TweetChat, coming soon!

tweetchatGood news, everyone!

Didn’t get to participate in the BLOGFORCE question? Have thoughts, but no BLOG? Or even ‘blog’? Want to discuss these thoughts with people via your computer?

Never fear! The Acts 8 Moment is branching out into the wide world of tweet chats!

This Monday (June 16th) will be our first one. Gather around your computer at 9pm Eastern/8pm Central for a facilitated . The hashtag to follow along is #acts8tc

The conversation will last about an hour, and it’ll be a great chance to meet other folks, and talk about this conversation.

Can’t wait to see you there!

To decline, or not to decline?…by Megan Castellan

While we are getting ready (and excited!) for our gathering in Scottsdale, I came across this video of Dean Ian Markham speaking to Delaware’s convention. He has some serious concerns about the narrative of Episcopal decline, (and gives some quality tips on vocabulary retention as well.)

Part 1:

Myth of the Decline of the Episcopal Church, Part One

Part 2:

Myth of the Decline of the Episcopal Church, Part Two

What say you all?

Why you can’t go home again, by Megan Castellan

Bp. Dan Edwards wrote a blog post back in December that’s been getting wide circulation recently.  It deals with the experience of folks who have stopped going to church (for whatever reason), then show up again, with less than hospitable results.  He gives several examples of church returnees who are passive-aggressively chastised or hazed as they re-enter the fold…only to decide never to enter that particular lion’s den again.

His hypothesis for why this happens:

Our gatekeepers know the people who used to worship with us, so they are better prepared with solid techniques to drive them away. A new person comes in the door. We don’t know him. It may take us awhile to find his vulnerabilities and drive him out. But the folks we know, we can kick out the door in a New York minute. Something else may be going on consciously. Maybe the church folks just don’t know good manners. Maybe there is some personal pathology at work – but it looks to me as if the church system that tries to keep everything the way it is, knows that to keep things stable you have to keep the outsiders outside – even the ones who used to be inside – maybe especially the ones who used to be inside.

 

That systemic pathology can always be trumped by Grace and Gospel.  That’s the good news. So maybe some of us want to live the Gospel graciously. If we truly want to offer spiritual support and nurture to the people who used to worship with us, and if we want to receive the spiritual support and nurture they may be bringing for us, here are a few simple suggestions:

 

First basic suggestion:

 

Instead of going out and trying to persuade all our ex-members to come back, we could just stop being jerks to the ones who come on their own. 

The entire post is excellent, and is here for further perusal.

Is this a phenomenon you’ve experienced in the church or seen occur?

As we seek to become a more Spirit-led, open and welcoming Body of Christ, what is the role of those who have lapsed (and how can we avoid jerk-like behavior towards them?)

 

 

Making it work, GOE style, by Megan Castellan

The GOEs happened last week. As per usual, all seminarians seeking ordination in the Episcopal tradition had to take (and pass, in some form or another) these seven canonical areas of study: Liturgy and Music, Christian Theology, Contemporary Society, Theory and Practice of Ministry, Holy Scriptures, Church History, and Ethics Moral theology. It is, essentially, an ecclesiastical equivalent of “Project Runway”, where rather than merely sew a serviceable dress, one must manufacture an understandable doctrine of evil in 3 hours. (For an excellent run down of this year’s questions, see the Crusty Old Dean.

It struck me, however, that while the GOE model can be debated til the cows return, what about the questions?

What questions should be asked of people seeking leadership in the post-Christendom church, that heads out into an Acts-shaped world? What competencies should they have, what areas of expertise?

My immediate thought is that they should have some skill in relating the theology they believe in everyday life–to make the heady stuff real, tangible and heartfelt.

What GOE questions would you ask?

Preemptive poetry…by Megan Castellan

It’s a bit early for this, but it is nearly Epiphany, and I thought this very appropriate for our Acts 8 journeying.
Enjoy, and have a blessed and peaceful Epiphany season.

