Thursday, December 21, 2006

Giving Yourself A Christmas Gift?

Here are some recommendations and reprises from earlier posts. But first, four recent buys of mine to recommend, and of which I will have more to say soon I am sure. [And don't forget Christian Voices in Unitarian Universalism, Skinner House, 2006, edited by Kathleen Rolenz. Go to

1. The new book to begin it all. Ed Stetzer's Planting Missional Churches: Planting a Church that's biblically sound and reaching people in culture (2006). This is the new place I would start for any church planting conversation and effort, replacing Aubrey Malphurs or Ralph Moore's. It is comprehensive, and so there is a lot left unsaid about each of the models, but he includes good places to go to get more depth on whether it is house church network or rapid large start or others. I liked this one much better than his previous one on planting churches in a postmodern age, which was too laden with theological/culturalese. It probably goes without saying I think he is wrong on what constitutes biblically soundness, but don't let that stop you. And don't pass this one up even if you aren't involved or interested in church plant; the principles are good for looking at what you will need to do and be within existing churches to keep up with all the new being planted around you anyway. So it applies to new ministries within existing churches.

A few nuggets:

Today's church planter should be 1. missional. 2. incarnational. 3. theological. 4. ecclesiological. 5. spiritual.

objections that hold people back from church planting:
1. large church mentality. The newer the church, not the bigger the church, the more effective it is at reaching unchurched, dechurched.
2. parish-church mind-set. have to get beyond geographical limitations and turf politeness. [Alert to my UU readers, though I know this is a mainline issue as well in some places].
In 1900, 28 churches for every 10,000 Americans. In 1950, 17 churches for same number. In 2000, dropped to 12 churches per, and in 2004, dropped again to 11 church per 10,000 Americans.
3. professional-church syndrome. Have to break out of church equals seminary trained pastor model, particularly as churches begin to multiple themselves.
4. rescue-the-dying syndrome. have to break out of addiction of rescuing the dying churches within movements before starting new ones. Look at how resources are allocated on national level.
5. already-reached myth. Or I would call it the "they will find us if they need us" mentality. Goes along with buying into the secular myth that faith communities aren't needed for the wholeness/salvation of the soul, can do it alone.

Check back for much more out of and about this new resource.

2. Future Church: ministry in a post-seeker age by Jim Wilson with foreword by Sally Morgenthaler (2004). It has a kind of Len Sweet feel to it but with a more conservative theological orientation, maybe Barna-light. Very story-oriented, which is good. Seven main connections based on a set of assumptions and questions for the church trying to meet the future now (also a good connection with Reggie McNeal's book The Present Future, also based on a question and response format, though there are more stories in this one by Wilson). Definitely good for those looking at how to keep connected to existing churches and move them through transformation to revolution. Here are the seven levers (ways you can look at your ministry setting):

Get Creative: CW says that people don't want to be "preached to" and told how to live. They prefeer to set their own rules for living and rely on the entertainment industry--cinemas, sporting events, and theaters--for their inspiration. What is the church's response?
Get Spiritual: CW says that one religion is as good as another. Christians are often viewed as mean-spirited, narrow-minded bigots. Gurus, mystics, and psychics are as legitimate as priests, rabbis, and minister's in today's supercharged environment. What is the church's response?
Get Radical: CW says that emerging generations lack real purpose and are drifting through life. They've become cynical, not really believing that anything can make society--or their souls--whole again. What is the church's response?
Get Real: CW says that current culture will not tolerate duplicity and will immediately dismiss anyone who says one thing and does another. They are suspicious of anything is slick, orchestrated, or too good to be true. What is the church's response?
Get Truthful: CW says that people no longer believe in absolute truth and are suspicious of experts, institutions, and anyone who makes exclusive claims. What is the church's response?
Get Multi: CW says that culture celebrates diversity and loathes intolerance. Emerging generations don't want to be pigeonholed or lumped into a group. What is the church's response?
Get Connected: CW says that people are isolated from one another and are destined to drift from one failed relationship to another. What is the church's response?

There's a "sermon series" or conversational topics for you. Need more progressives responding from our biblical basis to these same touchstones.

3. Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a religious revolutionary, by Marcus Borg (2006). Get inspired by the Jesus Borg rightly points to, and then put Stetzer, Wilson, et al into practice. Here is a good updating, retelling of the progressive Christian encounter with Jesus and the Risen Christ as the spirit of Jesus in our lives and world today. Combines the best of his previous works (and you can see that he is incorporated the responses to the opposition of that work) into one "unifying vision for a critical time" as the blurb puts it. If you are already familiar with Borg's works, then it is still worthwhile for the epilogue on Jesus and American Christianity today. In it he connects his work with the emergent and emerging Christianity, and is in favor of the transformation of the church. Maybe it is beyond his purview or passion, but as he does a good job of extolling the importance of churches ("God can do without churches. But we can't.") I wish there was some nod not only to the theological transformation of the existing mainline churches but to the need for new progressive church plants to be better able to create in their initial DNA this kind vision of Jesus.

4. The Churching of America: 1776-2005, by Rodney Stark and Roger Finke (2006). I am a big Stark fan. If you want to read a thesis on why the congregationalists/Unitarians are so small compared to even others in the mainline, not to mention the 20th century evangelicals, and why the mainlines are succombing to this as well and the evangelicals might be on the verge of it, and the rise of Mormonism, et al as other new "upstarts" then this is the book. Develops his/their thesis of religious economy that he used on new religious movements. Great diagnosis of the reasons mergers and unifications and ecumenical enterprises in general (UU alert) don't live up to the expectations of their dreamers and founders. His thesis is that we have gotten more religious and spiritual involvement from colonial days, but our blinders and perferences for establishment churches of that era have kept us from being able to see this. [Barna might point out that church affiliation is a loose notion and doesn't equate with conviction and committment, and why we are still in an unchurched, dechurched era, but that is part of the fluid notion that might send evangelicals the same way as other dominant groups in the past; still a good conversation I would like to listen to is one between Stark and Barna; does anyone know if it has existed?]....The "less regulated" the religious economy of the culture is, the easier for new starts to take the field. [I wonder if you could apply this also to the "regulation" of a local church group, and one of the reasons why mainlines decline has been their committment to regulation and control, ala Easum and Bandy's work]....Interesting commentary here on the "audience economy" of the New Age movements, and why they don't think it signals a significant growth in the American religious landscape [wonder how it might also apply to churches and the post-denominational "dabbling" though?]. And finally they disagree that there has been a seismic shift from mainline decline to evangelical eruption; rather they see it as something happening gradually over a couple of hundred years, and media attention seemed to propel it in people's perception. The market share of the churches had been dwindling all along. And, just because once large groups are now small, doesn't necessarily mean they will be able to rise in market share again. They repeat their arguement from previous books that more than anything else it is putting a high cost on membership and applying strict boundaries is what propels a church. But that alone doesn't work either. Many will become so strict in such a way as to fail. As he wrote in One True God, they also include the role of theological belief in an active, exclusionary God in offering the rewards that drive allegiance. Opening up a place for experimental, innovative new churches is also key, and here mainlines have failed in the past. The path is to increase tension with the outside culture. [on this point more to come from me post-holiday crush].

And don't forget "The Shaping of Things To Come" by Frost and Hirsch, "Emerging Churches" by Gibbs and Bolger, "Organic Church" by Neil Cole and "Revolution" by George Barna. All of which have their own posts elsewhere in the blog. Blessings.

2006 American Religion in Review: Four Areas from Barna

Here is one synopsis of a religious surveyor and analyst's review of the year 2006 in American religion. By George Barna

First, Barna identified some of the most prolific news stories of the year that involved religion:
1. the role of evangelicals in the mid-term elections,
2. Hollywood’s pursuit of the Christian audience,
3. scandals concerning priests and ministers,
4. the shooting of five Amish school children and their community’s response,
5. the internal politics of the Episcopal Church,
6. the controversy involving Muslims and the Pope.

Offhand, I pretty much agree with the list. But I would rate them in this order, not of newsworthiness by the way, but of lasting significance:

1. Hollywood--media always shapes meaning and leads to organizational embodiment
2. Episcopals--emblematic of widening rift in what it means to be Christian, new kind of Reformation
3. Evangelical shift--politics and religion will get murkier, not less so; the polarization into the Christian Right and the Secular Progressives, as so many wish to keep alive, will be history as the Center holds. Might throw in here news items surrounding Stem-Cell, also the spiritual dimensions of Immigration Debate, the emergence of Hilary and Obama and McCain as emblematic of Center on these issues.
4. Scandals--Haggard, et al. part of the shift toward decentralized celebrity-less spirituality.
5. Muslim and Pope--"Western Civilization" "Christian Europe" "Inter-religious engagement that is based on differences" in 100 years this could be seen as the most significant, and have boiled over in this flat world to the American scene.
6. Shooting and Response. Shootings will continue, but will the response of the Amish become a touchstone of response and lead to changes in understandings of justice?

Second, Barna's own 12 most significant findings of 2006 based on the year's research, in his order of what he deems most important. Details below.
1. Disparity between public claims and claims of regular church-goers, and perceptions by pastors
2. 75 percent of teenagers engage at least once in some form of "psychic or witchcraft" experience while only 30 percent of churches seem concerned enough to teach on it.
3. "Holiness" not a concern.
4. wide difference between what he calls "Christian Revolutionaries" (see his book called Revolution) who are dedicated to living out faith fully, and the "born-again" whose faith is mostly in profession.
5. Rise of house churches, though most (80 percent) in house church still have some connection to more formal church organization.
6. Very few are engaged in spiritual gifts discernment, and for those that do it is still seen as related to "volunteerism."
7. high rate of involvement in faith community in teen years drops off in the twenties.
8. post 9-11 faith rise dropped off five years later back to normal
9. disconnect between perceptions of parents about faith development of their children, and what children report.
10. only 1 out of 6 think spiritual faith maturity should be developed within context of a church community.
11. few Americans recognize names of top Christian book-sellers and pastors.
12. numbers of people claiming "born-again" continues to rise, as does bible study and small group involvement.

