The Logic of Online Community

When trying to make sense of the changes that new media have brought to us, we can use either supplementary or substitutionary logic. With supplementary logic, Facebook et al. extend the range of our embodied relationships; with substitutionary logic, social media replace them. Those who want to use social media to enhance their churches' outreach implicitly use supplementary logic. Those who want to worship online and don't want to change out of their pajamas or meet other people in their messy particularity ... well, you get the idea.

A recent trip to New York City for a first meeting of the New Media Project Research Fellows reminded me of the superiority of supplementary to substitutionary logic. This happened because the neighborhood around Union Theological Seminary is so deliciously, specifically, embodiedly particular. Union itself is a marvel: its gothic architecture makes it unmistakable that this is a place with history. Niebuhr taught here; Bonhoeffer smoked and worried and decided to go home here; James Cone and Christopher Morse teach here; Serene Jones leads here. The neighborhood extends this particularity; the Jewish Theological Seminary, down Seminary Row, has a glorious crest above its door: "And the bush was not consumed." A tunnel under Union leads you to the grandeur of Riverside Church, where Fosdick and Forbes thundered. Go a few blocks south and east, and you're at The Cathedral of St. John the Divine, the largest interior church space in North America. The morning I visited, the light shone blue through the rose window, filling the clerestory with incandescent beauty. The chapel at Columbia University, with its stained glass above the altar depicting St. Paul preaching on Mars Hill, is a perfect image for situated Christian truth vis-à-vis the gods on campuses and in Manhattan.

10 Problems of a Dying Church (and How to Fix Them)

I recently wrote a blog about how to kill a dying church, asking questions about what to do with so many churches dying. I think the challenge is recognizing the signs that a church is dying. The problem is that churches tend to wither, which is a slow, gradual, and often subtle process. It is difficult to pinpoint when in the withering process it is time to take action, to make changes, and to make some vital decisions. While there are many reasons for a church dying, here are some practical observations that I have noticed in my experience. This list is certainly not exhaustive. It is also a list that my congregation has personally had to face, so I give examples of how my congregation has addressed these issues.

Bringing in the Sheaves

Bringing in the Sheaves
Bringing in the Sheaves

God turns a desert into pools of water, a parched land into springs of water. And there God lets the hungry live ... they sow fields, and plant vineyards, and get a fruitful yield. By God's blessings they multiply greatly.  -- Psalm 107:35-38

Once a week, the students at Bishop Gwynne Theological College in Juba, South Sudan, gather under the guava tree in the courtyard for an unusual sort of seminary lesson -- its focus is agriculture. In between learning about the martyrs of the early church and biblical source criticism, the students also learn about soil nutrients, photosynthesis, irrigation, pest control, and more. South Sudan, a poor region on the verge of independence after decades of conflict with the regime in the country’s north, has incredible agriculture potential. The students at Bishop Gwynne are part of the church’s broad effort to help the country realize that potential.

Robin Denney, a 29-year-old American missionary serving as an agricultural consultant to the Episcopal Church of Sudan, teaches the classes at Bishop Gwynne. On this day, she's discussing mulching. If farmers take discarded plant material and cover their fields with it, it will not only will prevent the growth of weeds, but also return nutrients to the soil as the mulch decomposes. She takes her class of 30 students out to the demonstration garden and points to the planting of sorghum, a staple grain in the region. The rows that have been mulched are taller and healthier-looking than those that haven’t.

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Can Mindfulness Be Tweeted?

I attended a basketball game this winter at the University of Maryland, accompanied by an intern at my workplace, a man in his twenties. For much of the game, we chatted about everything from politics to how North Carolina is far superior to Duke in all the ways that really matter (on the court, of course). During the conversation, between glances at the game, my colleague maintained steady eye contact … with his smart phone.