The Journey of the Magi, by TS Eliot
‘A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.’
And the camels galled, sorefooted, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
and running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kiking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arriving at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you might say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

By the waters of?….by Megan Castellan

This week on my blog, I wrote about listening to David Kinnamon speak on the Barna Group’s survey of young adults and their attitudes towards Christianity and the church.  The survey results are one thing, much of them found here and elsewhere on the Barna site. The analysis of the results is another thing.

When Kinnamon was talking about where the church found itself, he paralleled the Church’s current situation to that of the Jewish exiles in Babylon: a group of the faithful, devoted to God, but surrounded by a hostile, alien culture.  The exiles had been sent to Babylon to be purified by God, and now their job was to remain faithful, and to avoid giving in to the world around it.  They were to plant gardens, and work for the good of the Babylonian cities, but mainly, their job was to survive unscathed until God sent them home to Israel.
 I tweeted at the time (a tweet that I think the speaker saw, actually.  High-five,  Twitter auto-locate function!) that something was bothering me about the Babylon analogy.  I continued to ponder it, and I finally figured out what it was.
Aside from my innately Anglican dislike of the absolute culture vs Christianity dichotomy, I think there’s a real misread here of what the Babylonian Exile was, and where we are positioned as 21st Century Christians.
The Jews in 586 BCE were violently conquered and dragged from their homes on the threat of death by Babylon.  The temple in Jerusalem was ransacked and burned.  This all caused a religious crisis so deep that most of the prophetic literature in the Hebrew canon revolves around it, if not most of the Hebrew canon itself.  Next to the Exodus from Egypt, it was the single defining event of Jewish history.  (And you could possibly argue that the Exodus, to large extent, gets read in light of the Exile.)
When the Jews ended up in Babylon, and in the diaspora, it was basically that, or die.  Jeremiah doesn’t recommend planting gardens, building houses, and working for cities’ prospering because gardening is fun; he recommends it so that the exiles don’t die.  This is a life and death situation, quite literally. Esther saves her people from a genocide.  Shadrach, Meshach, and Abendego are thrown into the fire so that they will die, as consequence of being on the wrong side of Babylon.
Contrast this to the situation of Christians in 21st century America.  While I recognize that this is meant to be an extended metaphor, I’d like to point out that we aren’t being killed, neither are we being forcibly prevented from worshipping as we choose.  A majority of Americans self-identify as Christian; this number includes the President, all but three of the nine Supreme Court justices, and a full 86% of the US Congress.  People who identify as Christian do not lack access to the levers of power in this country.  The disappearance of Christendom doesn’t come from a lack of power; it stems from a lack of authority.  And authority in the 21st century derives from authenticity: to what degree we live up to what we preach and teach–a very, very different thing from raw power.
What we’re experiencing now is pluralism–one claim among many–not the experience of an oppressed minority.
And so I’m left wondering: what Biblical metaphor is better than Babylon?  We talk about the Acts community a lot around here (for obvious reasons) but are there others?  Paul’s community at Corinth?  Abraham in Genesis?
What metaphor speaks to you about living in pluralism?

Knit Theology

This has been making the rounds a bit, but I figured I would post it here too, in the hopes that it would spark a discussion.

Because my current ministry lacks a building, the local Episcopal church has generously allowed me to use a desk in a corner of their office bullpen. I keep their deacon/office administrator company while I tend to my various college-ministry-office tasks, and she holds down the fort. It’s a good arrangement.

Last week, a young boy, “Zach”,* stopped by on his weekly rounds to pick up our recycling. He is around 10 years old, and comes by every week to pick up our glass for us, for pocket money. He doesn’t go to church, but our deacon has been working on him long and hard about this matter for over a year now.

This week, he stopped in the office with his mom, because he came to the conclusion that his father would greatly appreciate a hand-knitted washcloth for Christmas, and he was just the person to provide him with one. Accordingly, he stopped in to procure knitting instructions from our deacon, “Beth”.