My own rearrangment of the order of importance of those 12 findings of his would be as follows:

My one is his number 10---loss of interest in church. Old news but all flows from it.
My two is his number 4---rise of "revolutionaries" becoming distinct different faith grouping
My three is his number 5--rise of house church
My four is his number 9--parental/children disconnect
My five is his number 1--difference in perception in pew and pulpit
My six is his number 6---no spiritual gifts discernment going on, really, anywhere
My seven is his number 2--not for the obvious spiritual warfare alert as he sees it, but as an indicator of the rise of fantasy as personal spiritual allegiance and practice
My eight is his number 12--indicating rise of importance in seeking intimacy and Story
My nine is his number 3--holiness dropping off the chart, probably for good reason (see Paul's admonition in Romans that God is for the unrighteous), but the loss of moral center, community values, and rise of uncontrolled behavior and addictions should be of more vital concern, especially to progressives.
My ten is his number 7--losing young adults to status quo faith communities
My eleven is his number 11--lack of recognition just shows secular/spiritual divide widening
My twelve is his number 8--post 9-11 illusions and disillusions.

(the order of these also shows a relationship between them to the general shift away from churched culture to dechurched and unchurched culture, to the rise of generational cultural differences, and cultural modernity's demise).

Here is Barna's elaboration on the findings and links to the surveys from this past year:

Although large majorities of the public claim to be “deeply spiritual” and say that their religious faith is “very important” in their life, only 15% of those who regularly attend a Christian church ranked their relationship with God as the top priority in their life. As alarming as that finding was, its significance was magnified by research showing that on average pastors believe that 70% of the adults in their congregation consider their relationship with God to be their highest priority in life.
For related information, see the January 10th Barna Update click here

Three out of every four teenagers have engaged in at least one type of psychic or witchcraft-related activity. Among the most common of those endeavors are using a Ouija board, reading books about witchcraft or Wicca, playing games involving sorcery or witchcraft, having a “professional” do a palm reading or having their fortune told. Conversely, during the past year fewer than three out of every ten churched teenagers had received any teaching from their church about elements of the supernatural.
For related information, see the January 23rd Barna Update click here

The notion of personal holiness has slipped out of the consciousness of the vast majority of Christians. While just 21% of adults consider themselves to be holy, by their own admission large numbers have no idea what “holiness” means and only one out of every three (35%) believe that God expects people to become holy.
For related information, see the Februrary 20th Barna Update click here

The growing movement of Christian Revolutionaries in the U.S. distinguished themselves from an already-select group of people – born again Christians – through their deeds, beliefs and self-views. Revolutionaries demonstrated substantially higher levels of community service, financial contributions, daily Bible study, personal quiet times each day, family Bible studies, daily worship experiences, engagement in spiritual mentoring, and evangelistic efforts. They also had a series of beliefs that were much more likely than those of typical born again adults to coincide with biblical teachings. Their self-perceptions were also dramatically different than that of other born again adults.
For related information, see the March 6th Barna Update click here

Involvement in a house church is rapidly growing, although the transition is occurring with some trepidation: four out of every five house church participants maintain some connection to a conventional church as well.
For related information, see the June 19th Barna Update click here

Evaluating spiritual maturity remains an elusive process for clergy as well as individuals. Across the nation, the only measure of spiritual health used by at least half of all pastors was the extent of volunteer activity or ministry involvement. Adults were no more consistent in their self-examination of their spirituality.
For related information, see the January 10th Barna Update click here

Most Americans have a period of time during their teen years when they are actively engaged in a church youth group. However, Barna’s tracking of young people showed that most of them had disengaged from organized religion during their twenties.
For related information, see the September 11th Barna Update click here

A comparison of people’s faith before and after the September 11 terrorist attack showed that five years after the momentous day, none of the 19 faith measures studied had undergone statistically significant change. Those measures covered aspects such as religious behaviors, beliefs, spiritual commitment and self-identity.
For related information, see the August 28th Barna Update click here

Seven out of ten parents claim they are effective at developing the spiritual maturity of their children, but the Barna survey among 8-to-12-year-olds discovered that only one-third of them say a church has made “a positive difference” in their life; one-third contend that prayer is very important in their life; most of them would rather be popular than to do what is morally right. In fact, “tweeners” (those ages 8 to 12) deem their family to be vitally important in their life, but just 57% said they look forward to spending time with their family and only one out of every three say it is easy for them to talk to their parents about things that matter to them.
For related information, see the September 30th Barna Update click here

Relatively few people – just one out of every six – believe that spiritual maturity is meant to be developed within the context of a local church or within the context of a community of faith.
For related information, see the April 18th Barna Update click here

Five of the highest-profile Christian leaders – Rick Warren, Joel Osteen, James Dobson, Tim LaHaye and T.D. Jakes – were unknown to a majority of the population. Most of those leaders were also unknown to most born again Christians.
For related information, see the November 27th Barna Update click here

The faith contours of America continue to shift substantially over the course of time. The proportion of adults who are born again has risen dramatically in the past quarter century, from 31% to 45%. During the past two decades, every spiritual behavior has fluctuated significantly, with recent upsurge in Bible reading, church attendance, and small group involvement.
For related information, see the March 27th Barna Update click here

Third, Barna's analysis of the 4 themes in the patterns: George Barna noted that there were four themes that consistently emerged from the various surveys his firm conducted throughout the year.

“First of all,” noted Barna, “Americans are very comfortable with religious faith. Most adults and even teenagers see themselves as people of faith. Toward that end, they have definite opinions about religion, they possess well-honed beliefs, and invest substantial amounts of their time, money and energy in religious activities. Faith and spirituality remain hot issues in people’s lives. The mass media, through news and feature stories, also play a role in keeping spiritual issues in the forefront of people’s minds.”

“Second,” he continued, “people do not have an accurate view of themselves when it comes to spirituality. American Christians are not as devoted to their faith as they like to believe. They have positive feelings about the importance of faith, but their faith is rarely the focal point of their life or a critical factor in their decision-making. The fact that few people take the time to evaluate their spiritual journey, or to develop benchmarks or indicators of their spiritual health, facilitates a distorted view of the prominence and purity of faith in their life.”

Barna’s third theme was that if people’s faith is objectively measured against a biblical standard of how faith is to be practiced, Americans are spiritually lukewarm. “Very limited effort is devoted to spiritual growth. Most Americans experience ‘accidental spiritual growth’ since there is generally no plan or process other than showing up at a church and absorbing a few ideas here and there. Even then, few people have a defined understanding of what they are hoping to become, as followers of Christ.” Barna attributed much of this to the numerous distractions common in most people’s lives.

Finally, the bestselling author of nearly 40 books contended that the most intriguing blip on the radar screen is the growth of various converging movements of deeply spiritual people who are departing from the conventional forms and communities of faith. “The Revolutionary community – which incorporates divergent but compatible groups of people who are seeking to make their faith the driving force in their life – is reshaping American faith in ways which we are just beginning to understand.” Few researchers and journalists are tracking the behavior and beliefs of those nascent segments. "

Fourth, his view of the horizon of the future in American religious trends:
When asked what he saw on the horizon regarding Americans’ faith, Barna described findings from some research currently in process related to the future of faith. He listed three general patterns he expects to gain prominence in the coming years.

Diversity. There will be new forms of spiritual leadership, different expressions of faith, and greater variety in when and where people meet together to be communities of faith. Ecumenism will expand, as the emerging generations pay less attention to doctrine and more attention to relationships and experiences. Barna predicted that there will be a broader network of micro-faith communities built around lifestyle affinities, such as gay communities of faith, marketplace professionals who gather for faith experiences, and so forth.

Bifurcation. Barna expects to see a widening gap between the intensely committed and those who are casually involved in faith matters. The difference will become strikingly evident between those who make faith the core of their life and those who simply attach a religious component on to an already mature lifestyle.

Media. Spiritual content and experiences will be increasingly related to the use of media. New technologies that will gain market share over the coming decade will significantly reshape how people experience and express their faith, and the ways in which they form communities of faith.

During the past year Barna formed a company (Good News Holdings) with a group of media professionals to approach the faith community not only with facts and figures drawn from research but also with stories and imagery conveyed through media. Asked why he took this new approach, he stated that the job of a servant of God is to be an obedient missionary. “It’s important to go where the people are whom you wish to reach with your message, and then to communicate that message through the language and symbols that they understand,” he explained. “The typical American spends roughly twenty times more hours each week engaged with media than involved with all forms of traditional religious activity. In our society there is a false barrier between those two worlds, and we’re trying to bridge the gap.”

I will post more of my comments in the comments, but I think he is right on in his "most intriguing development of 2006" and his expectation of it continuing in the future, that is the growth of new forms of spiritual community made up of more dedicated "Revolutionaries" (see my earlier post on Barna's book "Revolution"). The question is how will it take shape or will it among Christian progressives. But he has outlined a way again to audit your own community, your own tradition, your own association as to how is it engaging with Diversity, Bifurcation, Media.

Friday, December 01, 2006

"Supersized" mega-church Sociology and Christian Century article

I read in the latest Nov. 28 issue of The Christian Century there is an article called "Supersized" by Mark Chavez taking a look at the reasons behind the growth of mega-churches and the concentration of church goers in them. It is an excerpt of a longer essay in the Review of Religious Research back in June. I haven't had a chance to read the longer essay yet; also haven't yet found online link to the Christian Century article or the RRR essay but I suspect CC will have one up soon on their site at

The gist, or the old news: As Schaller has pointed out to us for many years, a majority of churches in America are small ones but the majority of church goers are going to churches in large and very large churches. Chavez documents this once again.

