Church

Olivia Whitener 10-15-2015

Image via  / Shutterstock

I spend (most of) my Sunday mornings sitting in a pew at an Evangelical Lutheran Church in America congregation, singing old hymns, and reciting the Lord’s Prayer which I have had memorized since before I went to school.

At age 22, I make an effort to get my dose of word and sacrament before heading to brunch on Sunday mornings. Though I love the beach, I found greater joy in singing songs and leading Bible studies at a mainline church camp during my recent summers.

I love the sound of an organ.

Catherine Woodiwiss 10-05-2015

Image via  / Shutterstock

Do not be alarmed: there are no known bands of Jesus fish-sporting, vigilante hackers patrolling the cyber underworld.

But in 13 cities this weekend — including Jakarta, Bangalore, Addis Ababa, Guatemala City, London, Waterloo, Atlanta, and Raleigh-Durham — more than 800 Christian coders, developers, programmers, designers, pastors, and artists gathered together for a 48-hour simultaneous hackathon. They scripted, designed, collaborated, and competed to develop new apps and websites for global and local adherents to the faith.

Programmers speaking of transformational love, and pastors wielding code: Welcome to the first global Christian hackathon.

Image via Stefano Rellandini/REUTERS/RNS

In two wide-ranging new interviews, the pontiff discusses matters both weighty and personal, such as: the perils of his popularity, his plans to welcome divorced and remarried Catholics, and his fear that the church has locked Jesus up like a prisoner.

Speaking Sept. 13 to the Argentine radio station, FM Milenium, Francis lamented those who posed as his friends to exploit him, and decried religious fundamentalism.

And speaking to Portugal’s Radio Renascença in an interview that ran on Sept. 14, Francis said that a priest comes to hear his confession every 15 to 20 days: “And I never had to call an ambulance to take him back in shock over my sins!”

Soong-Chan Rah 8-06-2015
Getty Images

THE KILLING OF 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., last year and the events that followed sparked protests by the community in the St. Louis area asserting that black lives matter and ignited a discussion on race relations in the United States.

On the heels of non-indictments in the slaying of Brown and other black men, our nation focused its attention on the drastic inconsistencies inherent in our judicial system. To many observers, black lives had less standing in our nation than white lives.

Rodney King, Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, and the churchgoers in Charleston, S.C., are part of a long list of black victims of violence. They are victims of an American narrative that devalues black souls, black lives, black bodies, and black minds. In response to these tragic events, particularly since the non-indictment of the police officers who killed Brown and Garner, many evangelicals have been calling for a biblical practice that is often absent in American Christianity—the call to lament.

On one level I am thrilled that evangelicals are discovering the importance of lament in dealing with racial injustice. However, I am concerned that the way lament is being used by some white evangelicals is a watered-down, weak lament that is no lament at all.

Lament is not simply feeling bad that Brown won’t be able to go to college. Lament is not simply feeling sad that Garner’s kids no longer have a father. Lament is not asserting your right to confront the police because, as a white person, you won’t be treated in the same way that a black protester may be treated. Lament is not the passive acceptance of tragedy. Lament is not weakly assenting to the status quo. Lament is not simply the expression of sorrow in order to assuage feelings of guilt and the burden of responsibility.

BGM

“BLACK WOMEN AND GIRLS are killed by the police, too.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve received a blank stare when I made this statement, even in activist spaces. Occasionally I’ll see a few affirmative nods, but overwhelmingly there is apathy. I leave with a sick feeling, wondering, “Where is the rage and protest for my sisters?” and “Who will fight for my life?”

In May, Black Lives Matter, Black Youth Project 100, and Ferguson Action came together for a national day of action for black women and girls. We wanted to shed light on the fact that black women and girls, in all our complexities, have been erased from the broader narrative of police terrorism and modern-day lynching in this country. Cities such as Oakland, Calif., New York, Philadelphia, Detroit, and Miami all participated in powerful acts of public resistance that involved reading the names of women who have been killed by police and using the hashtag #SayHerName as an awareness tool on social media.