Beth whipped out the needles and yarn, and got right to it. I scooted over on my chair to observe, since I am great at knitting, but bad at teaching it. Within 15 minutes, Zach had a serviceable beginning to a washcloth, and was fixated on the second row, like it held the secret to Mideast peace. “Now, Zach,” said Beth, “you really should come to our youth group here next week. I think you’d like it.”
Zach was undissuaded from the knitting. “Why would I want to do that?” he replied calmly. “I’m not a Christian” He announced this in a matter-of-fact, descriptive tone, like he had told us that he did not care for broccoli, or that magenta clashed with orange. Facts were facts, ma’am. Neither good, nor bad.
I found this fascinating. “Huh. So, what do you think makes a person a Christian, Zach?”
With this, he dropped the knitting, swiveled in his chair, and stared at me, jaw dropped. “Well, I don’t know. Lots of things! But I’m not one.”
After some more gentle pressing, he started to list things he did not believe in: God was not stuck in the sky on a throne. God was not an old white man with a beard. God did not control us all like puppets.
He was surprised when Beth and I agreed with him on these points, but not slowed down. Once he got going, he was on a roll–a 30 minute roll. Why, if Jesus died on a cross, did we now all wear crosses around our necks as the sign of Jesus? Why, if God gave us free will, did God insist that we worship him, and “not just let us sit on a beach in Miami all the time?” (That made me laugh out loud.)
To the last, I admitted that it remained a deep mystery, but for me, personally, I worshipped God because I actually like God. Chances are, if I didn’t love God so much, I would ignore God a lot more. But, moreover, I show God my affection by trying to live the way Jesus lived, and by trying to love the people around me as much as God did. Zach pondered this concept for a while, knitting industriously.
“Well,” he finally said, “I’ll probably come to the youth group thing. So long as I can ask more questions.”
We assured him that would be fine. In fact, I told him that would be awesome, since his questions were among the best I had heard. I meant it.
I don’t know what would happen, if we all took to the streets, sat on corners, and offered to teach whatever it was that we knew best to passers-by: be it knitting, cooking, basketball, singing, or hopscotch. I don’t know what would happened if we went, offered what we had, and then listened to what people had to say about God.
But I have a feeling it would be amazing.
*I’ve changed the names, just on the off chance that other people don’t enjoy being featured on the internet as much as I do.
Originally posted at “Red Shoes, Funny Shirt”

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Jesus would have used a Mac….by Megan Castellan

(Cross-posted from Red Shoes, Funny Shirt, with permission.)

Here is a thing I have noticed:

When I run into a problem with my computer, (download a file that won’t open, an application stops working, etc) I do the following: Google the problem, see if someone else has a similar problem, see if there’s a easy/free fix, and try things until something works. Sometimes this leads to me taking apart the DVD player to follow a YouTube instructional video on fixing the thing, but most of the time, it leads to me feeling all manner of triumphant over a box of circuits and wires. ”You shall not master me, technology!” I shout inwardly. (Occasionally outwardly. I take great pride in my victories.)
Here is what my parents do when they notice a problem:
They call me. (They also read this blog. Hi Mom, Dad! Love ya’ll!)
They call me, concerned that the beeping, or the flashing, or the current unable-to-open file situation they are encountering will DESTROY EVERYTHING THEY HOLD DEAR. Every new message from the computer system signals an emergency, or approaching apocalypse. Technology cannot be trusted. When I went home for Christmas last year, I discovered that my parents hadn’t run a Windows system update or a antivirus update on their computer in over 5 years. ”I don’t trust those pop-up messages,” said my mother. ”They worry me and I don’t know what they mean, so I just ignore them so nothing goes wrong.” As a result, of course, their computer was now barely functioning. (I point out here that around the holidays, sites like Gawker and The Awl run articles about how to surreptitiously update your parents’ browser, etc, without throwing them into a panic, or overloading them with information. This is not a situation unique to my house.)
I raise this issue, not because one reaction is better than another, but because it points towards something else I’ve noticed–as used as we’ve gotten to calling the advances in technology “tools”, that we can put down and pick up, they are, just as much, an entire culture. And as a culture, this new world of technology has affected everything: our expectations, our world views, how we interact with each other, and each part, really, of how we live. I hasten to add that this has happened before–Walter Ong wrote a fabulous (and short!) book called Orality and Literacy examining how the advent of written language profoundly changed the way humans think and process the world around us. As people had access to more and more information, and as the access to that information became more permanent than someone’s memory, the way they thought, and the way they saw the world, changed.
Again, the changes, as Ong points out, were neither all good nor bad. They just were. As more information became accessible, thought patterns shifted from the concrete to the abstract. The repetition that was necessary to aid in memory gave way to complex language construction. It’s the difference between the Gospel of Mark’s limited vocabulary and the sweeping of the Gospel of John. One’s oral, one’s not. Both are beautiful and profound, but they were written for different audiences to do different things.
I have witnessed a lot of fear recently about the rise of technology, and the effect it is having on our Church. On the one hand, I’ve observed anxiety about whether emerging technologies will be ‘good for us or bad for us’. On the other hand, I’ve heard the concern that as the upcoming generations bring new technologies into the church, people will be excluded, and the Church will become a more exclusive place.
Look, the ship has sailed, mes amis. Emerging technology is already here. And this culture, like every culture before it, is both good and bad. American culture has always been both good and bad. First century Palestinian culture was both good and bad. It is our job as faithful, committed Jesus-following people to sort out the good from the bad. What parts of this culture serve God’s purposes? What parts of this culture are life-giving to us and our fellow creatures? What parts seek to destroy the creation of God? These are questions we have to ask again and again, in this and every generation. We can go back and forth as we wish about the answers. But it is criminally unfaithful to give up on the questions because we are afraid to do the work.
God does not give us a vote as to which culture we are immersed in. But God, by virtue of the Incarnation, shows up in all cultures, all contexts, in one way or another. Even this one, with its many gadgets. Our job, as faithful people, is to figure out the culture enough to find the divine fingerprints in it.