The analysis of why: Chavez says there is no one simple reason for this. On this he is right. As others have pointed out before, megachurches aren't reeling in the unchurched as much as attracting those already churched, to some degree. Of course there isn't a simple understanding of what constitutes "the unchurched." Maybe his longer essay goes into his use of the term. One of the categories not mentioned in his essay is for the "dechurched."

He writes "nor can we explain this trend by reference to some constant advantage of size. It is true that there are certain attractions to worshiping as part of a big group. But the advantages should have been apparent long ago, with the appearance of the first big churches, not just since 1970." What he includes in passing reference but doesn't give much credence to because it is difficult to quantify, is the role of generational changes which began to show up in the 1970s as the boomers swept fully into adulthood, and the boomers and their cultural wants and expectations have driven the rise of the megachurch. This is also one of the reasons why the next cultural wave is for the rise of organic smaller churches in reaction to the boomer churches. He addresses suburbanization and shows how it has been in place and in play in American culture longer than the megachurch impact, but again doesn't delve into the role of the boomers on the suburban scene.

He says another possible explanation is that they offer a new organizational form in tune with the rising cultural tide. But, he adds, the big churches of earlier eras had many of the hallmarks we see in megachurches now. Besides the boomer factor, however, I might point out the role of the non-denominational vs. earlier era denominational big church. His study focuses on looking at big churches in denominations without addressing more in depth the way the denominational big churches are more non-denominational than before, as well as bringing the mega-churches that are non-denominational.

The explanation he helpfully brings to the table is an economic one--rising costs to provide religious services, especially as boomers want which differ from earlier generations, drive out many of the smaller churches and those churches survive in this new climate who can afford to provide the services, and that is why, as Schaller points out, it is the very large and the very small who live on. The mid-size church, program-driven, suffers. Add in the internal conflict that entails when this happens, as churches get on treadmills of anxiety about maintaining their status quo, and add in the external conflict that happens especially when denominations are encountering cultural change and challenges (the cultural wars), and people looking for church life will flock to where there is less conflict spilling over into their lives.

The upshot? It takes an increasing amount of resources concentrated to be able to thrive as a very large church in a very large church world. Especially if you are trying to create one from virtually nothing, i.e. to replicate Saddleback. To get there you should take your largest churches and healthiest mid-size churches and teach them how to multiply themselves.

The other upshot is that the emergent organic movement is seeking to fill in some of the gaps between the old mega-church and the old smaller church. As said, the megachurches aren't attracting the secularized unchurched as much as those who arent finding fulfillment in the smaller and more denominationally-identified churches; the emergent organic church not trying to be megachurch is more suited to connecting with the spirits of the unchurched and the dechurched. I think a lot of the movement of the boomers and Xers to the megachurch whether non-denominational or not was in line with the organizational dysfunction of the smaller mainline churches; the organic church is able to offer a different model but without the spectator-driven model of the megachurch. As Whitsell's book (posts below) shows, organic and mega aren't actually contradictions in terms either in all cases; but these growing and developing on the scene churches weren't a part, as far as I can tell, of Chavez' research.

Again, look for ways to take your big middle and your small large churches and multiply them in new ways, poly-site, video groups, turning small group ministry into networks of house churches; and also find ways to nurture and network and fund as much as possible the entrepeneurs of the emergent organic movement among you in order to ride the now and coming wave of anti-mega micro, simple, organic church next wave.

As I read the Christian Century article I kept thinking how there was a kind of disconnect between the statistics of the denominational mega churches Chavez' work looked out, and the narratives and stories of so many of the megachurches themselves. And when you read or hear the stories of those churches as individuals you want to put them into a larger statistical understanding. Now I am not so sure you can ever do both--but it is helpful to have both to see the limitations of both approaches. And as I read the article, I kept thinking about how much is left out, theologically and scripturally, from such articles that is important for planters themselves and for the churches themselves. He ends the article by talking about how much of the change we don't understand, the causes and consequences--and that is right; we won't ever fully grasp the way the Spirit moves and forms itself to meet God's present and future. And yet there is so much of the certainty of the passion of the imperative to be involved in this, all of this, that no statistical curve can ever capture.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

slipping influence of Christian leaders in U.S. culture? or just print influence?

From recent work by the Barna Group:

Rick Warren--three out of every four adults (72 percent) say they have never heard of him, including 63 percent of born-again Christians.
James Dobson--Almost six out of 10 adults (57 percent) had never heard of him, including nearly half of born-agains.
T.D. Jakes--two out of three (68 percent) have never heard of him, including 55 percent of born-agains.
Tim LaHaye--three out of four adults (73 percent) have never heard of him, including 63 percent of born-agains.
Joel Osteen--unknown to two thirds of the public (67 percent), including 57 percent of born-agains.
Anne Rice--over half (55 percent) didn't know her.

I am not sure if the familarity would rise if only the books by these people were judged by familiarity, but that might have been interesting to survey.

Here is a breakdown for positive (including very favorable or somewhat favorable) or negative or never heard of or don't know image about those folks and others who were picked to be included in the survey.

John Ashcroft--36 percent positive; 23 percent negative, 31 percent never heard of, 10 percent don't know
George Bush--47 percent positive, 50 percent negative, 1 never heard of, 3 don't know
Bill Clinton--64, 32, 1, 4
Katie Couric--57, 16, 22 never heard of, 6
James Dobson--27 positive, 8 negative, 57, 9
Mel Gibson--69, 21, 4, 5
Faith Hill--71, 5, 18, 6
T.D. Jakes--22, 4, 68, 8
Tim LaHaye--13, 5, 73, 8
Tim McGraw--72, 6, 14, 8
Rosie O'Donell--42, 47, 5, 6
Joel Osteen--18, 6, 67, 11
Anne Rice--27, 6, 55, 12
Britney Spears 34, 54, 3, 9
Rick Warren--12, 5, 72, 11
Denzel Washington--85, 2, 7, 6

Breakdown by race: "whites" surveyed didn't rate anyone with a very favorable impression; among 'blacks' three received such high marks--Washington, Clinton, and Jakes. Among hispanics, only Washington received such an impression.

Barna's concluding analysis: media stars in music and movies have a higher degree of influence than people who write books. This might explain, or back up, his own and the evangelical world's commitment to making "Christian-valued" films and TV projects.

You can

To some (evangelical Christians), these survey findings might be disheartening; to some (progressive Christians and non-Christian religious leaders in the U.S., these findings might bring either a gasp or a sigh or relief. To all groups it should be a challenge if you are interested in attempting to get "your message" into the minds of U.S. citizens in the hopes of being able to shape those minds and hearts, especially through the print culture. As well as a commentary on the reigning and rising dominant secular culture of media/entertainment/consumerism. It also brings to mind that we have lost or are losing the "mass-mindset" that marked so much of the 20th century and are in an era of increasing micro-niche-cultures. The "celebrity empire" bucks this trend, but I wonder if it will be able to do so in the years to come; the whole 15 minutes of fame may come to more and more, and so the long-term effect will be less and less.

For planters: lessons on what to use in building your teams and growing disciples? More films and fewer books on leadership? I have done both and think I need to get more intentional about using our church Wednesday night film encounter as a vehicle for specifically being the church in the world and not just for generic spiritual lessons that grow out of the films. And I know it was a reminder for me even on this blog to go back to the beginning and do for film updates what I have been doing by surveying books in both the fields of progressive and evangelical worlds.

Does it have something to say about the downgrading influence of television (Osteen, Jakes, et al) on faith? The more channels there are, the more opportunities these folks are only preaching to the choir; that helps to a degree, but is it what the expense of resources should go toward? For progressive Christians and the "spiritual left" this could shape where attention should be paid, and not tried to mirror or mimic others--maybe finding and multiplying the niches like NPR's Speaking of Faith, and other venues.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

If I could co-mingle two books, audiences...

Here are two new books who are reporting about new vitality and forms taking shape in the "ecclesia", coming from two different places in the religious landscape of Christianity, and taken together both have much to teach about transforming or revolutionizing what it means to be church today, with good lessons for church planting. "Christianity for the Rest of Us: How the neighborhood church is transforming the faith" (Harper SanFrancisco) by Diana Butler Bass, and "Inside the organic church: learning from 12 emerging congregations" by Bob Whitesel.

Both books discuss specific churches, either doing new things or new churches. Bass' book looks at ways mainline and moderate to liberal Protestant churches are or can tap into ancient practices of Christian communities to bring a revival to the lives of their members and the churches. She has a guiding trinity of touchstones called tradition, practice, and wisdom. Her ten signposts of renewal cover new focuses and intentionality on hospitality, discernment, healing, contemplation, testimony, diversity, justice, worship, reflection, and beauty. Whitesel looks at more recent and emerging churches, church plants, and finds a few key themes at work--his "four melodies" are orthodoxy, authenticity, social and spiritual engagement, and mission. Each of the churches he looks at are like prism views or strains of these four main melodies: multi-site planting, incarnation in otherness, house churches and large church, micro-cultures, sacred spaces and art and nesting plant, cross-cultural communication, liturgy, stations and non-ministerial leadership, hardcore postmodernists, morphing into organic, interactivity and with nature, improvisation.

You will note that outside of worship and service to others there is very little overlap in these major phrases and emphases in these two books. You might find yourself gravitating toward one or the other of these lists of words. I think that is natural. I would encourage you to spend more time with the book whose phrases are most strange to you.