Speaking our sisters’, daughters’, and mothers’ names at a vigil on a day set aside to acknowledge our humanity is powerful, because it says: When the world has forgotten Mya, Aiyana, Tanisha, Rekia (and so many others), we will not forget.

Chappell

Photo by Rick Reinhard 

“THE IDEA THAT peace is inevitable is as dangerous as the idea that war is inevitable,” says author and peace educator Paul K. Chappell. We’ve been discussing peace in practice for the better part of an hour, and he’s warming to the theme. He puts forward an unlikely premise—that violence is not intrinsic to human nature.

Paul Chappell isn’t what you would expect in a peace champion. A graduate of West Point and a member of the U.S. military for seven years, including as a captain in Iraq, he first honed his fighting skills on school playgrounds, getting expelled for fighting in grade school and suspended in high school. He was bullied as a child for his skin color (his father, a veteran of the Korean and Vietnam Wars, was biracial—black and white—and his mother is Korean). Because of his father’s war trauma, Chappell describes his childhood as “unpredictably violent.”

It’s hard now to imagine this former troubled youth, both perpetrator and victim of violence, as the articulate Chappell thoughtfully winds his way through classical theory and national myth. But Chappell’s learned taste for creed over instinct is clear. The army provided the closest thing to family that a young Chappell had ever encountered, he tells me, but despite that deep affection—or perhaps because of it—he began paying attention to the lasting effects of war and trauma on his brothers-and-sisters-in-arms.

REUTERS / Suzanne Plunkett / RNS

Pricing signs hang on clothing outside a shop in London on June 3, 2015. Photo via REUTERS / Suzanne Plunkett / RNS

The move would bring London into line with Paris and New York, where no restrictions on Sunday shopping exist.

Strict anti-Sunday shopping laws came into being in the 19th century, under Queen Victoria.

In 1986, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher tried to do away with them but she met stiff opposition from traditionalists and Christian churches.

Two decades later a compromise was reached, and most shops are now allowed to open for six hours on Sunday.

Photo via Prixel Creative / Shutterstock.com

Photo via Prixel Creative / Shutterstock.com

Church leaders, I beseech you to study all sides of the situation carefully and prayerfully before you make a judgment on your church member that may alter his or her view of God or spiritual life forever. You have been placed in such a position to be the agent of change, to bring restoration to the individual.

As someone who has felt the sting of this, I ask you to consider these questions: Are we equally investigating BOTH parties? Are we taking the totality of the word of God into examination on this issue? What is the Holy Spirit telling us to do? Does Satan have a foothold of pride or control in my heart?

Christian Piatt 5-29-2015
Photo via Intel Free Press / Flickr

Photo via Intel Free Press / Flickr

Religion is notoriously behind on nearly every societal curve there’s ever been. Some say that’s a good thing, as it’s supposed to be countercultural.

But there’s a difference between pandering to cultural trends and being tone-deaf or willfully ignorant. And as one of my old grade-school counselors once said: when you know better, do better.

If we look around us we know that there are better ways to employ the resources we have to affect positive social change, deepen discipleship, and strengthen community of many kinds. But we adhere to mid-twentieth-century models and understandings of how the world works, then look around, asking ourselves why no one cares anymore.

It’s time for Moneyball church.

Joe Kay 5-19-2015
nanD_Phanuwat / Shutterstock.com

nanD_Phanuwat / Shutterstock.com

We looked at the famous photo of Earth taken from Apollo 8. If you remember, it was the first time we got to see ourselves from the vantage point of another body in space.

The boys wondered why the photo was so grainy. I told them it’s from the 1960s. They seemed to think those were prehistoric times and started talking about pixels.

I told them that the grainy photo of Earth kind of fits what we do at church. We try to help each other find God in this picture. Sometimes when it seems that God is nowhere to be found, we just have to look a little closer and recognize the divine everywhere.

