Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Book Review of Hollywood Faith

Thanks to Amazon.com, reviewer Gordon W. Marchant wrote an articulate, unprompted, and much appreciated review of my book Hollywood Faith

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
5.0 out of 5 stars5 Stars Excellent Starting PointMay 22, 2009
I may be wrong. I truly HOPE that I am wrong. But, I suspect that some readers will not appreciate this book. It is academic. It includes sociological terminology. The scope of the author's research is to profile only one Californian church. It is definitely not a "how to" book, nor is it a particularly easy read. 

Yet -- this is an EXCELLENT book. Here is the key to unlocking this book's value: "Hollywood Faith is not a comprehensive social history of Oasis, and it is not a how-to manual for spiritual revitalization. This book is a sociological interpretation of a church I believe IS SIGNIFICANT FOR UNDERSTANDING VITAL RELIGIOUS TRENDS TODAY" (page 19, emphasis mine).

For example - here's a trend. Throughout 2009, we have been dealing with a global recession. The bubble has burst. A critical question to be answered by Christian leaders today is: "How should our ministry adapt to the needs of our people during an economic time such as this?" Now, read: "Hollywood Faith". Here is a church where economic hardship and broken dreams has been a part of their context for years. These Christians "challenge laborers to reconsider their self-identity and their self-worth" (186). This Church has become a model of building authentic community among those who had huge dreams, but now are coming to terms with life's realities. 

Other vital religious trends? Seeking as Christians to make a positive difference in reference to secular morality (e.g. Hollywood), rather than running and hiding from it. Or, developing multi-ethnic ministry that is truly welcoming and fun! Or, relating to 20-30's unchurched singles so that they feel connected to a local family. 

Sincerely, thank you Gerardo for using the gifts God has given you. I cannot wait to read your next book!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

How Religious Right Shaped Lesbian and Gay Activism

A new book presents ironic and surprising conclusions about mobilization, opposition, and tolerance of homosexuality in America.

How the Religious Right Shaped Lesbian and Gay Activism (Social Movements, Protest and Contention)
by Tina Fetner

From CHOICE Reviews:
Fetner shows how each ramping up of activism on one side led to a mobilization on the other.

While the lesbian and gay movement has remained miniscule compared to enormous religious Right organizations, each side has tried to match the form and tactics of the opposing organizations.

Both sides have made their case to their own followers that they are a threatened minority, while making the case to the public that the other side is a threat to cherished national values.

The two sides are not quite balanced, however. The greater size and influence of the religious Right means that it usually sets the agenda, to which lesbian and gay organizations react.

Ironically, Fetner suggests, the religious Right's great efforts opposing homosexual practice may have brought the whole question to the attention of the public, who are now more tolerant of lesbians and gays than they were a generation ago.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Twittering Religion in America - Part 2

Quick post: This is my second of two posts on the use of Twitter by congregational leaders. I'll focus on the use of Twitter by individuals rather than organizations...

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...Image via CrunchBase

Although congregations using Twitter during worship services has gotten some media attention, the use of religion through Twitter is more than just worship "tweets."

I'll pass on talking about other organizations that use Twitter like Islamic Relief (a non-profit organization) or Islamic Crunch (focusing on activities of all sorts in the Muslim community) or Talk Islam (blogging all things Islam) -- religious organizations of all sorts are finding Twitter provides a low-cost way to raise awareness and communicate updates.

Instead, I've started following a few church leaders on my own Twitter account and notice a few, distinct uses of the service.

(Caveat: Not all leaders do this ALL the time, but I'll suggest what I see as an informal pattern.)

1. Purposeful - Some leaders consistently stay "on message" through Twitter.

Twitter Meta Moo! too far?Image by Josh Russell via Flickr

Leonard Sweet
Erwin McManus

Here's what I mean - some leaders remain vision-focused leaders through Twitter, keeping their followers encouraged, uplifted, and focused on the values and purposes of their life. This includes leaders who post aphorisms, proverbs, quotes, and key phrases with every tweet. Look at Len Sweet's quotes and expansion of Biblical key words. See Erwin McManus's references to being "wide awake."

