Monday, December 10, 2007

Have you ever been here?

McPherson's comic today reminds me of being in a situation where it seems life is working against you. Have you been in that situation? It's the whole "2 steps forward 3 steps back" syndrome. Who's eating your popcorn? Who's ruining your parade?

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Terry Mattingly's Postmodern/Emergent thoughts

This column was syndicated by Scripps Howard News Service on 11/28/2007

Every half a millennium or so, waves of change rock Christianity until they cause the kind of earthquake that forces historians to start using capital letters.

"What happened before the Great Reformation, we all know," said Phyllis Tickle, author of "God Talk in America" and two dozen books on faith and culture. "We know, for instance, that some sucker sailed west and west and west and didn't fall off the dad gum thing. That was a serious blow."

So Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492 and then a flat, neatly stacked universe flipped upside down. Soon, people were talking about nation states, the decline of landed gentry, the rise of a middle class and the invention of a printing press with movable type. Toss in a monk named Martin Luther and you're talking Reformation -- with a big "R" -- followed by a Counter-Reformation.

Back up 500 years to 1054 and you have the Great Schism that separated Rome and from Eastern Orthodoxy. Back up another 500 years or so and you find the Fall of the Roman Empire. The transformative events of the first century A.D. speak for themselves.
Church leaders who can do the math should be looking over their shoulders about now, argued Tickle, speaking to clergy, educators and lay leaders at the recent National Youth Workers Convention in Atlanta.

After all, seismic changes have been rolling through Western culture for a century or more -- from Charles Darwin to the World Wide Web and all points in between. The result is a whirlwind of spiritual trends and blends, with churches splintering into a dizzying variety of networks and affinity groups to create what scholars call the post-denominational age.

Tickle is ready to call this the "Great Emergence," with a tip of her hat to the edgy flocks in the postmodern "emerging church movement."

"Emerging or emergent Christianity is the new form of Christianity that will serve the whole of the Great Emergence in the same way that Protestantism served the Great Reformation," she said, in a speech that mixed doses of academic content with the wit of a proud Episcopalian from the deeply Southern culture of Western Tennessee.

However, anyone who studies history knows that the birth of something new doesn't mean the death of older forms of faith. The Vatican didn't disappear after the Protestant Reformation.
This kind of revolution, said Tickle, doesn't mean "any one of those forms of earlier Christianity ever ceases to be. It simply means that every time we have one of these great upheavals ... whatever was the dominant form of Christianity loses its pride of place and gives way to something new.

What's giving way, right now, is Protestantism as you and I have always known it."

It helps to think of dividing American Christianity, she said, into four basic streams -- liturgical, Evangelical, Pentecostal-charismatic and old, mainline Protestant. The problem, of course, is that there are now charismatic Episcopalians and Catholics, as well as plenty of Evangelicals who are interested in liturgical worship and social justice. Conservative megachurches are being forced to compromise because of sobering changes in marriage and family life, while many progressive flocks are being blasted apart by conflicts over the same issues.

In other words, the lines are blurring between once distinct approaches to faith. Tickle is convinced that 60 percent of American Christians are worshipping in pews that have, to one degree or another, been touched by what is happening in all four camps. At the same time, each of the quadrants includes churches -- perhaps 40 percent of this picture -- that are determined to defend their unique traditions no matter what.

The truly "emerging churches" are the ones that are opening their doors at the heart of this changing matrix, she said. Their leaders are determined not to be sucked into what they call "inherited church" life and the institutional ties that bind. They are willing to shed dogma and rethink doctrine, in an attempt to tell the Christian story in a new way.

"These emergent folks are enthusiastically steering toward the middle and embracing the whole post-denominational world," said Tickle. "We could end up with something like a new form of Pan-Protestantism. ... It's all kind of exciting and scary at the same time, but we can take some comfort in knowing that Christianity has been through this before."

Terry Mattingly ( directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes this weekly column for the Scripps Howard News Service.

Here's a great review of The Golden Compass

I was wary from the time I got the email from my mom about The Golden Compass. I have and on my quick link list for reviewing hoaxes, especially ones that followers of Jesus fall for. (Madeleine Murray O'Hare is dead and is not trying to get "Touched by an Angel", "Highway to Heaven" or "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" off TV...)

But there seems to be some truth to the reaction to The Golden Compass. And CT recently had a great review here, offering a lot of balance, something too often lacking in believers.

1,500 of my closest friends

Some of a recent post of Gordon MacDonald on CT's website. Gordon has a great way to make the normal become spiritual, pregnant with meaning.

My Faves: The People I KeepCreating a new cell-phone directory tested my commitment in ways I didn't Gordon MacDonald, Leadership editor at large

From my journal: A few weeks ago the cell-phone people notified me that I was eligible for a new phone at a rock-bottom price and that I should stop by their store and do a deal. A day or two later, I converted from TREO to Blackberry.

A technician transferred the contact data—my electronic "phone book"—from the old phone to the new one. "You've got a lot of stuff in the memory," he said referring to the over-three thousand names and numbers I'd accumulated during the past years. "You might want to think of purging it."

In the days that followed I did what the techie suggested, and shrunk the list from 3,000 names to about 1,500. I ended up with 1,500 keepers and 1,500 deleted…people that is.

It is not always an easy task to separate the keepers from the deleted. The exercise forced me to do some reflecting about the nature of my personal relationships.