One used an Android, one used Sprint… by Megan Castellan

Sunday night, my students were dismayed to learn that we will be away from church on the Sunday closest to All Saints.  “But can we reschedule?!”  they queried, “Can we still sing ‘I sing a song of the saints of God’?  BECAUSE THAT’S IMPORTANT.”

I didn’t take much convincing.  All Saints may be one of the most Episcopal feasts we have, right up there with some of the more incarnational celebrations we partake in.  That feast when we recall our place amidst the countless throngs of those who have come before us, and those who stand around us now, all working and serving God and God’s reign.  It’s the feast when we celebrate the fact that we are never alone.
Twenty years ago, the communion of saints idea got repeated often in the creed, and celebrated in songs.  We avow our belief in the communion of saints in the Nicene Creed every week, and we sing of its glory each time we praise “all the saints, who from their labors, rest.”
But it’s become clear over the past few days and months that the communion of saints now reveals itself in additional ways.
During General Convention, at the budget hearings, the first time I stood to testify at the microphone, I got across the room only to realize that I had entirely forgotten what I wanted to say.  While I tried to figure out something semi-coherent about funding college ministry, I shifted my cell phone in my hands.  Suddenly, it started to vibrate…and vibrate, and vibrate.  I glanced down, and saw texts appearing on my screen.  Texts of encouragement from people I hadn’t even noticed in the room.  Twitter messages of people who had announced to the world that I would be saying something, and they were proud.  My little phone was shaking itself to bits in my hands, with the silent encouragement and love of the people around me.  In a flash, I remembered who and what I was there for, and the words started flowing.
That community of the saints that supports us when we need it is always around us–we just need to reach out and grab hold of it.  And that looks different for different people, in different times and places.  In the past few days, I’ve haunted Twitter and Facebook, watching the pictures and the updates from my friends in New York and along the East Coast; checking in again and again, sending prayers along the ether.  We tweeted back and forth to each other through the worst of the storm’s attack, reporting the sound of the wind, showing the rising water, asking if someone had been heard from, or if someplace had been checked on.  A community formed, out of the howling darkness of a hurricane, and across the country.
It’s through ad hoc communities like this that God’s love for us and for the world finds tangible expression.  It’s when we reach out to one another in love and concern that our faith finds a concrete form. Strange as it seems, moments like these are when the truth of what we sing about shines through: all are one in thee for all are thine.”
Alleluia, alleluia!