2. Provocative - Leaders put out questions and "what if" statements to provoke responses.

Naeem Fazal
Alex McManus

There are other leaders who want to initiate dialogue and get reactions. Using a spare 14o characters, they attempt to provoke thinking and prompt follow-up posts from other people. Naeem Fazal tweets, "Question: Do you have an irrational confidence in the faithfullness of God?" and "Is failure resolved by success or by faithfulness ?" and "Was there a time that you trusted God more than you do now ... What happened?" Alex McManus tweets, "Does talent emerge due to external factors (Gladwell, Outliers), proper practice (Coyle, Talent Code), or nature (Gallup, Strengthsfinder)?" and "What would happen if we planted gardens and designed natural sanctuaries instead of planting and building churches?"

3. Promotional - Leaders use Twitter to keep people up to date with their books, speaking engagements, blog posts, and other resources and events surrounding their ministry.

Take That!Image by barron via Flickr

Eric Bryant
Ed Stetzer

Church leaders using Twitter are often busy people who travel, speak, write, and consult to groups nearly every day. Their life is a near-constant whirl of activity, and they use Twitter to let people (both friends and "fans") know what's new with them. Eric Bryant links his blog posts to his Twitter account and regularly gives away free copies of his book. And Ed Stetzer continually developes new material which he often makes available on the internet.

4. Personal - Still other leaders talk mostly about their leisure and family activities.

Alan Hirsch
Sam Radford

Church leaders can be very open about the movies they watch, the restaurants they try, and the various happenings with their spouse and children. Reading their posts, you get a feel for the rhythm of their lives away from "the office." Alan Hirsch and Sam Radford are two who keep us informed of their sleep habits, places they visit, conversations with friends, and any "plans-of-the-moment."

5. Mixed-Use

:Image:IPhone_Release_-_Seattle_(keyboard) cro...Image via Wikipedia

Jay Bakker
Dan Kimball

While some leaders have one primary "Twitter Profile," most have mixed uses. Through a series of tweets, they broadcast vision, provoke thoughts, indicate their speaking and writing activities, and talk about their day-to-day lives -- all in a single day! Jay Bakker and Dan Kimball are faithful in providing their Twitter followers a steady stream of thoughts and activities.

These are the 5 uses of Twitter I see among church leaders today.

Any others I've missed?

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Graduation Finishes and Starts

E. H.Image via Wikipedia

It's graduation weekend at Davidson College - and time to wish my students (and their ever-grateful, ever-relieved parents) many congratulations.

My life seems to have always run on an academic calendar. Maybe for most people New Year's is a time of reflection, but as a person caught in the school cycle, it's graduation that makes me look forward and back.

Graduation is a "big finish." It represents the completion of years of work. For teachers like myself, it represents the end of a long succession of classes, meetings, setting goals, helping others along, getting to the end. It's a time of easing burdens.

GraduationImage by spemss via Flickr

For me, graduation is also a time to see how far I've come on different goals (personal and professional) and look to the swell of summer as a time to re-jigger my schedule and re-figure my priorities. Davidson has no summer courses (compared to my teaching as an adjunct in other institutions in the past), so I have the good fortune to use my summer to consider my goals and set a new track for what I'll be doing.

I heartily congratulate everyone on the "finish" of graduation. We've all accomplished a lot.

But I am also reflecting on the many possible new "starts" that commence after commencement.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Ex-Roman Catholic Archbishop Memoir on Catholic Church and Homosexuality

Quick post: Today, the New York Times profiled 82 year old Roman Archbishop and Vatican II reformer Rembert Weakland about his gay affair and the $450,000 spent to keep it quiet. His memoir “A Pilgrim in a Pilgrim Church: Memoirs of a Catholic Archbishop” will be published by Eerdmans.

Rembert Weakland was elected as the worldwide leader of the Benedictine Order before his appointment by Pope Paul VI to the archbishop’s seat in Milwaukee, where he served for 25 years.

Weakland's background as church reformer and homosexual makes his story compelling and relevant to the future of the Roman Church.

From the article:
In 2002...on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” the archbishop watched a man he had fallen in love with 23 years earlier say in an interview that the Milwaukee archdiocese paid him $450,000 years before to keep quiet about his affair with the archbishop — an affair the man was now calling date rape.