Both books in their different ways are chronicling a movement of churches seeking renewed spirit in the continuing wake of the mega-church and church growth movement. Bass' book is arguing that Christianity is alive and well outside the mega-church the media loves so well. There is a sense that the Christian faith emerging within the mostly established churches surveyed by her is happening as people take their faith more seriously than what might be perceived is happening in mega-churches. I get a whiff of Puritanism here (and those that know me know that it isn't necessarily a bad thing) that in the mainline Protestant churches here there is a deeper, realer, more serious Christianity, the real church. This comes through in Whitesell's book, too, and I have blogged on this aspect of the emergent church before. In his book too there is the understanding that the emergent, or rather organic churches are taking root because their leaders are rebelling against the mega-churches of their parent's generation. Of course, the mega-churches seem to be doing just fine from my point of view, but they are no longer per se on the cutting edge of church and culture. These two books point to where some of the new vitality is happening.

What is helpful from Bass' book:
First, let me say that I have briefly mentioned the book before, and somewhat faulted it (though I understand that its focus shaped its reportage) for helpfully emphasizing ancient practices of Christianity that are or will lead to renewal of our churches but without putting much attention on the ancient practice of church planting itself, and how it can lead to a renewal in many other areas since it automatically connects the church with God's revealing spirit outside the church and in the community. It is true that her book does mention one church in her focused survey that is described as a new congregation, and so is thought of as still a church plant, Cornerstone UMC in Naples, founded in 1996. The style of their church as she describes it is very much in the "emergent mode." It is reclaiming tradition and is one of the few places in the book where a deep sense of missional growth comes through. The pastor is quoted as saying "we're more interested in forming disciples than recruiting members." But from a look at the church through its web site, it still seems to be after ten years a single church growing in a single place rather than having church-planting especially in an organic way in its DNA. Nothing wrong with this; it is doing what it is doing well and touching lives and transforming them and the world. However, it is just not in the same ecclesia field as the organic movements and groups in more evangelical settings as depicted in Whitesell's book and the Bolger and Gibbs book, Emerging Churches, for example, or others that survey the emergent world (see the book section of this blog).

But the book is helpful and hopeful for progressive church planters. It may not be an explicit guide (we are still waiting on that one) as others find in more conservative theologically oriented churches. But church planters I think can use the 10 signposts of renewals as audits of a sort on how they are helping grow disciples that will grow other disciples, especially if you take the 10 windows and move what is chronicled here as happening "within" the church organization and see how it can be incarnated organically without. For us progressive, we should take the ten signs and merge them with the lessons from the evangelicals. One other thing I like about the Bass book is that it focuses on reclaiming the neighborhood church, the new village church. This is in keeping with what Sally Morganthaler and many other new emergent leaders talk about in terms of looking right around you to the lives nearest you and moving away from the "regional" church that so marked the mega-church peak. (I have recently read in the latest Net Results issue Lyle Schaller still cautioning against churches putting their eggs in the neighborhood basket, and will take a closer look at this in a bit). I also like Bass' built in at the back study guide with questions from each of the sections. Good conversation starters that can keep many a small group going, can be used in building leadership teams and I think discovering where particular leaders' gifts might be (we can't all be great ambassadors for all 10 signs of renewal) that would help in starting new church plants. I intend to use them.

She writes: "I do not deny that mainline Protestantism is in trouble. Some of its institutions, unresponsive to change, are probably beyond hope of recovery or repair. I also believe, however, that livey faith is not located in buildings, programs, organizations, and structures. Rather, spiritual vitality lives in human beings; it is located in the heart of God's people and the communities they form." What I take away not only from the book, but from my own experiences and observations in churches similar to the ones surveyed here is that the Spirit is moving in places where many evangelical emergents can't see it, won't see it, but that even in these places the Spirit struggles to find expressions beyond the box called church.

It is also interesting to read Bass' book again after having read Gary Dorrien's book of liberal theology in 1950-2005. The "third way" of liberal theology he has delved into in his three volumes (see posts below) is reflected in what Bass calls the "creative third way" churches, those that are not evangelical in conservative theology and not culture-bound comfortable liberal social clubs.

What is helpful from Whitesel's book:
Bass' book looked at 50 churches in six mainline denominations (UCC, ELCA, ECUSA, UMC, PCUSA, and DoC) with 10 core research sites (1 UCC, 2 PCUSA, 1 UMC, 2 ELCA, and 4 Episcopal from her own denomination now). There is no overlap with Whitesel's 12 emerging congregations in the organic church: see my post below "meanwhile in the organic church". I want to lift up here the lessons from his four "melodies" and then highlight the variety of focuses and lessons that stood out for me from the examinations of the individual churches.

1. orthodoxy. He was somewhat surprised to find that the organic churches were not as heterodox as he had heard or feared they might be. I might say: give them time :), only half jesting. Actually there is an old dynamic at work here. The more others fear you might stray from the path, the more you are apt to stick right down the middle of it, until it becomes a rut even. I think of Luther, moving along reformation path church-wise, confronted with questions about whether a rethinking of the Trinity was at hand along with other "foundational" issues, and the answer was no, not so much because the Trinity was per se off-limits for reformation, but because the Princes, and the people, were believed to be able to withstand only so much change all at once. Of course the rethinking went on, as it does today, within and without orthodox churches, as it always has, but a major re-theological statement couldn't be had. orthodoxy won out. The same thing happened in the Cambridge Platform in Puritanism; they were continuing the reformation as they saw it within ecclesiology, but they were very clear that they weren't touching the Winchester Creeds. Of course, again, reformation in one area aided and abetted reformation eventually in other areas. Same may be true for organic churches. BUT, the lesson here that is helpful for progressive church planters is in Whitesel's words: "the theological milieu in which an organic church is birthed persists as a powerful predicator and guide to future theological behavior." Be clear about your theology, and how it is leading you to the church plant. If you aren't, one way or another, it will come back to bite you. Been there. Done that.

2. authenticity or unashamed spirituality. This is the generational thing, the connecting with post-boomers. There isn't one way to be authentic, not only within the more orthodox organic churches or between them and the churches Bass chronicles where there is also movements to be more authentic and unashamed of spiritual needs and expressions. If I had one area i might suggest boomer-concentrated churches focus on for transformation and explosion, it might be in getting over the reticence for this, as it will be the doorway to your future generations of leaders needed right now. Maybe it is easier for more pentecostal rich folks to do this, than for those in the more Enlightenment rich churches, but it is possible. I think of how at one large progessive church I know some of the worship services that people of all ages talk the most about and remember the most about are the annual youth services where authentic testimony is paramount.

3. social and spiritual engagement. walking the balance between spiritual inreach and social outreach, seeing the connection and weaving of the two. This is an area where there is real energy below the surface arising. He says boomer churches usually focused on one or the other. Emerging organic churches can't separate the two, anymore than they can secular/sacred space.

4. missional. The key to organic identity. Seeing everyone as missionaries and everywhere as the new mission field. There is here, as Whitsel makes clear, a continuation of thought from Newbigin and Guder who talked about the disconnect from Christian established churches and the increasingly post- or anti-Christian culture changing around them. I agree and wouldn't challenge the assumption. But where it leads I might. I am beginning to wonder if there isn't a lesson that might be passed on to the evangelicals from what we have experienced in one of my other hats, at the UU Christian Fellowship. We often attract folks who have been burned by their UU churches for either post or anti Christian cultures, either neglecting their spiritual nurture as Christians within our churches or suggesting they go elsewhere. So when they come into our loop they are doing so from a position of disgruntlement or discontent. One of the challenges is to help them heal and reattach to a church, small group, etc. But in the process there is a focus, perhaps inevitable, on the "harmful other." Groups that stay there will not be responsive to the needs of the world today, much less the lives among them. Intentional encouragement to move through that into discipleship, deepended because of the experience perhaps, is what is needed. So, in these organic orthodox churches, where the culture (be it secular or mega-church) is seen as the "harmful other" (and who can really complain that it isn't?), there might be the similar tendency to become places or refuges of disgruntlement, and I wonder what that might do in the long run for these organic churches. It seems from Whitesel's books that the most active and vibrant of these groups see culture as revelatory and mediums of art and film, even dangerous ones, not as something to be in spiritual war against but as places where transformation, ala St. Paul, can take place. What this has to do with the sense of mission and field and what kind of missionaries are needed today? There is something afoot moving beyond images of the mission field as "harmful other" and more like transformative partners. This might be the biggest rift theologically between those who shaped the church growth and mega-church movement of the 1970s and 1980s and the organic folks of this decade.

Speaking of mission fields, all of the American churches depicted in Whitesel's book are located in urban or semi-urban areas, the Phoenix and Denver and Seattle and Santa Cruz and Los Angeles and Minneapolises of the U.S. This is, I guess, part of the increasing urbanization of America as portrayed recently by the special issue of Time magazine. Places of young people on the move. I am just curious and would love to encounter more organic movements underway in the Nazareths of the contemporary society, but I will explore this more when I bring in a future post the demographics in Hal Taussig's new book listing 1,000 progressive churches, and do some comparison between the churches mentioned in all three of these new books.

Anyway, in Whitesel's book Each of the little chapters about the specific organic churches in this book is helpful and it is easy to build up, as it was in Bass' book, a kind of audit of topics to think about for your own gifts, ideas, areas to explore, what is missing. I will highlight these in summary fashion from his book in a future post.