Susan K. Smith 5-18-2015
schankz / Shutterstock.com

schankz / Shutterstock.com

The issue isn’t that God does not have power; the issue seems to be more that we do not use the power that God gave to us. While we profess to love God and God’s son Jesus, we are all too ready to dismiss what God gave us in, with, and through the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. While we say we are Christian, we bypass too often the words of Jesus and latch onto other parts of the Bible, most often the words of Paul. While Paul’s writings have their own power, they do not have the power of Jesus’ words, nor do they carry with them the promise of the Holy Spirit, which does have the power to sustain and strengthen us.

 
Jenna Barnett 5-06-2015

Rick Reinhard

5 Questions for Erika Totten

Heidi Hall 5-01-2015
United Fellowship Center in suburban Madison, Tenn. Image via Heidi Hall/RNS.

United Fellowship Center in suburban Madison, Tenn. Image via Heidi Hall/RNS.

Goodpasture Christian School sits on a sprawling, bucolic campus seven miles north of downtown Nashville, where 900 students ready themselves for adult lives of college, career, and loving the Lord.

Right next door sits the United Fellowship Center, a planned church where adults will ready themselves to have sex with each other after enjoying a little BYOB togetherness.

It’s the newest incarnation of The Social Club, a whispered-about swingers club in downtown Nashville that left for the suburbs when a building boom took its parking lot. The community went bonkers after zoning hearings revealed the club’s plans to relocate in a former medical office building in Madison — adjacent to Goodpasture and within a mile of an Assemblies of God megachurch.

After months of debate, an emergency city zoning amendment and a state law designed to stop the relocation, the club’s attorney made an announcement: The Social Club would open in its new location as a church.

Protection via the First Amendment effectively silenced zoning complaints — for now. But it sparked conversations about what it means for a secular organization suddenly to label itself a church, and religious scholars seem no more ready to plunge into that debate than American courts have proved to be.

“When I see this case, I do roll my eyes, but I also know Protestant Christians in America don’t own 'church,'” said Kutter Callaway, assistant professor of theology and culture at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif.

Tom Ehrich 4-22-2015
Photo via Goran Bogicevic / Shutterstock.com

Photo via Goran Bogicevic / Shutterstock.com

I am in a lovely college town to help a congregation discern its path forward.

It faces challenges that many church leaders will recognize: leadership, finances, isolation from the surrounding community, not enough young and middle-age adults to carry the congregation forward.

It also has pluses. The members aren’t deeply divided or mired in distrust and disdain. They aren’t afraid of change. They don’t bury the future in grand laments about a lost “golden age.”

I think they have a good shot at turning a corner and building a healthy next phase. I hear reports from across the nation that things are improving for Christian congregations. A new generation of clergy is exploring new ideas. Fresh energy is emerging. Denial is losing its hold, as congregations whose average age is 60 to 65 realize they must change or die.

Denominations are slower to adapt, but they, too, are moving forward in practical ways such as training in leadership and stewardship, and flexible deployment of resources.

Yet for this fresh day to last, church leaders will need to embrace a truth that goes beyond organizational development and resolving present issues. It’s a truth that many congregations simply cannot hear.

That truth is this: There is too much shallowness, not enough depth.

Over the years, in a process that isn’t at all unusual, we have equated faith with attending Sunday worship, maybe pitching in on a committee, and forming friendships within the fellowship. People enjoy belonging to the congregation. They radiate a palpable joy in being together. They seem content.

Mindmo / Shutterstock

Mindmo / Shutterstock

From "modest is hottest" to misreading sexual violence in the Bible, Christians have a checkered history regarding rape culture. 

Jon Osterdorff 3-10-2015
Photo via North Carolina Sheriffs' Association / RNS

Graham County Sheriff Danny Millsaps. Photo via North Carolina Sheriffs' Association / RNS

A sheriff in one of North Carolina’s smallest counties told registered sex offenders they can’t go to church, citing a state law meant to keep them from day-care centers and schools.

Graham County Sheriff Danny Millsaps told sex offenders about his decision Feb. 17, according to a letter the Asheville (N.C.) Citizen-Times obtained March 6. About 9,000 people live in Graham County, which abuts Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the Tennessee line in western North Carolina.

“This is an effort to protect the citizens and children of the community of Graham (County),” he wrote.