St. Peter's Basilica at Early Morning Photo wa...Image via Wikipedia

He said his lawyers recommended paying Mr. Marcoux the $450,000 settlement, which came from church funds. Asked if he had regrets, Archbishop Weakland said, “I certainly worry about the sum.”

Many Catholics in Milwaukee said they were angrier about the secret settlement with Mr. Marcoux than with the sexual liaison.

Archbishop Weakland, who had been the intellectual touchstone for church reformers, has said little publicly since then.

Now, in an interview and in a memoir scheduled for release next month, he is speaking out about how internal church politics affected his response to the fallout from his romantic affair; how bishops and the Vatican cared more about the rights of abusive priests than about their victims; and why Catholic teaching on homosexuality is wrong.

“If we say our God is an all-loving god,” he said, “how do you explain that at any given time probably 400 million living on the planet at one time would be gay? Are the religions of the world, as does Catholicism, saying to those hundreds of millions of people, you have to pass your whole life without any physical, genital expression of that love?”

He said he had been aware of his homosexual orientation since he was a teenager and suppressed it until he became archbishop, when he had relationships with several men because of “loneliness that became very strong.”

"God is love." Image via Wikipedia

Archbishop Weakland was among those who publicly questioned the need for a male-only celibate priesthood. He also led the American bishops in a two-year process of writing a pastoral letter on economic justice, holding hearings on the subject around the country.

“He was one of the most gifted leaders in the post-Vatican II church in America,” said the Rev. Jim Martin, a Jesuit priest, author and associate editor of America, a Catholic magazine, “and certainly beloved by the left, and sadly that gave his critics more ammunition.”
More on Weakland's ministry and the scandal can be found at the New York Times website. His book A Pilgrim in a Pilgrim Church: Memoirs of a Catholic Archbishop comes out next week.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Cultural Practice of Self-Critique among Evangelicals

After recently reading several Christian books and posts, I want to draw attention to the pervasive practice of self-critique among contemporary evangelicals.

Evangelical Self-Critique as Cultural Practice

I suspect most people don't see just how much Evangelicals continually criticize themselves. Whether the tone is sincere or smug, the practice of speaking critically about the shortcomings of their faith community is bound to come up in any serious discussion among Evangelicals.

Jesus Army evangelismImage via Wikipedia

For Evangelicals, this is obvious and mundane (Dude, tell me something I don't already know). But for those outside the movement, it highlights aspects of this religious orientation that are both critical and complimentary. So, here's my take on it.

Another way to characterize this is that contemporary Evangelicals continually look in the mirror and are not quite satisfied with what they see. So, they turn to each other and talk about the practice of their faith.

I consider such critique to be "insider talk" with "insider language" about "insider dynamics." It makes it as compelling as gossip for those who are inside. It can also sound like gibberish to those outside.

text... ask if u dont understand!Image by Coach O. via Flickr

Because there are so many Evangelicals in the U.S., the conversation can be sustained at a national level through Christian publishing houses, individual blogsites, and constant twitter updates. It's not just local church fellowships (although it happens there), its also readily available at national conferences. The back-and-forth discussion in these settings easily turns to bantering and can become a screeching match. For anyone who cares to pay attention, the public nature of this conversation makes it accessible for study.

Evolving Critique and the Future of American Religion

Why bother paying attention? Because the evolving critique that happens among Evangelicals tells you a whole lot not only about Evangelicalism but also the near future of religion in America.

2004 LIFE Phoenix CD (34)Image by Don Orrell via Flickr

Take the sharp rise of Fundamentalism in the early 20th Century (George Marsden's book is an excellent source.) In that case, severe critique of what became characterized as "modernism" and "liberalism" redefined Evangelicals into the "Bible church orientation" we are all so familiar with today -- the primacy of exegetical preaching, the focus on Bible as Word of God, the salvation focus driving bullet-point evangelism, and the requirement of church membership affirmed by checking-off a series of doctrinal affirmations.

Since the dawn of the Evangelical movement, it might be said that Evangelicalism functions as an ongoing process of critique in the practice of religion. (See a my recent posts on Charles Finney's remarkable ministry.) Indeed, Christian maturity in some circles is measured -- not by how much you pray or know the Bible but -- by how incisive you can talk about Evangelicals.