Final comment: I would love to have some "crossroads" experiences where it might be possible for congregations explored in these two books, where closest together, to have some interactions and hear the responses about their understandings of Christian faith and the purpose of the church. Out of a comparison between the 10 core sites in Bass' book and the 10 in the U.S. from Whitesel's book, only in Seattle would this be possible between Phinney Ridge UMC explored by Bass and Church of the Apostles explored by Whitesel. Bringing in the other 40 churches visited by Bass, this would be possible in Minneapolis between Westminister Presbyterian Church and either Bluer or Solomon's Porch, and with a few more in Seattle, and between Scottsdale UCC and The Bridge, in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Dorrien, pt. 6: On revealing the hidden theological renaissance

This is the final post presenting ideas from Gary Dorrien's latest book, the final volume in the series on 200 years of liberal theology in America. See others introducing the subject and focusing on specific Unitarian Universalist theologians below. This post deals with the summation and the call, focusing on the irony of the situation that as liberal churches and the movement in Protestantism and Catholicism declined in the last half of the 20th century, that liberal/progressive theology in many forms flourished in "a hidden renaissance." Upshot for me or my take on it: The shift from a churched to unchurched culture hit the churches hard who had been the place for putting liberal theology into action, which is why the ways it expanded and renewed itself often went unnoticed. The audience shrank for all the new stuff coming out of divinity schools, and in a post-denominational world where seminaries connected to denominations are perhaps the dying canaries in the cave, that being the location for vitality is a sure fire way to keep things hidden.

But, as this piece from Dorrien makes clear, the vitality and just plain truth of the matter for Christian faith that these progressive theologians have captured should be a compelling force for creation of new communities and audiences where the theologies can be deepened and spread. Which is the focus of the mission of this blog itself. I often bring progessives up to task for failure to engage with the post-evangelical Evangelicals and what they have to teach us, and as this series of posts and Dorrien's book make clear there is a lot that Evangelicals have to encounter and learn from the progressive theologians. They may be doing all right now ignoring this strand of liberal/liberation/progressive theology, and locating their own in the postmodern and postliberal theologies of Stanley Grenz, Stanley Hauerwas, George Lindbeck, Frei, Niehaus, and successors, as liberals themselves can learn from engaging with these too, but if they look at the theologians in Dorrien's book and treat them as lepers, they will be cutting off God's oxygen to their brain and forgetting Jesus' life lessons.

D: American theologians of the later twentieth century demonstrated the continuing vitality of the liberal tradition by fashioning complex and illuminating theologies that responded to secularism, new social movements, postmodernity, and a dramatically expanded awareness of religious and cultural pluralism. Yet they never felt that they were part of a renaissance...The secularizing tidal wave and social revolutions of the succedding generation fell hard on liberal schools, just as they flattened a regnant neo-orthodoxy. Personalism withered from lack of conviction and advocacy; evangelical liberalism was forsaken as well; even Niebuhr and Tillich were often forgotten; only the Whiteheadians sustained the conviction, productivity and ambition of a movement. [RR: Process theology saved my faith, gave me back God language and led to becoming Christian believer, but if your main theology takes a college or graduate degree to comprehend, you are in trouble; some of the most powerful stuff comes from pastors interpreting it and presenting it to general audience, and why it was good that Dorrien's book goes into the work of Borg, Spong, et al even though I haven't mentioned them in these posts.]

D: Theologian John H.S. Kerr explained that liberal theology was a strategy to keep increasingly secular modernists in the church, but by the late 1970s they were gone. Thus liberal theology lost its institutional mission. 'Those outside the Chruches were no longer interested in the liberal theologian's desire to qualify rather than replace what the Churches officially said in the realm of pure theology." The shades of difference between 'above' and 'below' Christologies meant nothing to secular types that associated religion with their grandparents. Liberal theology still appealed to some individuals, Kent allowed, but it no longer had important work to do for the church....[Dorrien then goes on to talk about the way the more conservative theologians of the past decades challenged liberal theologies as giving away too much faith, and counters with a good critique of their dismissals]...Contrary to Kent, the ecclesial relevance of liberal theology did not vanish with the church membership losses of the post-1960s generation. The mainline Protestant and progressive Catholic ectors of American Christianity claimed tens of millions of members; church study groups turned several theological liberals into best-selling authors; and intense ecclesiastical debates over gay and lesbian rights, war, and feminism made theological discourse unavoidable even for religious communities predisposed to avoid it.

D: American liberal theology began as a pastoral enterprise, and in its heyday it was led by academics at seminaries and divinity schools that maintained vital ties with affilliated religious communities. But its critics were right that liberal theology became more narrowly academic in the later twentieth century and that its academic versions did not win much of a following within the general population or among academics in other disciplines. [RR: because the culture-bound churches of the 60s-90s couldn't plant church planting churches in the new cultures, and I wonder to what degree liberal theology and its loss of gospel-centered focus and imperatives of melding liberal understandings of the Great Commandment and Great Commission had to do with creating the very environment which shrunk its audience and (seemed to) marginalize itself?]

D: [moving through the good work of Borg, etc. back to the academy with concluding remarks pointing the way to the future through the new postliberalism and renewed/new evangelism and understandings of Christian faith and culture as presented in the works of younger theologians like Kathryn Tanner and Philip Clayton, Chicago and Claremont respectively. He calls them postmodernized postliberals. I am more aware of Tanner's work, as mentioned below, and recommend as a good place to start her work on Theories of Culture and what it has to do with locating Christian identity] Christian identity based on shared beliefs is a mirage, she argued. For Tanner, Christian identity derived from shared questions and discussion topics, not shared beliefs. [which is why her work is a good foundation for more liberal emergent Christians, and good parallel read with Brian McLaren's and Leonard Sweet's]. On Clayton, D. writes: Integration was 'the birthright of liberal Christianity.' By its nature and history, Clayton observed, liberalism worked constantly to integrate the best human knowledge with the Christian tradition. "It takes some courage; it takes prohetic voice; it takes a hatred of the trivial; it takes a willingness to be hard nosed; it takes a constant refusal to become self-absorbed." ..Liberal theology is a great tradition and a high calling, he exhorted; what it lacks is convictional advocates. "God knows, in the present political climate liberal Christians need passion--earth-shaking passion--when speaking of our faith." [RR: and beyond speaking, incarnating it in new communities responsive to new culture].

And then Dorrien writes his powerful conclusion in a final two pages. You need to buy the book. I wish I had the stamina typing right now to present them. I will do an unjust excerpt.

"A hundred years after the liberals gained control of Harvard and effectively began the tradition of American liberal theology, it faced an ambiguous future. On the one hand, the pluralization of theology, the beginning of a religion-science dialogue, and the mere beginnings of multiperspectival interreligious thinking made the twenty-first century the most interesting time in history to pursue theology. [RR: since his book ends with the year 2005, I think he actually meant two hundred years after that 1805 event, but maybe he was talking about 1905 and the 20th century, a little confusing. He goes on to summarize his book in a few paragraphs]

"Throughout its history, liberal theology has broken beyond its academic base only when it speaks with spiritual conviction about God's holy and gracious presence, the way of Christ, and the transformative mission of Christianity. That is the language that sustained the liberal movement as a whole. The civil rights movement thrived on its gospel-centered belief in the sacredness of personality and the divine good, and the social-gospel movement would have been nothing without it. Something like it needs to be recovered today if liberal theology is to flourish as a public and spiritual force; something like a gospel-centered theology of personal spirit. Instead of defining the spiritual in terms of the personal and moral, one might define the personal and moral in terms of spiritual aliveness, fashioning a scripturally grounded theology of universal spirit and love. [RR: He goes on to advocate for the "ultimate concept of spirit". I resonate with this and my own constructive paper in seminary was on my understanding of The Holy Spirit and the kingdom of God].

His credo:
"God is creative and personal Spirit, motivated by love. In Jesus the Spirit of God dwelt fully. Love divine is the final meaning of Spirit. Evil is the lack and nihilating negation of the flourishing of life. Eternity is the life of divine love. Theology begins with the experience of the Holy, moves to the critique of idolatry, and presses to the prophetic demand for justice and the good." That, he says, is one way to advance interreligious tought and the critique of oppression from a Christian center. "

I hope you can see why we brought him as one of the keynoters to Revival in NYC. The UU Christian Fellowship is one of the many good progressive Christian homes for such a credo, and for the multiple versions of liberal theology undergoing a renaissance as described in his book. Our Revivals and other major events are part of incarnating these theologies. As is our support of people in their own churches into becoming incarnational homes for the theologies. And I hope our small groups gathered under the umbrella of the UUCF but reaching out beyond UUism are ways to incarnate these as well. What I try to do in my own church-planting and through this blog is part of the same incarnational mission to put finite failing and flawed flesh on such a Spirit of God.

Dorrien, pt. 5: On Forrest Church

See posts below for introductions to these topics.

First, prayers for the Rev. Dr. Forrest Church and his family and the congregation at All Souls Church in New York City as he continues to recover from cancer and surgery. See more at

Dorrien labels the section "Recovering Transcendentalist Universalism: Forrest Church"

D: "Liberal theology as a formal tradition began with Schleiermacher, but as an institutional North American tradition it began with the New England Arminians who, having called themselves liberal Christians, came to accept the name Unitarian. [RR: oh well, in a parallel universe...:)]. In the 1980s Forrest Church emerged as a leading advocate of typical twentieth-century Unitarian rationalism, but later judged that liberalism without God makes a poor religion. [RR: I remember meeting Forrest for the first time in 1981 I think when he was the keynote speaker at the southwest uu summer institute which became his slim book "Born Again Unitarian Universalism" and I don't think I would call him even then typical of the then Unitarian rationalism.]

D. goes into bio and calls Church's early works minimal theology, linking it with Jefferson. He goes into the celebrated public controversies and challenges and changes in Church's career and marriage and alcoholism and "personal demons" [RR: see Peter C. Hodgson for how his alcoholism shaped his own theology too. I can see a new book coming that would be great to read about so many theologians and addictions; post-Tillich they aren't waiting for widows to divulge and process it. If someone is aware of a book like this already, let me know.] Anyway, Dorrien traces Church's evolution from a 'taxidermy" approach to religion to a worshipper approach. He notes how he starts using God more and more in his public works.

