I would love to hear from this community on. The question was one of our atonement theology – and whether we can move toward a more peaceful future, and claim to be a peace church (in the case of the conference, churches) if we endorse a theology of bloody, sacrificial atonement. The debate for the week was set up by Rita Nakashima Brock and Stanley Hauerwas, two theological giants of the peace community. Rita’s argument is best summed up by this quote from a Lenten season post on the Huffington Post:

Many Christians today refuse a faith that asks us to be thankful for the torture and murder of Jesus Christ […] The earliest images of the cross — dating back to the mid fourth century — symbolize resurrection, the tree of life, paradise in this world, and the transfiguration of the world by the Spirit. These crosses are not about sacrifice or debt repayment. Christianity that is true to the life of Jesus Christ tells his death as the story of resistance to the Roman Empire, not as the story of how the Empire enacted God’s will. Rome used crucifixion against non-citizens, the poor, and slaves […] The gospels constructed an innovative strategy to resist crucifixion. They rejected the terror that crucifixion instilled and told the story another way, against the grain of historical fact and with the grain of love and resistance. They reported that Jesus had no broken bones and died quickly. His friends removed him intact the day he died and buried him properly. They found him again in the garden, along the shore, breaking bread, and telling them to carry on his ministry. They experienced him as many people and cultures experience those they love who have died, as present still in visions, dreams, and rituals. These loving details said that Rome was impotent to erase Jesus from memory, to deny his humanity, or to end his work for justice, healing, and peace.

Stanley, on the other hand, went the route of sacrificial atonement, arguing:

But that is why we do not trust those who would have us make sacrifices in the name of preserving a world at war. We believe a sacrifice has been made that has brought an end to the sacrifice of war. Augustine and Luther thought Christians might go to war because they assumed a church existed that provided an alternative to the sacrificial system war always threatens to become. If the Civil War teaches us anything it makes clear what happens when Christians no longer believe that Christ’s sacrifice is sufficient for the salvation of the world. As a result, Christians confuse the sacrifice of war with the sacrifice of Christ.

This is a sacrificial atonement theology based out of one posited by Anslem which Rita outlines in her post:

In 1098 Archbishop Anselm of Canterbury summarized the evangelical idea of salvation: he claimed the crucifixion of Jesus was willed by God to save the world. His idea, now called “substitutionary atonement theology,” claimed that humanity’s sinfulness had dishonored God and carried a magnitude of debt from sin that was impossible to pay. God had to send Jesus to substitute for us as the only sinless sacrifice qualified to atone for sin.

This has been a lot of words to pose the question to all of you: what is your theology of atonement? If the church exists as an alternative to the world of violence, to work to bring about the peace found in Christ, do we need to radically revision our traditional conception of sacrificial atonement? Or not?

Over the generations, those of us in the Brethren movement have claimed “simple living” as a core value. Of course, as with any socio-spiritual conviction we’ve found vastly different ways of living in ways we might consider simple. It used to be plain clothes and abstaining from anything that might be considered “fancy.” More recently we’ve taken to focusing on living within our means, not falling prey to the prevalent consumer culture that surrounds us, or not relying on consumer credit to buy luxuries we can’t really afford.

Another way that many folks I know have taken to living simply involves trying to opt-out of complex corporate/industrial systems that are seen as working against the common good of all humanity. Yet it seems that such efforts often lead to a lifestyle that is far from simple, at least when judged by our traditional ideas of simplicity. Read the rest of this entry »

Today marks the beginning of one of the most Holy weeks on our calendar.  Today, we celebrate the presence, the arrival, of the Kin-dom of God! This is the day when Jesus rides into Jerusalem, and receives a royal welcome – even while riding in on a humble donkey.

And yet, so often this message gets blended this Sunday with the message of Good Friday, as churches, who know many won’t show up for a church service on Friday, want to make sure they get in the suffering that Jesus goes onto endure. And I always struggle with this reality – and believe that we really miss something if we don’t properly recognize the coming, the arrival, and the recognition of God’s kin-dom on this earth.  It is not something we are still waiting for, it has come! That can be such a vital message for the work we do.

I also understand, however, the importance of the message of Good Friday. Of naming and understanding the suffering Jesus endured because we didn’t, and don’t, recognize the message of Palm Sunday. So, my question for this morning is (especially for all my pastor friends out there) – how do we strike this balance? Has anyone found an effective way to live out this week in the life of the church – from Palm Sunday, to Maudy Thursday, to Good Friday, to Easter Sunday – while allowing each of these incredible holy days to stand on their own?