Example of Evangelical Self-Critique

As excellent example of Evangelical Self-Critique just came out this week. Read a post by Scot McKnight who recently wrote this fascinating piece on "Spiritual Eroticism."

Spiritual Eroticism:

Are we really in love with Jesus, or with the experience of loving Jesus?

by Scot McKnight

A peculiar development occurred in the medieval age regarding love. Behind closed doors and in the rush of brief encounters, there developed what has been called “courtly love” or “romantic love.” Married men found themselves emotionally carried away with either another married woman or a single woman. This courtly love, so we are told, remained at the emotional and non-physical level.

Romeo and Juliet in the famous balcony scene.Image via Wikipedia

The interpretation of many is that the Lover, because of the emotion it generated, preferred the nearly intolerable absence of the Beloved over the presence of the Beloved. The Lover preferred the titillation of fantasy over the toughness of fidelity. The essence of courtly love was to become intoxicated with love, to fall in love with love. It was to prefer the fire of love over the Beloved and delight in the experience of love over the presence of the Beloved. Think Tristan and Isolde. Perhaps even Romeo and Juliet.

Friends of mine today worry about consumerization or commoditization in the church. I offer a slightly different analysis of what might be the same thing: for many, Sunday services have become the experience of courtly love. Some folks love church, and what they mean by "loving church" is that they love the experience they get when they go to church. They prefer to attend churches that foster the titillation of courtly-love worship and courtly-love fellowship and courtly-love feelings.

They say they love worship, and by this they mean they love the courtly-love-like songs that extol the experience of loving Jesus or the experience of adoring God or the experience of a concert-like praise team that can generate the sound of worship intensely enough to vibrate the very soul of the worshiper.

Such folks might like sermons that create powerful contrasts between God’s wrath and human sinfulness or between our sinfulness and God’s gracious love; or they might like stories told so well as to usher them into the depths of human loves and hates and tragedies and comedies. What they like is the freshness of discovery or the flush of shame or the intoxicating sense of learning something new. They may create such a stir of silence in expectation of some great preacher or some great leader that the sheer presence of that person makes their soul swoon.

But this does not describe worship.

My contention is rather simple: the shaping of a Sunday service or a worship event or a concert in order to generate a profound experience might emerge from a courtly-love sense of worship. The expectation of such an experience on the part of the worshiper might also emerge from a courtly sense of worship. The opening of the Bible to read in search of an experience, or the entrance into a prayer time in order to rediscover some powerful emotion might also emerge from the intrusion of courtly love into how many today understand spirituality.

Let’s call this was it is: spiritual eroticism. And those who are good at it can be called spiritual erotics.

Cover of Cover of The Four Loves

So, what can be done? The same thing that good critics of courtly love, like C.S. Lewis, did about that distortion of love. Love, proper love—the love of God and, by extension, the love of others that both Moses and Jesus reveal—is to focus on God as the Sole Beloved worthy of our entire heart. Eros, Lewis argued in The Four Loves, wants to be a god, wants to be an idol. Eros left to itself, will not lead us to Charity. Eros needs to be tamed by Charity. When Eros is tamed by Charity, what happens?

Charity always leads us to the Beloved. Charity skips over the intoxication that comes with the experience of love and leads us straight to the face of the Beloved—Father, Son, Spirit. Those who know the Beloved and desire nothing but the glory of that Beloved may well know the experience, but they are so enthralled with the Face of the Beloved they forget where they are and dwell in the presence of God with but one thought: God deserves praise, God is worthy of praise.

There is a big difference between saying “You are worthy of our praise” and saying “I love praising God.” The second, I am suggesting, is courtly love. It is in love with loving God; but it is the first that is in love with God.

McKnight is the Karl A. Olsson Professor in Religious Studies at North Park University. His books have been well-received among Evangelicals of all types.

Characteristics of Evangelical Self-Critique

In my recent reading, I think the best Evangelical self-critique today draws on aspects of Christian history as a point of comparison or apply a sensitizing concept to draw out subtle aspects of contemporary practices.

LUPA PREACHING WORKImage by who.log.why via Flickr

Scot McKnight's writing here is a good example of what can be found almost everywhere once you start looking. See books by Erwin McManus or Doug Pagitt or Tony Jones or Tony Campolo. See articles in Christianity Today or Relevance magazine. See online material like blog posts and podcasts at emergentvillage.com.

