For most of April I was quite immersed in preparation for our Synod Assembly -- producing videos, making tech arrangements, helping to plan worship, arranging musicians, organizing PowerPoint(R)'s, etc. The Assembly itself was an amazing time; the election of a new bishop was a process much more holy and spiritual than political, which is not how I had experienced other elections.
As soon as it was over I jumped into working to connect the media with our bishop-elect, and I started with my first online course. It's with Nate Frambach at Wartburg Seminary, on youth and family ministry in postmodern culture. So I'm still too busy to blog much, but the experience of using "moodle," the collaborative course software they use, and all the ideas springing out of my head from my reading have made it inevitable that I'll be thinking out loud here from time to time.
For this course I'm at present working through two books: "Practicing Passion" by Kenda Creasy Dean and "Liquid Church" by Pete Ward. I'm still too much in the middle of them to offer much cogent reflection, but I will share a couple of interesting ideas I've gotten from each so far:
Dean argues that the adolescent years are focused on passion -- the quest to love and be loved, and to find loves worth giving one's all for. She says there's a huge parallel between that life stage and the Passion of Jesus Christ, broadly considered (the entire incarnation event, not just the events of Holy Week). But the church has tamed that story and drained it of most of its pathos, leaving youth wondering why they would commit to the church. She spends some energy arguing that the problems of youth ministry are the problems at the church, and that while adolescents experience this to the extreme the lack of a passionate church -- both one with energy and one with something to live, and die, for -- affects many adults as well. I agree. While many view whatever is emerging as a generational thing, I have seen many in my generation who would offer some of the same critiques of the church that adolescents and young adults do -- too much going through the motions, too little passion and life change. In short, I think that's good news, because it means that the answers aren't about style and music and attitude but about getting back to the same reality, the Passion of Jesus, that drove the early church to explode.
Ward's book is really interesting to me. He avoids the pitfalls of talking about postmodernism by contrasting the "solid modernity" of the last several hundred years with our current "liquid modernity." It's a great way to describe how fluid attitudes and institutions and certainties have become in my lifetime. He also argues that this fluidity has impacted the church, even where it says it has not. The modern church has mutated, in his term, and takes a stance regarding the fluid culture. The church becomes a heritage site, preserving for future generations what it has been entrusted with. This is not bad, unless it makes inaccessible the very treasures it is trying to keep accessible. Or the church become a refuge from the fluid culture, creating a Christian bubble world (and sometimes megachurches that are like resorts), he says. Or the church becomes a nostalgic community, hoping 1957 will come again someday, and telling itself stories to pass the time. An excerpt:
The nostalgic community sells itself as the one place where communal meetings remain possible in society. We tell ourselves that in church young and old gather together in ways they never do outside of church. This kind of myth makes us feel good about our congregation... The nostalgic community is more wish fulfillment than reality. Congregations are generally monocultures reflecting the tastes of one or perhaps two different types of people. Black and white most often worship separately, as do the working class and the middle class... (28 ff)It looks like "Liquid Church" is not a rant against the system but a realistic look at how church and culture are colliding. I like his idea of liquid church, spelled out in the introduction:
I suggest that we need to shift from seeing church as a gathering of people meeting in one place at one time -- that is, a congregation -- to a notion of church as a series of relationships and communications. (2)This sounds like the early church, meeting together, breaking bread, teaching, and also caring for widows and orphans -- relationships and communications. More later...