“I cannot let one sex offender go to church and not let all registered sex offenders go to church.”

He invited them to attend services at the county jail.

Part of "setting captives free" is helping see the invisible bonds of structural racism. 

Nancy Rust 3-05-2015
YMCA as thin place. Image courtesy Pressmaster/shutterstock.com

YMCA as thin place. Image courtesy Pressmaster/shutterstock.com

Last week I was a little under the weather, so when my husband and kids took off after church for a hike, I headed to the YMCA. It’s only a two minute drive from our house and we’ve been members for nearly 5 years now.

As I sat in the hot tub, watching folks come and go, I had the sensation of being in a thin space. According to Celtic tradition, a thin place is when Heaven & Earth feel particularly close together. Or, as Eric Weiner put it in his New York Times travel article a couple years ago, it’s "where the distance between heaven and earth collapses and we’re able to catch glimpses of the divine, or the transcendent."

The YMCA might seem a strange place to behold the holiness of God, but this is what I noticed while I was sitting quietly with the water swirling around my feet:

I heard Mandarin, Spanish, Korean and what I think was Amharic. I heard English, too, of course, and for a brief moment, English with a heavy Nigerian accent. I saw brown skin and black skin, tan skin, white skin, splotchy skin, and smooth skin.

I saw a young girl and her mama soaking together in the hot tub, the mom still fully clothed with her head wrapped. I saw heavily tatooed 20-somethings heading for the steam room. I saw three women, probably in their seventies, with drooping skin and sagging suits, laughing uproariously on the benches near the shallow end of the pool. I saw fat folks, skinny folks, tall folks and short folks.

I saw a middle-aged man limp slowly along and finally sink down into the hot tub. I saw two women walking arm in arm, one obviously leading the other who could not see, to the sauna. I saw two of the lifeguards re-positioning and working with tools on the lift that lowers those who are wheel-chair bound down into pool if they are unable to get in on their own. There was a man sitting beside me at who talked to himself at length.

I was there for about an hour and as I sensed the nearness of God in that space, it occurred to me what I was seeing — I was seeing the Kingdom of God.

the Web Editors 10-24-2014

1. Black People Riot Over Injustice; White People Riot Over Pumpkins and Football
Title says it all.

2. Where Did Ottawa Shooter Get His Gun? 
Michael Zehaf-Bibeau was under criminal prohibition from obtaining firearms because of past convictions. A helpful glimpse into Canada’s system of gun rules.  

3. The Paradox of the Christian CEO
Fr. James Martin expounds on Catholic social teaching to address the difficult question: “The question I would ask Christian CEOs is blunt: What do you want to say to Jesus when you reach the gates of heaven? That you took as much as you could, or as much as the market would bear, because the board okay’d it? Or that you accepted what you thought was just,and understood the needs of your fellow men and women, who may have worked even harder than you?

4. A Sandy Hook Father’s Plea
Mark Barden lost a child in the Sandy Hook massacre. In this moving testimony, he offers a plea that we all do what we can to stop the next school shooting before it happens.

“Unchurched Adults Are More Likely To Be…,” graphic courtesy of Barna Group/RNS.

If you’re dismayed that one in five Americans (20 percent) are “nones” — people who claim no particular religious identity — brace yourself.

How does 38 percent sound?

That’s what religion researcher David Kinnaman calculates when he adds “the unchurched, the never-churched and the skeptics” to the nones.

He calls his new category “churchless,” the same title Kinnaman has given his new book. By his count, roughly four in 10 people living in the continental United States are actually “post-Christian” and “essentially secular in belief and practice.”

If asked, the “churchless” would likely check the “Christian” box on a survey, even though they may not have darkened the door of a church in years.

Kinnaman, president of the California-based Barna Group, slides them into this new category based on 15 measures of identity, belief and practice in more than 23,000 interviews in 20 surveys.

The research looked at church worship attendance and participation, views about the Bible, God and Jesus, and more to see whether folks were actually tied to Christian life in a meaningful way or tied more by habit or personal history.

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