If I began some attempt to formalize it, I would begin with these characteristics of Evangelical Self-Critique:
  1. Modern Christianity is off-point on several (most?) aspects of "True" Christianity.
  2. The word "Christians" is generalized, although it often means only other Evangelicals.
  3. Observation of common practices resonates with the experience of other "Christians" (see point #2).
  4. Some type of experience -- intrapersonal experience (what happened to me), interpersonal experience (what happened to us together) or extra-personal experience (what happened to my friend, neighbor, brother) -- is weaved into the narrative to root the observation in "reality."
  5. Finally, the use of Bible verses is far less important than the application of a biblical theology - that is, applying an interpretive concept of "Christian" living is what is required to drive the point home.
This is only a beginning.

At the core, I think it's important to know that Evangelicals continually have discussions -- intense discussions -- on nearly every aspect of "normal" Christian life. Such discussion can lead to endless spinning of ideas, but others further stimulate the practical decisions being made by church leaders and church attenders (as well as non-profit organizations and broad organizational networks) about practices and priorities that fuels further developments.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Conversation with 76 Yr Old Biblical Scholar Walter Brueggemann

Filmmakers sat down for an intimate chat with Old Testament scholar Dr. Walter Brueggemann and asked about the role of the visual media artist in the church, life in the Kingdom and anything else we could think of. Brueggemann responds with insight and honesty.

Here's an opportunity to see the expanded use of new media in American religion.

Produced by The Work Of the People, this media organization describes itself as "a community of artists, storytellers, filmmakers, poets and theologians, who create visual media for the church to re-orient God's people around Jesus' good news and mission to make all things new." Lit.ur.gy. noun. pl. liturgies. From the Greek word λειτουργια, (transliterated, “leitourgia”) meaning “the work of the people.”

The Brueggemann "conversation" is a new venture for the organization. Here's a clip where Walter Brueggemann explores the question "Have we made the gospel too safe?" Always vulnerable, and not rushing to answers, Dr. Brueggemann's musings offer a different kind of Christian film experience, one intended to provoke careful reflection. 

I heard him speak when he was a guest at Rob Bell's church at Mars Hill in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The film captures the tone and posture of this man. His writings are fascinating, and there are many books he has written. He may be best known for The Prophetic Imagination.  I appreciated his book on the Psalms and his fat-tome on the Theology Of The Old Testament.  

The Work Of the People also produces "visual liturgy." These can be used individually (they are not very expensive), but I anticipate that they are used in the context of church services as a twist on incorporating media in a manner that is not disruptive to the liturgical flow of "higher church" services. Two samples are below:


The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Music by Tracy Howe. www.restorationvillage.com


If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If your enemies are thirsty, give them something to drink. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Music by The Restoration Project. www.restorationvillage.com.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Twittering Religion in America - Part 1

After posting about churches in North Carolina encouraging attenders to tweet during Easter services, now Time has picked up the story on how churches across the country are jumping on the Twitter bandwagon. Here's Part 1 of "Twittering Religion in America."

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...Image via CrunchBase

John Voelz and David McDonald, senior pastors at Westwinds Community Church, a tech-savvy congregation in Jackson, Michigan, spent two weeks educating their congregation about Twitter. Congregants brought in their laptops, iPhones and Blackberrys.

They also pumped up the bandwidth in the auditorium. During services, the church publicly broadcasts tweets that look like this:
"Nice shirt JVo"

"So glad they are doing Lenny Kravitz"

"I have a hard time recognizing God in the middle of everything"

"The more I press in to Him, the more He presses me out to be useful"

"sometimes healing is painful"

It may seem odd to some, but more churches integrate text-messaging into worship, asking people to bring the act of texting into their relationship with God."

Other churches in the "quirky minority" using Twitter include Seattle's Mars Hill, New York City's Trinity Church, and Next Level Church outside Charlotte.

view us Image by Shira Golding via Flickr

Will it catch on? I don't know. The issue of the use of twitter should probably be seen as part of the general discussion on church and technology.  I'll try to write more about this later....