D: "He favored 'liberal religion" over "religious liberalism' because the latter reduced religion to a mere adjective, like too much of Unitarian Universalism. A decade later he sought to head off the problem of relativism [RR in the one light through many windows cathedral metaphor Church used] by adding to the fifth point that the various truths deriving from Truth differ in measure "according to the insight, receptivity, and behavior of the beholder." Truth is personalized in ways by which it can be judged; individual and collective acts that harm our collective well-being are sinful; acts that serve our collective well-being are saving.

D: "He loved his adopted UU tradition, but worried that it would shrivel and die if it did not make sometehing like his own spiritual and intellectual course correction." He quotes his 2001 GA address about the need to be more evangelical in both its theology and practice [Amen]...He did not believe UUs had to return to "the old Universalist God," the name "God" or even to Emersonian mysticism, because Church did not believe in single answers. [RR: direct parallel to problems with church planting from above--if you have to start a church, particularly a church-planting church, from the top-down that is "mainstream UU" you are going to run into difficulty of not only not providing a single answer theologically to the community but no answer; but if you set out to grow from a de-centralized movement many church planting churches that reflect many single answers, sharing a free church covenantal basis, then you incarnate the theological approach Church is suggesting. I might still have doubts about its success without at least the name God being in its culture, and see Church's other points for why, but I stand to be corrected.]

D: "Modern theology was a story of doubt and negation, and Unitarianism was an extreme example [RR: I note that Dorrien doesn't seem as conversant with our more Christian Universalist tradition, but that's our/its fault]. Church compared modern theology [RR: by which is meant liberal i think] to peeling the layers of an onion in search of its seed: "Eventually, nothing is left but our tears."

D: "Church did not want his tradition to go all the way back to William Ellery Channing who described himself as a Unitarian Christian, not a Christian Unitarian. Only a small minority of Unitarian Universalists considered "Christian" as an important modifier of their religious identity. Church spoke for that option. He was a Christian universalist, not a universalist Christian. Believing in the Light that shines through all windows, he allowed Christianity to refract and shape its meanings, modifying his universalism. There is such a thing as Buddhist or humanist universalism, he reasoned, but one cannot be a Universalist universalist, for it is impossible to perceive through every window. Universalist Christianity is another impossibility, because in that case the thing that modifies one's faith becomes its nominative: "Primary allegiance is relegated to one part of the whole that encompasses it." [RR: :) see what happens when Universalism is separated from its Christian root heresy of universal salvation?]. Church's ambition for Unitarian Universalism was to recover, with a multiperspectival and out-ward reaching consciousness, the best parts of Emersonian transcendentalism. The best way to do that was to "band together, cultivate interdependence, build strong institutions, support them generously, and become more fully accepting and embracing of one another." [RR: Amen, again what a good lead-in to the necessity of church planting, if we see all of the preceding not as a recipe for trying to become a pure community unto ourselves, but include in the "one another" all those without a church home]. If twenty-first-century Unitarian Universalists could do it, their tradition would finally emerge from Emerson's shadow into his light.

Dorrien, pt. 4: On Thandeka

See posts below for introductions to these posts.

From "Rethinking the Traditions" in Dorrien's book. Thandeka is grouped with the following theologians: Forrest Church, Rufus Burrow Jr., Nancy Frankenberry, Jerome A. Stone, William Dean, Sheila Greeve Davaney, Roger Haight, Ian G. Barbour, Catherine Keller, and Postmodernity.

underlines from the intro to this section:
"Liberal theologians are usually ambivalent about traditions, even their own....But that did not stop them from appropriating aspects of their tradition or seeking new ways to express old truths. A century after the liberal era, progressive theologians demonstrated the surprising vitallity of their tradition by vigorously rethinking various aspects of it. Thandeka returned to the origin of liberal theology in Schleiermacher's theory of religious feeling, Forrest Church sought to renew the transcendentalist stream of the Unitarian Universalist tradition in a postmodern, religously pluralistic context, ....

After bio material on Thandeka, some summary of her work:
"Her signature work, The Embodied Self (1995) argued that Kant's critical idealism failed to show how pure self-consciousness leads to knowledge of an individuated, embodied self and, more generally, the objective world....Thandeka believed that Schleiermacher made a more adequate and defendable move by laying hold of feeling--the subject-less, object-less, nonsensate reality that reason cannot grasp...The gap between the rational mind and the empirical world (which includes the rational mind's body) is the rupture in human consciousness that the self feels (affectively) before it knows (by reason) anything else.....Thandeka noted that Schleiermacher counseled against trying to separate the self's consciousness of God from its conciousness of humanity. Such attempts were pointless and led to "unconscious brooding", for God-consciousness is experienced in one's experience of immediate self-consciousness, which is part of nature....

"Thandeka explained, "There must be in being something (x) that the being of the world presupposes and through which it has emerged." For Schleiermacher God was the idea of the unity of being, to which all concepts ultimately referred, and "the world" was the totality of being, to which all judgments ultimately referred. The idea of God was inherent in that of the world, but the two ideas were not the same. Both were transcendental terms marking the limits of thinking, each was the terminus of the other, and they met at what thandeka called "their common border,' the unity of God and the world in feeling.

"Building on what she called Schleiermacher's "affect theology" Thandeka proposed a new field in theology--"physical theology" or "neurotheology"--that analyzed religious experiences and theological claims from the standpoint of the human body. Her goal was to develop an affect theology that explored the religious implications of neurological studies of emotions. [RR: dorrien picks up on her influence by process thought, but is this also close to the "body theology" folks and also to what E.O. Wilson has been arguing for in his latest books stemming from Consilience?]

"To be an embodied self is to feel the congruence of mind and body with the self's environment, she aregued. Christian theology negotiated the split between mind and embodiment by appealing to the Trinitarian Spirit, but modern and postmodern intellectuals, having jettisoned the Spirit, were left with mere difference. For Thandeka, that explained the troubled state of Christian feminism. Haunted by its discarded Trinitarianism, feminist theology reverberated with the rhetoric of difference, accentuating sexual and cultural differences. She urged feminist theologians to stoop perpetuating an anachronistic Trinitarian agenda.....Thandeka lauded Schleiermacher for replacing human consciousness of the Holy Spirit with mystical, unitive feeling; Barth was right that for Schleiermacher, everything was revelation: wonder. As the unmediated experience of a moment of creation, feeling is infinite. [RR: here is where my marginal comments spin off and take me back to my grad English days and immersion into critic Geoffrey Hartmann of Yale and the problems of searching for something "umediated" and "pure", and where feeling without common rituals and worship degenerate so often into the very opposite of the embodied self; it is a problem with Channing's and so many who followed seeking or thinking they had found "pure Christianity." The "generous orthodoxy" and touchstones of tradition and particular the Holy Spirit help embody community, but then Dorrien's book also explores the work of many liberal/liberation theologians who make this claim, and my favorites as i mention below who have helped me in this regard are Peter C. Hodgson and Kathryn Tanner, Presbyterian and Lutheran. Anyway back to Dorrien on Thandeka]. Euro-American Christian feminists had a pronounced tendency to essentialize their own experience and religion, thereby offending womanists and Jewish feminists, Thandeka observed. The solution was to take seriously the intersubjective reality of the embodied self, which is not a thing, but rather the experience of "cooperative, mutually enhancing encounters with others as the core of self-cohesion, congruence, and coherence." [RR: another great theological line for the impetus of church planting churches; of course you can get the same thing from Jesus' story.]

Dorrien then moves Thandeka from the Embodied Self book to the Learning to be White book, through her exampler of Martin Luther King, Jr. as one who lived the "intersubjective ideal." But King didn't, according to Thandeka according to Dorrien, understand the "deep structural damage' to Euro-American selves in the process of being racialized. [RR: Here in the later book we see examples of what she is referring to in the emphasis on feeling in her update of Schleiermacher]....D: Thandeka urged that one of the most neglected and overdue aspects of racial healing in America was for Euro-Americans to interrogate the content of their racial identity in order to find its affective ground. When this ground is discovered, an experiential ground of human transformation and healing is revealed: compassion."

I'd love to see a biblical narrative woven into and throughout Thandeka's work; I guess that would be somewhat counter-intentional, but I think it would drive it home for many. Course that's my bias.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Dorrien pt. 3: JLA and Unitarian Christianity

Please see previous posts for introductions to this topic.

It was just wonderful to read of James Luther Adams and Unitarian Christianity and his vision of liberation in Gary Dorrien's latest book. It goes straight in this chapter on liberation from JLA to MLK Jr. The connection was prophetic liberalism. He puts social gospeler Walter Rauschenbush before JLA and MLK Jr. after him in the same sentence. He doesn't say so, but there is the implicit meaning that each advances and uses and transforms the one preceding. For those who haven't read JLA this is a good brief summary of his life and major contributions and thought; if you want to go further contact me by email and I will send you for only $5 a copy of the books of JLA's writings published by the Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship, of which JLA was a long time Board member. Or get Kim Beach's new book Transforming Liberalism, or the other collections of JLA essays still available.

For those who have read JLA already, nothing new here. It is just good to see him placed in broader context than we seem to do when looking simply at our own tradition's history. Except for me reading of him here brought up some grief of who our movement had lost. For example, Dorrien writes: "He (JLA) tended to speak his most direct words to Unitarian Universalist audiences. Adams could be painfully direct on the topic of liberal failure. He never forgot that German liberalism rolled over for the Nazis; thus, when recounting the down side of humanistic liberalism, he dropped the zig and zag. Often he lamented that his tradition showed a pronounced tendency to shrink down to humanistic moralism, took little interest in theology, took a very dim view of Christology, and was often religiously shallow. Adams cringed at friends who assured him that only weak-minded comformists still bothered with theology: 'This kind of 'religion' is neither liberal nor Christian. It is a superficial provincial backwash of 'progress,' impotent to deal intellectually and responsibly with the deeper, ultimate issues of life.' But that was never his last word: "Happily, there are countervailing tendencies among liberal Christians."