I quickly saw that the "keepers" fell into four categories. There were my loved ones: wife, children, and grandchildren (they were not only keepers but they made my speed-dial list). There were my friends—dearly valued people who have long been in my life through the darkest and the brightest moments. Then there were colleagues: those to whom one relates because of shared work. And finally there were the networked: people you think you want to keep in touch with because you have common goals and objectives. Oh, a fifth group: the snow-plow guy, the hardware store, and United Airlines. Keepers: all of them.

The more challenging experience was in the deleting.

1,500 of my Closest Friends. I found names of people in the phone's memory, for example, whom I'd met here and there over the years. We had promised that we'd keep in touch or get together for lunch or collaborate on some effort. But the promises were forgotten. Well intentioned as we were when we thumbed each other's numbers into our phones, we simply got on to other things the minute we were out of each other's sight.

How many times have I heard my wife, Gail, say as she watched me enter one of these people into my contact list, "I know you want to connect with him, but I also know that you're too busy. He'll expect your call for the next couple of weeks and when it doesn't come, he'll think you were insincere."

Gail's right.

My eyes (for connection) are bigger than my stomach (my ability to digest all the relationships I'd like to have)...

These deletions caused me to reflect on the flimsiness of too many so-called Christian relationships where there is far more talk about faithfulness than action. I thought of how easy it is for people to turn on one another the minute things go awry. And I felt sad.

I confess to a feeling of fiendish satisfaction as I hit the delete button on some of these names. I felt the urge to say. "There! You're gone! No way you're going to get into my new phone." It was as if by deleting someone from my phone list I could make a bad memory go away forever.

Now there were those who walked out of my life for "natural causes." "San Diego pays more," they said. Or, "Florida's warmer." Or, "The company is moving me to Des Moines." Having spoken, they disappeared leaving in their trail only an occasional Christmas card or e-mail. But they left, sometimes to my consternation. Deleting their names reminds me that we live in a wildly mobile society where most relationships have short, practical shelf lives. No wonder young people are opting for small groups and less of the big stuff. They seek stability. Me, too.
A few names in line for deletion were those who have died in the past years. Once they had been vigorous, contributive people. Now they're gone. In many cases their loss was grieved for a few days. But then those of us still among the living had to get on with life and its demands. I found myself brooding on how long, when I die, I'll remain on some peoples' contact list. Not long, I suspect.

A significant number of those slated for deletion were people who have simply stopped playing any role in my life. For a moment our lives had connected as they picked me up at an airport or provided hospitality for me in their home. But it was only a one-time shot: pleasant, interesting, but one time. How often I'd said of these people, "I'd give anything to know them better." But it wasn't meant to be.

Now and then as I scanned the contact list on the old phone I saw names of people who might be called evangelical celebrities. They're people it's fun to say you know. But you really don't know them; you just shook their hands once and got their number. It's hard to delete them. Just having their number tempts you to feel important in a very superficial way. (Billy Graham once warned me about name-dropping.)

God's Delete Button-Purging my phone list has been a healthy exercise. It has reminded me that there is a certain collection of people in this world whose friendship and partnership I really prize. Wonderful people whose love for God and commitment to his agenda are inspiring to me. Christlike people who working with has been (and remains) a humble privilege.

But there were other lessons for me. That I actually liked deleting some names forced me to realize that as much as I believe in no grudge-holding, there is always a bit of residual vindictiveness deep in my heart, in all of us, perhaps. It bothers me that in some cases I really enjoyed hitting the delete button.

Oh, there was one more lesson. I was forced to wonder if God would ever be tempted to purge his list of people. Did this happen in the Noah story? Was it about to happen the day he told Moses he was at his wits end with Israel? Has God ever wished to quietly delete me? Does God even have a delete button?

Pastor and author Gordon MacDonald is chair of World Relief and editor at large for Leadership.

I've always used "Supreme Commander, Lord, Dictator of the Universe, but this will work

My Peculiar Aristocratic Title is:
His Eminence the Very Lord Arnold the Chimerical of New Invention
Get your Peculiar Aristocratic Title

Modern Physics and Ancient Faith, book summary

Okay, a few weeks back I promised some thoughts on Stephen Barr's book. Well, let me first of all say that it's great reading, and it's stimulating information. And while I'm sure he worked at getting it all down to a less scientific reading level, it's also challenging! There are lots of technical explanations of various processes and theories, so I do recommend it, but let's just say I've had to renew it 3 times from my library 'cause it ain't no 1-hour read!

The book revolves around what Barr calls 5 "plot twists" along the way of trying to write off religion and approach the universe in an exclusively materialistic philosophy. He introduces these early, then the remainder of the book is opening up each plot twist from a scientific point of view.

#1 The Big Bang points to a beginning. Materialism had posited an eternal universe, where matter had always existed. This wasn't a new thought (ancient pagan Greeks also thought this) but much of the 19th and 20th century scientists pushed the idea. But evidence pointing to the Big Bang points to a beginning.

#2 The complexity and beauty of the mathematics underlying the laws of physics and the even deeper laws that seem to govern those laws does not answer the question of "why the universe?" In fact it seems to beg the question even further, moving it to the front of discussion.

#3 "The universe and its laws seem in some respects to be balanced on a knife-edge..." Movement either way, and life doesn't exist. There are a series of "anthropic coincidences" that defy the chance-requirements of naturalistic materialism.

#4 The existence of human intellect pushes us to see the human mind as more than just machine.

#5 Quantum theory has brought about a revolution in the scientific determinism inherint in materialism.

This is obviously a very brief summary of the book. But if you're interested in learning some scientific facts and seeing how those facts point for or against materialism as a philosophical explanation of the universe, I recommend this book.