But as to the use of Twitter, Pastor Voelz reports getting at least 5 emails a week from people asking about how to launch twitter in thier church. They ask, "How did you rig the screen resolution so people could read the tweets?" "What was members' reaction?" And, not surprisingly: "Got any tips to persuade church leadership this is way cool?"

Not everyone is convinced Twitter is a spiritually "good" thing.

One worry about bringing Twitter into church services is how it might alter the experience of worship. 

The Time article writes, "The trick is to not let the chatter overshadow the need for quiet reflection that spirituality requires." Of course, this relates to an assumption that "quiet reflection" is a bottom-line necessity for "spirituality." The 140 character "chatter" of Twitter does not qualify for deep spritual activity for most people.

Texting on a keyboard phoneImage via Wikipedia

Shallow spirituality is not a concern for Robbie McLaughlin who is an attender at Next Level Church.   His experience is interesting to note. 

Although Twitter is not a formal part of the services,
"The graphic designer twittered the Sunday after Easter Sunday and he intends to do it again and again, caught up in the way it has transformed the way he worships.

He likes the way it helps him see what God is doing in other people's lives during the service.

(And there's another benefit too: no more misplaced musings jotted down on that day's program. "With Twitter," he points out, "your notes are there forever.")
So, we might exercise caution in suggesting twittering is not compatible with a deeper spirituality.

I'll post Part 2 of "Twittering Religion in America" this week.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Defining What a Scholar Does

Read a post by Amanda French, not quite an English Professor (yet), but still a "scholar."

Amanda French is seeking a tenure-track position. Until then, she considers herself largely undefined. She writes, "Recently I’ve claimed 'digital humanist,' though that term is arcane and hard to define. I define it as 'someone with a humanities degree who’s interested in computers.'”

phd notesImage by Wrote via Flickr

So, she blogs about her identity.

In the midst of talking about her recent engagement blogging about Facebook's Terms of Service, Dr. French writes,
One label that I secretly like a lot and hope to deserve is “scholar,” and that’s what scholars do, I think: find out and tell the truth. Journalists do that too (ideally), but scholars get a lot more time to do it than journalists do, and scholars can seek out the truth about stuff that very few people care about at the moment.

We scholars, bless us, can be as verbose and sesquipedalian as we like, and we can duck the current daily frenzy and spend our days humming through frenzies long turned to dust. That was my very favorite part of graduate school. While I was writing my dissertation, I got my investigation on, big time. Such fun.

And then I also had fun finding a way to write the truth in a way that was accurate, fair, compassionate, and interesting.

The trick is always to balance the desire to be witty or shocking or alliterative or otherwise attention-grabbing with the mandate to be correct and thorough and just. Get out of balance one way, and you’ve got a tabloid; get out of balance another, and you’ve got a 1040 form. As a scholar, I want to be, oh, let’s pull a phrase out of the air, “engaging and authentic.”

Early science, particularly geometry and astro...Image via Wikipedia

And I think Dr. French makes observations in this post that I've wrestled with myself in my professional work.

Distinguishing between the "journalist" and the "scholar," she hits on the investment of skill and time put into ideas, questions, and issues beyond fleeting hot-button topics of the day. And the balance between "tabloid" and "1040" is spot on.

I'd like to think of myself as a "scholar" too. Despite the frustrations and misunderstandings, there is a satisfaction at being dedicated to the pursuit of truth and using that truth to expand the boundaries of our too-often-mundane humanity.

And beyond the technical achievement of producing knowledge, the goal of being "engaging and authentic" seems about right.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Blue Like Jazz Movie Needs Cash

I just discovered that Donald Miller's bestselling book Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality is being made into a motion picture.

Don Miller (author)Image via Wikipedia

It seems that Blaine Hogan has been helping the production team put together potential investors and grassroots supporters for the film.

An adapted screenplay is ready, a director is hired, and actors are on call.

But, like any movie, it needs money.

As of last week, they were seeking "a few 100k" to "break escrow" which would release money to begin financing. Don Miller has a new book coming out this fall which they would like to crosspromote with BLJ (that's movie lingo).

So, they hope to infuse a good bit of cash in the next 30-60 days.

From Hogan's viewpoint, the majority of people who loved the book don't have money to give, but if the word gets out and there is enough of a passionate response, even a few dollars from many, many supporters would make a different.