I guess some of my grief came up right away from a "wonderful" opening sentence written by Dorrien about JLA and us: "James Luther Adams was a twentieth-century champion of a liberal tradition that the twentieth-century nearly left behind, Unitarian Christianity. Though rather isolated as a Christian theist in the Unitarian (later Unitarian Universalist) denomination, he was the most connected, ecumenical, activist-oriented, and least lonely of its theologians." I sometimes wonder what he would think of the rejuvenated and more expansive UUCF and our movement today. I think I know and have heard others speak of this interesting phenomenon or paradox too--feeling somewhat isolated within our own UU circles but feeling this deep connection that can't be taken away, though others always try, with other Christians. We have a wider home, though stuffed in the closet at times of our own room within it.

But then there was the hope and promise and committment that JLA had that Dorrien captures well. I know how much my own debt to JLA's thought has motivated me in my own church-planting and growth work over the years here in my area. Reading him in context and in summary that comes through again. Part of it might be because JLA's autobiography or arc is similar to mine and many among us--raised in more conservative religious church, flip over to humannistic agnostic atheist literary political substitutions for God and then conversion to a deeper religious faith and newer connection to God, Christ, Spirit in the liberal spirit. Our lives and journey themselves mirror what Dorrien describes as liberal religion's defining "third way" characteristic. I know this is changing with the generational change, but for many of us it describes why we are where we are. But the other factor is that JLA's thought is so focused on the things that matter for where we need to go in planting new progressive churches. For example, JLA's emphasis on the Spirit, which allows us to not let our churches become idols, let alone our governments, along with his emphasis on understanding the free faith as one that stresses community, and his wonderful line that "the power of an organization is in the organization of power" to which I always add what I think he would have agreed with "for the powerless."

JLA and his emphasis on voluntary associations, as the church, within the church and in society at large, are great ideas that I wish more people not only in UU circles would read but also would be beneficial to all those involved in the emergent organic movement.

A few other great excerpts from Dorrien on and from JLA:

D: (Adams felt) the next liberalism had to emphasize the necessity of a converted will and the fact that no amount of goodwill alone can solve the problems of statecraft and social justice. Liberal theology needed to shift from a rationalist orientation lacking a tragic dimension to a voluntarist orientation emphasizing the fate and primacy of will. Modern liberalism neglected the gospel emphasis on conversion, he protested, "and that is the prime source of its enfeeblement." Modern liberals had to relinquish their respectable lukewarmness and be converted by a convicting love that made spiritual and ethical demands. "And when that has taken place, we shall know that it is not our wills alone that have acted; we shall kknow that the ever-living Creator and re-creator has again been brooding over the face of the deep and out of the depths bringing forth new life."

D, summarizing three tenets of Adams' main thought: 1. Human beings depend for their being and freedom upon a creative power and processes not of their own making...God is the "commanding reality" that sustains and transforms all life....2. divine reality finds its "richest focus" when human beings cooperate for the common good. Freedom rightly used seeks freedom and social justice for others...Adams described the commanding and transforming reign of God as the reign of love, "a love that 'cares' for the fullest personal good of all. The divine love is healing and forgiving, but not removed from suffering. "It drew Jesus up Golgotha to a cross. Thus Jesus was not only a martyr dying for his convictions, but also the incarnation of the affirmative power of love transforming life, even in death, and creating a transforming community." [RR: what a lesson and mission statement for church planters !!]....3. freedom in community cannot be achieved without "the power of organization and the organization of power."

Creating new organizations, or organisms, or viral infections of love and justice we might say using today's organic church metaphors.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Liberal Theology part 2 Dorrien excerpt

Please see the previous blog for introduction to this excerpt.

What I have underlined so far in the theologians I have focused on in the book, The Making of American Liberal Theology, vol. 3: Crisis, Irony, and Postmodernity, 1950-2005:

D: The opening: "The idea of a liberal approach to Christianity--that theology should be based on reason and critically interpreted religious experience, not external authority--has an ironic history in the United States....The idea of a liberal Christain third way between conservative orthodoxy and secular disbelief retained its original relevance. And in the late twentieth century liberal theology experienced an unnoticed renaissance in the decades following its supposed demise."

[As I may have blogged before, Dorrien is helpful with his definition; this is what i mean by our strength begetting our institutional weakness. we have a tendency, as mediators of a message, to spend so much time wondering how we differ from orthodox and secular disbelievers, or don't or shouldnt' differ, that we stay stuck in the middle unable to reproduce and multiply. That and a hidden longing to be back in the cultural center of things, so that we try to replicate the churched culture way of being and doing things as our default mode from a time when church and culture were more intertwined. A way out is to tap into various streams of the renaissance of progressivism that he chronicles and don't worry about which is our center.]

D: Despite not belonging to a vital movement, liberal religous thinkers kept alive the idea of a progressive Christian alternative to authority-based orthodoxies and atheistic secularisms, fashioning some of its most creative and sophisticated variations...Liberal theology reconceptualizes the meaning of Christianity in the light of modern knowledge and ethical values. It is reformist in spirit and substance, not revolutionary. [again, that is part of the problem for the movement as a movement of people and not just ideas, not only is it stuck in modernity and answering Enlightenment questions but in a revolutionary time it is evolutionary in nature]

D: My attempt to carry this definition into recent theology is complicated by the rise of liberation theologies, including feminist liberationism, and the pluralization of theology and religous studies, to which liberationism contributed significantly. It is further complicated by poststructuralist critiques of modern rationality and post-Christian developments in Unitarian Universalism and Chicago-school naturalism. [I am beginning to see the more I read in Dorrien how Chicago school naturalism affected the so-called evolution of UUism beyond anything considered even liberally as Christianity.]

D: quoting liberationist Gustavo Gutierrez, "The question is not how we are to talk about God in a world come of age, but how we are to tell people who are scarcely human that God is love and that God's love makes us one family. The interlocuters of liberation theology are the nonpersons, the poor, the exploited classes, the marginalized races, all the despised cultures. Liberation theology categorizers people not as believers or unbelievers, but as oppressors or oppressed." [I just love this quote which is why I added it. The critique of liberationist theology, which I resonate with, lies in its own critique of modern liberalism, but it is a good place to start.]

D: Thandeka also identifies with liberal theology, in her case as a Unitarian Universalist, a theologian trained in process thought, an activist for racial justice who prizes the integrationist spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr. and an advocate of Fredrich Schleirmacher's theory of religious feeling and approach to theology...A great deal of process theology is based on the philosophy of Charles Hartshorne, so he is an obvious exception [to not including philosophers]. Social ethicist James Luther Adams is too large a figure in American liberal theology not to include, and from the standpoint of his Unitarian Universalist tradition, he was a theologian...The chapter on 'rethinking the traditions' also discusses a few thinkers who are not systematic or constructive theologians. Forrest Church, a minister, represents the transcendentalist stream of Unitarian Universalism...Throughout the twentieth century, the post-Christian trajectory of the Unitarian/Unitarian Universalist tradition threw into question the "Christian" part of liberal theology. Did one have to be a Christian or believe in God to be part of the liberal theology movement, especially if one otherwise identified with it? Most religious humanists and Unitarians of the 1930s viewed themselves as having moved beyond theology [hmmm. not sure of this], including even its naturalistic versions at the University of Chicago. However, some post-Christian naturalists in the orbit of the Chicago school regarded themselves as participants int he liberal theology tradition, and in his later career the leading Chicago-school theologian, Henry Nelson Weiman, moved very close to a posttheistic position.

Here are some of the contributors to liberal theology that Dorrien chronicles. While in future posts I may focus now on the Unitarian Universalists, those of us who see ourselves in or nourished by liberal Christianity and its liberationists followers have been blessed by so many of these writers. For me, a few of them have been as equal to or more significant than contemporary UU theologians. One of the best things this book of Dorrien's can do is to introduce UUs to these other theologians of the liberal spirit.

Major theologians mentioned: Walter G. Muelder, L. Harold DeWolf, S. Paul Schilling, Nels F.S. Ferre, Charles Hartshorne, Bernard M Loomer, Daniel Day Williams, Bernard E. Meland, Alfred North Whitehead, Henry Nelson Weiman, James Luther Adams, Martin Luther King, Jr., J. Deotis Roberts, Valerie Saiving, Rosemary Radford Ruether, W. Norman Pittenger, John B. Cobb Jr., David Ray Griffin, Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki, Langdon Gilkey, Schubert M. Ogden, James M. Gustafson, Gordon D. Kaufman, Peter C. Hodgson, Edward Farley, Sallie McFAgue, Robert Cummings Neville, Gregory Baum, Richard P. McBrien, David Tracy, Anne E. Carr, Elizabeth A. Johnson, Thandeka, Forrest Church, Rufus Burrow, Jr., Nancy Frankenberry, Jerome A. Stone, William Dean, Sheila Greeve Davaney, Roger Haight, Ian G. Barbour, Catherine Keller, Kathryn Tanner, Delwin Brown, Peter Gomes, John Shelby Spong, Marcus Borg, and Philip Clayton. And there are a host of others mentioned in the book but not highlighted, including some interactions with the more conservative and postliberal and evangelical theologians like Hauerwas and Lindbeck and Grenz. I'd love to have had more of them but you can go to some other of Dorrien's works for that or to their own writings.

You can imagine maybe that Dorrien's lecture to us during the UUCF Revival struck a lot of folks as pretty heavy and heady and historic stuff. His q & a, and his talkback workshop, I hear, were very lively and engaging and illuminating. He did a good job of catching himself every so often and in a self-deprecating way making allowances for the 200 years of theology in forty-five minutes impossible task. Look forward to the comments of others who were there particularly or may have heard a variation of this talk in other places as he has been active travelling lately.