We’re halfway through the season of Lent, and a recent conversation with a friend has me thinking about the purpose of Lenten fasts and practices. “It just makes me so mad,” he said, “that people would give up something for a few weeks only to hit it harder when Easter comes.”

I get the cynicism, but I am a fan of Lent. Honestly, it’s my favorite liturgical season (and yes, I realize that having a favorite liturgical season makes me fatally nerdy). Lent seems to create an atmosphere of anticipation – as if, were we able to dive deeply enough and honestly enough into the pathos of the journey to the cross, then we might just be able to experience the unspeakable joy of the resurrection.

Barbara Brown Taylor talks about Lenten practices as wandering out into the wilderness:

…if you have spent a lot of time and/or money trying to acquire whatever it takes to grow your soul without seeing any new buds, then maybe a little spell in the wilderness is worth a try–a few weeks of choosing to live on less, not more–of practicing subtraction instead addition–not because your regular life is bad but because you want to make sure it is your real life–the one you long to be living–which can be hard to do when you’re living on fast food and busyness…

Brethren have long embraced the idea of living on less. We practice simplicity – I think – because it keeps us mindful of “the life that is really life.” In that light, a Lenten fast might be a very Brethren thing to do. Are you keeping a fast this year? Is it growing your soul?

Hey y’all.  First of all, registration for YAC is up – be sure to sign up, it would be great to see you all there.  For that, and for the Spring edition of the YA newsletter Bridge, I was asked to reflect on our scripture for the weekend – Romans 12:4-8 – and the idea of community.  I thought this would be a good place to share that – and I would love to hear your thoughts.

“For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, 5so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another (Romans 12:4-5).”  What in the world does it mean to all be members of the body of Christ – to be individually members of one another?  At first glance, it sounds like an odd sci-fi flick.  The image that pops right into my head is something out of the Matrix, with all of humanity hooked up to a machine to make it function.  But that can’t be right – there is no individuality there.  So, what does this look like?

Here is how I like to picture this, and it is grounded in how i think about God as Trinity.  I imagine the Creator, Son, and Holy Spirit, all in one space, dancing around each other.  The energy created between them, the way you can’t Identify one without seeing the other – that is the essence of God.  But they each serve different roles in bringing the reality of God to us here on Earth.  God the Creator, maker of heaven and earth.  The Son, the redeemer, through whom Creation is brought back into relationship with God.  And the Holy Spirit, sustainer, giving us the real presence of God through which to live out our call as followers.  God is, in God’s very essence and being, a community.

In much the same way, we are called to be a community – the community we create and live out is the real body of Christ on this earth.  And much like God, we all bring different gifts to the table.  Some of us are missionaries, some of us are teachers, some of us are preachers, some musicians.  Some tend the buildings and grounds, some make sure the day to day operations happen.  But what happens when we all dance together, unable to be identified without each other, is that the energy between us brings forth the living Christ and the Kin-dom of God.  We each manifest that reality in our own ways, with our own gifts – and when brought together, we can do amazing things.

But, goodness, this is not easy.  Not a chance.  It is hard, it is radical, and it takes an incredible amount of trust and love for those around you.  It is especially hard for young adults – we rarely stay put long enough, for one thing, to build this kind of community with those around them, and we are also trying desperately to live into our own individual identity, to carve out our own lives, that the community can often get lost in the mix.

Yet, we know it is what we are seeking – it is what fills us, sustains us, and gives us hope.  It is when we feel and know the real presence of God among us – when we are involved in that intricate dance with others, calling God forth.  It is what it means to be church – anytime, anywhere.  William Placher writes, “The last word about things cannot be power if God is love.  And in love, equality need not imply identity.”[1] We are called to live into the love of God that runs so deep, it is the energy that is who God is.

So, join us for YAC 2010, and walk with us as we explore exactly how this happens – trying to define what it is, how you seek it out, how you build it, and how you maintain it.  It is what it means to live in the presence of the Triune God – Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer.  It is the calling forth of God’s kin-dom on Earth, and witnessing to the risen Christ.

[1] Placher, William C.  The Triune God:  An Essay in Postmodern Theology.  Westminster John Knox Press.  Louisville, KY:  2007.  pg. 151.

Maybe it’s my exposure to a disproportionately large percentage of Church of the Brethren folks who are seminary trained and highly ecumenically involved, but it seems to me that there is a growing interest within our tradition in more “liturgically-oriented” worship practices.