Cover of Cover via Amazon

Hogan says, "I truly believe that this project is quite special and one that will change a lot of things in the industry as far as 'Christian film' is concerned, not to mention giving investors an excellent ROI."

I'll be interested to see how this develops. Miller's book was a sharp departure for many Christians in the way it talked about God, church, life, spirituality -- an angst, a thoughtfulness, but perhaps most importantly, it had a narrative structure that did not resemble a long sermon.

I had the pleasure of meeting him at when he spoke at Davidson College a few years ago. Both in person and in writing, Miller talks about his perspective. Many resonate with it. A film that captures some of his unique charisma would be an impressive achievement.

Congregations Prepare for Flu Anxiety

Quick post: Washington Post's section "On Faith" describes liturgical changes amidst the Swine Flu threat.

From Congregations Prepare for Flu Anxiety This Weekend by Jacqueline L. Salmon

Plein Air CommunionImage by SnoShuu via Flickr

In the Washington area, the Arlington diocese recommends Communion wine not be served in a common cup.

[In] Austin, Texas, where more than two dozen cases infections have been confirmed, [the Bishiop] has asked priests not to offer Communion wine at Mass.

University United Methodist Church in San Antonio has ordered individually wrapped Communion elements for this Sunday.

Churches should consider suspending the "sign of peace"--a customary handshake exchanged during the Mass, substituting a bow or other gesture instead.

The archdiocese of Washington D.C. recommends that churches have hand sanitizer available for lay ministers who distribute communion wafers and wine.

Also - an interesting story from a local ABC news station shows how a Roman Catholic Church in Fresno, California, is changing their practices as a precaution.

Friday, May 1, 2009

West Coast Evangelicals - Playful, Passionate, Proactive

Hanging out with West Coast Evangelicals at Thrive 2009 -- through Bayside Community Church, it's a new conference attracting several thousand enthusiastic attenders.

Religious Innovation in Sacramento

California is birthing another wave of religious innovation through a very active megachurch you may never have heard of -- Bayside Community Church.

City of SacramentoImage via Wikipedia

Talk to any Californian. No one would have predicted a dynamic religious movement coming from Sacramento. Maybe San Francisco? L.A.? Sure. But not the distant land considered by many to be a suburb of the Bay Area. Now, Sacramento has built up a vibrant metropolitan community that participates, even accentuates, an interesting mixture of the the rich aesthetic and economic ethos of both Southern and Northern California.

With a nicely architectured site in Granite Bay, the large "mother church" of Bayside hosts several thousand attenders at their weekend services. At a glance how Bayside shares several characteristics with Saddleback Community Church:

  • a growing urban population,
  • an active economy,
  • a range of cheaper housing options,
  • and much land still available to build facilities.

The casual-yet-practical style of ministry includes:

  • a clear-talking preacher who's written best-selling book,
  • a musically-versatile worship pastor with muscle shirts and cool hair,
  • and an army of smart back-room administration-savvy paid and volunteer staff who accomplish the welcoming, assimilating, and energizing ministry for this local population.

But all that's happening at the Granite Bay site is just a beginning.

Growing "Thriving" Churches

Bayside also has had great success initiating other congregations in the area - eleven so far, and more on the way. These churches aren't competitors but spiritual colleagues who together produce a dynamic, cooperative network of ministry around Sacramento.

The combination of enthusiasm and the practical demand of talking and training leaders led to the creation of the Thrive conference, now heading into its 6th year.

This conference is "hot." The 2009 conference completely "sold out" six weeks in advance.  Over 2,600 attenders plus another 450 volunteers makes 3,000+ participants this weekend.  

Thrive is cool, fun, and interesting. It brings together prominent speakers and authors from around the country Franklin Graham (son of evangelist Billy Graham and head of the non-profit organization Samaritan's Purse) was a highlight this year.

A re-run of last year's conference produced by Bayside is available on youtube:

And views into this year's 2009 conference are just now being posted:

Also, they are already planning for 2010 and making room for over 5,000 registrants.  John Maxwell is a headliner, Hillsong worship is coming in from Australia, others are being confirmed.

The success of the conference (did I mention this year it sold-out six weeks early?) is spurring another new development, a new network for church innovation.

I'll write more about this new network -- what it highlights about American religion -- real soon.