I consider myself fortunate to have been exposed to many of these theologians during my seminary years (i have other drawbacks needless to say); for me particularly it was Hartshorne, Loomer, Whitehead, Weiman, JLA, Ruether, Cobb, Griffin, Suchocki, Gilkey, Ogden, some Gustafson, Kaufman, in depth with Hodgson's work, McFague, Tracy, Elizabeth Johnson, Forrest Church, post-seminary to Thandeka, Keller, all of Tanner, some Brown, Gomes, Spong, Borg. It was great to lay these on top of Channing, Ware, Emerson, Norton, Parker, Hedge, WG Eliot, Jenkin Lloyd Jones. From what I sometimes hear, and I hope it is wrong and mistaken, many a UU seminarian and other liberal but non-UU seminarian hasn't had the same opportunity or calling. There is always the perennial concern or calling to cut back on theological and historical requirements along with biblical studies. I hope Dorrien's work is a doorway for some to an important world with day to day practical issues for church and community ministries.

More blogging to come about Dorrien's' views of JLA and Church and Thandeka and others and the way ahead for liberal/progressive theology.

Unitarian Universalist Theologians in Gary Dorrien's latest book on liberal theology 1950-2005, pt. 1

At the Revival of the UU Christian Fellowship in New York City last week, Dr. Gary Dorrien of Union Theological Seminary presented a lecture which previewed what we would find in his just now published book about liberal/progressive theology of the past 50 years, with an emphasis on how Unitarian Universalists figured into it all. I got my copy of the third volume of the "Making of American Liberal Theology" in the mail yesterday and tore into it. It's almost 700 pages so I will be blogging my way through it.

I will begin with mentions of UU theologians, but then later flesh it out with some others mentioned (of particular interest to me is the section on Peter C. Hodgson, recently retired from Vanderbilt Divinity School, whose works I used as the sounding-board for my own constructive theological work in seminary, as well as the concluding remarks that bring in the work of Kathryn Tanner of Univ. of Chicago, whose works I used as the sounding-board for my own M.Div thesis on ecclesiology in UU Christianity since 1945.)

The overall thesis and presentation of his lecture with the UUCF in NYC was that liberal theology, as a component of a broader progressive theology, has had a renaissance in the past thirty years or so, at precisely the same time that it was being heralded as dead, in part because the denominations in which it was fed have declined or certainly not grown compared to the growth of churches connected with more orthodox conservative theology and compared with the growth of American population.

UU theologians have played a part in that renaissance of theology--and he includes in his latest book good discussions of the following: Henry Nelson Weiman and Charles Hartshorne (in section on The New Metaphysics and the Divine Relativity, about how process theology basically saved the day for liberal theology in the middle part of the 20th century, laying the groundwork for what took place in the last half), James Luther Adams (with a section called JLA and Unitarian Christianity, linking JLA with others who have a vision of liberation including Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosemary Radford Ruether, for example), and then most contemporary of all in a section appropriately titled "Rethinking the Traditions" he discusses among others the contributions of Thandeka (Meadville/Lombard theologian), particularly her work on Schleirmacher's focus on feeling and how that is grounded in "the embodied self" and the exploration of it in terms of race and class and shame as seen in her work "learning to be white," and of Forrest Church (minister NYC All Souls, and author) in a section Dorrien calls "Recovering Transcendent Universalism."

First it is great to see UUs mentioned in this work. In the arc of his trilogy, we saw the arc of our movement as part of the wider religious landscape of America. Prominent in volume one and much less so in volume two. I feared we might disappear completely in the latest volume. On the other hand, for me, it was a little painful, but accurate, to see how UU theologians figure into the mix as part of the overall question of how Christianity and liberal theology itself are not necessarily one and the same. Dorrien raises that question well, just as he does in casting liberalism as just one, though the originator, of the now many streams of a wider progressive theological river. UUism's move toward "post-Christianity" and how that opens up a new theological stream is seen in the work. I comfort myself with the knowledge that in many ways being "post-Christian" is a label I myself can wear, though I wear it in connection with a Christianity that is tied to Churchdom and not so much to a theological moving on beyond the Christian narrative, or maybe it refers to Christianity as more narrative and not a set of agreed upon axioms or principles or mental affirmations. Anyway, I digress.

I found the lecture and the book as I am reading it fascinating and on-target as I did the earlier two. I will get into more detail as I excerpt parts of it.

It affirms my understanding that it is our very strength that holds us back institutionally as being able to grow in this emerging culture of North America. Dorrien's works reflecting liberal theology in the 20th century, now in both volumes, focus on how the seminaries have been the places where this theology finds its real home and livelihood. This at the same time that liberal religious churches have declined and been thrown into crises of a different sort than the overt theological one that Dorrien traces. But before we can be hard on him for what he doesn't include (for example, why have liberal seminaries not engaged in the ecclesiology of church planting in the same way other seminaries have?, and how does all of his premise fit into the general movement of the culture from Christian churched to de-churched and unchurched, and how postmodernism has more theological meanings than its philosophical ones) he reminds us up front that his work is focused and so many are left out, as well as it being a work of history on American liberal theology and not a history of American religious liberalism.

With that said, I come away strangely hopeful and from the arena of UU theologians. For example, though there isn't much made of it explicity in the book, it is important that Forrest Church's work is included since he is a strong institutionalist and evangelist in the liberal way, and that Thandeka's work leads inexorably to the engagement with the body of others, with the earth, in a very incarnational spirit, and has led to a theological renaissance of small group and community groups work, and that James Luther Adams' social ethical strand of theology (I think there is more of a center to his theology than others argue for, despite his not publishing a single opus work of his credo) led him to the creation of so much "kingdom" groups and organizations and association. Incarnation is alive and well in UU theological traditions, and that is what is needed now to lead us into creating new communities for the flourishing and continuing transformation of all these progressive theologies Dorrien documents so well.

But on to the excerpting and commenting on these aspects of Dorrien's work. For my non-UU readers and lurkers, don't just bear with me but see how this might help you plant God communities in the new pluralistic culture, as so many of my UU readers have had to do with my normally heavy dose of non-UU and non-liberal commentaries and reviews.

Retreat. Revival. Return. An ancient-future way of being "church"

In recent weeks I have had the privilege to be in weekend retreat focusing on the parables of Jesus, and applying them to my life and our world, and also just returned from Revival in New York City. I am still processing understandings and experiences from both that will shape my own re-orientation of spiritual life and leadership of church planting, or "kingdom of God" relationship sowing, however you want to access the metaphor. I will be returning to these more and more here.

Retreat is the breathing in, Revival is the breathing out, the life of the soul, and the Return is where we put Retreat and Revival into our lives and the lives of those closest to us, and the strangers we meet. Retreat--Revival--Return. I can envision church based on this trinity; a new lectionary based on this movement; a new church year structured on it. Creating spaces for retreat in people's lives, then coming together in revival times, then sending them out in teams returning to the world. Or weaving them together seasonal. Winter. Spring. Summer. Fall weekend retreats. followed a week or two later by Winter. Spring. Summer. Fall weekend Revivals. Followed a week or two later by Winter. Spring. Summer. Fall weekend Returns, where people go out into the world and/or structure intentional family projects to serve others through projects of random acts of kindness or intentional justice work close to home or on a trip elsewhere.

This would break the default mode or addiction of activity and superficialty of weekly quick one hour study or worship. It might actually result in even more time spent together besides more depth. It might smack of programming, but I think it would begin to break the idea of program church. Is it any wonder that what we call "program churches" are those having the most struggle?

Four weekends (Fri. evening or Saturday morning through Sun. noon) of different kinds of retreat. Four more, same time frame, for Revivals where various and deeper experiences of worship can be created and explored. Four more, same time frame, for Returns, hands-on praxis times. That's 12 weekends a year. Add in some special smaller but significant holiday and holy day events and make sure you build in social time into all the weekends.

In my own experiences and reflection of church going and retreat and revival going and workshop going for these past decades of adult life and I think there would be more spirit let loose in lives and the world than in the trap of weekly activity of church life. Here is why church plants are so important. We have to be able to try these experiments and it is so hard to get existing established churches to do them--not impossible, though; as I have said before, any church can do this by forming "guerilla or revolutionary" groups within the church and turning them loose to be the experimenters and try something like this under the umbrella of the already existing church.

Problems? Obstacles? It might actually involve less "church" time overall, but it would mean people setting aside more sabbath time blocks for these gatherings that would happen less frequently than the weekly Sunday morning set-aside. It would be harder to "squeeze in" church to already busy schedules. I think that is a plus. But it requires a lot of risk and preparation. Even if the various Retreat, Revival, Returns are focused on one day, say Saturday or Sunday, that means people restructuring their times. It would be instituting a deeper time-management focus for everyone. Also, Children? Some of it would need to be intergenerational and some would need to provide youth and adult only gatherings and children-only gatherings. You wouldn't have to do it the same way for all gatherings. I believe the benefits of the restructing would build better families because building better spiritual lives of parents will have the biggest effect. Visitors? See my heresy post below, but actually i believe it would increase the opportunities and the space for inviting visitors and for newcomers, just as people find it easier and safer to sign up for workshops or conferences where they don't know people; the increased experience of depth offered would be a draw. Building space? I would love it if these varied in location and weren't all in a "church" building, but having them initially in familiar meetingspace would be easy way to transition. But eventually they could be held in a variety of places, and the day-to-day waste of big empty unused church space could be reduced to people working out of smaller office only places for planning purposes. This is often how current retreats and Revivals are done. The church building spaces could then be turned into community centers.

Special note to readers from the Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship---think of this as a model for small groups in your area, and why it is important to be able to include people from other churches, or seekers from no church.