I can think of several examples of this: more Brethren pastors following the Lectionary, increased interest in special, more liturgical services like Ash Wednesday, Tenebrae, etc., and even movement toward a more high-church style of worship on Sunday mornings.

I’ll admit that I too find myself appreciating and being influenced by such liturgical expressions, especially as they relate to more ancient Christian practices that pre-date the Protestant Reformation. Still, I’m left wondering, “why?”

Despite my opening statement, I don’t think it is just the highly ecumenical and the seminary folks who connect with this trend. In my own congregation we’ve begun having more of these small gatherings, like tonight’s Ash Wednesday service, and it’s a relatively broad demographic that generally attends. Another good example of this is last year’s Tenebrae service, when a group of about 20 local college students came and participated. It seems to me that young adults and youth particularly are finding deep connections with these kinds of worship.

My questions for you are: Does any of this ring true in your experience? What are your thoughts as to why we might be witnessing this shift within our tradition which has been very “low-church” for many years? How do you personally find yourself connecting (or dis-connecting) with more liturgically-leaning worship?

I always find it humorous when I read books and articles that are targeted at “smaller churches” and realize that within the broader context of Christianity the definition of a small church encompasses the vast majority of congregations within the Church of the Brethren. I just don’t see it that way. For me, a church with 150 people is BIG! And yet there are many people out there who would consider it to be small (and not just the megachurch crowd.) I wonder what they would think about the church I worshiped with for several years that averaged about 20 attendees?

I’ve been working with Micah 5:2-5a for this final Sunday in Advent and in the process I’ve been reminded that being small and seemingly insignificant isn’t always a detriment. After all, Bethlehem was small too. Yet despite its size and status among the “lesser” clans of Judah it will be forever remembered as the birthplace of Jesus. And don’t forget Nazareth – “can anything good come from Nazareth?” But the towns of Jesus’ origin are in no way the only examples of the lowly being lifted up – just consider David or Joseph, or Mary the young teenage mother. The history of our faith is filled with similar stories! God often works through the people and places that our world is quick to write off.

So I’m left thinking – what does this mean for us, a relatively small denomination of about 1,000 churches, most of which are smaller and therefore seemingly less attractive to the general populace. According to one resource I found, smaller churches only draw about 11 percent of those who attend (Christian but not Catholic or Orthodox) worship in the US, while at least 50 percent of that same demographic attend the largest 10% of congregations, with an average attendance of 350 or greater.

It’s easy to get depressed about being a bunch of small churches in a small denomination. Still, I think there are also blessings that come with occupying this particular ecclesiological niche. Yes, being small has its challenges, but I don’t think we should think for a moment that God cannot work through us in amazing, world-changing ways!

So my question for you is this – what are your experiences of how being a relatively small church (both congregationally and denominationally) can be a blessing? How do you think our size makes us well-suited for this increasingly postmodern, post-Christendom age? What opportunities afforded by our size are we poised to take advantage of, and which ones are we missing?

I’ll be thinking about these questions (and many others this topic raises) and will contribute some more of my thoughts in the comments …

Dana’s great observation about the “tag line” prompted me to think about the three elements depicted within it; Peacefully, Simply, Together.

One of the things that arises in the 300th Anniversary Study is the low numbers of respondents who identify with the Peace witness of the Church.  Many lament this development, others see it as affirmation of an already perceived reality.  I am not sure its so much a development given the numbers of Brethren men who went to into Civilian Public Service on one hand, and those who served in various positions in the American military in World War II.  Yet, it is clear regardless that around 20% of the Church of the Brethren members self identify the Peace Witness as part of their personal system of belief.

There are a number of ways to approach this question, such as how we measure a belief, how we understand the Peace Witness etc.  But I think a helpful phrasing of the question at the heart of this reality is as follows:  How are we to understand these numbers and the strength of the Peace witness within the Brethren today?

I’m spending a couple of weeks in Cincinnati, where BVS has just opened it’s first intentional community house for volunteers. Ben Bear, a former BVSer who signed up for another term just so he could participate in one of these communities, describes his motivation like this:

“When I did BVS the first time, I got to live out the first two parts of the Brethren tagline – peacefully and simply. What I’m hoping for this time is to get the ‘together’ piece, too.”

So, what defines Brethren community for you? What are the practices that we participate in together that form us into Christ’s body? And, how are they different from any other group of people – civic or Christian?