Sunday, November 22, 2009

CORE Confusion

I'm confused...and I'm hoping that someone can enlighten me.

In September the Lutheran CORE group met to discuss next steps after the human sexuality vote at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly. The two major decisions to come out of this assembly were to (A) create a free-standing, non-geographic synod and (B) wait one year to make any formal decisions about creating a new denomination.

Less than two months later, the leadership board of Lutheran CORE announced its decision to create a new denomination. What happened to one year for prayer and discernment? I'm perplexed why a group of people who regularly complain about the unhealthy bureaucratic structure in the ELCA would go against the expressed wishes of those gathered in Indianapolis.

I'm also not sure what a "free-standing, non-geographic" synod means. To my understanding, if the ELCA is going to create a new synod, it's up to the churchwide assembly to make this happen. At this point, the 65 ELCA synods are all carry geographic distinction. How will this new synod function within the ELCA if it doesn't play by the rules that govern the denomination?

In the spirit of koinonia, I'm hoping for a healthy conversation in this space about what Lutheran CORE is hoping to accomplish in the days ahead.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

To Save A Life


I recently had a chance to preview the latest "Christian" movie to attempt mainstream relevance. To Save A Life is the story of an all-American kid who wrestles with typical teenage issues; namely sex, drinking, parents, friendship, and religion. I entered the screening highly skeptical of Christian film making. The last two overtly Christian movies I had seen were awful. The acting was abysmal, the writing was predictable, and the theology was borderline offensive. I had prepared myself for a similar production.

To my surprise, To Save A Life was legit. The writer (a youth pastor) tackles the aforementioned issues honestly and realistically. The high school kids talk to each other like actual teens, curse words and all. The main character's religious conversion was relatively nuanced and believable. Even the theology was rooted in openness, acceptance, and "the unconditional love of God".

This is not to say that Life is flawless. The acting is still on par with most After School Specials. The characters are thinly developed, despite more than enough time spent in the first hour setting up the roles. There are several corny scenes, not the least of which was the protagonist's oceanic baptism. The youth pastor was too prominently involved for my liking. I didn't like how the main character stopped hanging out with his friends once he became a Christian.

These complaints aside, To Save A Life was the best Christian film I've seen. The production value is as good as any in the teen movie genre. It will be worth renting and discussing with senior high students once it comes out on DVD. For more information, check out the official website, Twitter feed, and one of the better movie reviews around.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Show Choir Devotional

Show Choir season is upon us, which means I will likely bid farewell to a group of kids that had been regularly participating in weekend church events. The next few months are filled with extra rehearsals, choreographing sessions, concerts, and competitions for the students who are involved in these groups. The Des Moines area schools are largely successful Show Choir factories that place high expectations on student participation. I'm grateful that these kids have an opportunity to use their gifts in this way, even as I lament their temporary absence from church events.

As I was ranting against the "evils" of Show Choir a while back, my friend Angie had an idea of creating a devotional booklet that our young showstoppers could take on their weekend road trips. We put together a group of 10 one-page devotions that we thought would speak to people in the performing arts. Our friend Megan designed a funky cover as well. I've posted Word and PDF versions of "LISTEN", the Show Choir Devotional.

Please share and distribute this free resource to people who might find it useful.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Honor Flight

On Tuesday, my grandfather took a flight with about 350 World War II veterans to the WWII Memorial in Washington D.C. They arrived at the airport around 2:00 a.m. and returned home later that night around 11:00 p.m. I drove my grandparents to the check-in site and had a chance to listen to a few stories.

I was most fascinated to hear them speak about "the war to end all wars". For them - and for many in their generation - there seemed to be an altruistic mentality surrounding WWII. This was a war that needed to be fought because it would ultimately result in peace for their children, grandchildren, and so on. Call it it wishful it 1940s USA propaganda -- I think they really believed that their efforts in this war would bring about the end to all future wars.

I'm not a fan of war. I oppose the two wars I've been alive to see. I think Jesus is clear that violence and aggression are not the way to resolve conflict. I also believe that the Honor Flights have been a beautiful gift to the men and women who are seeking closure and respect. I can't imagine what it would be like to fight in a war. I pray I never have to.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Internet Matters

People on Twitter and Facebook have seen me complain lately about the glacial speed of my church's Internet connection. I realize that such gripes make me sound petty and spoiled. Obviously, there are lots of other injustices in the world greater than my inability to download videos or music at my workplace. My point is not that functional Internet is the most important issue in the world...instead, I wish to proclaim that churches should no longer consider Internet to be a luxury.

This gap in understanding can best be summed up in something I read at Harris Interactive the other day. A recent poll indicated that the average U.S. teen spends 10 hours a week on the Internet. (This wasn't terribly surprising.) However, U.S. parents thought teens spent about 4 hours a week on the Internet. There is a 24-hour-a-month discrepancy between how much teens are on-line and how much their parents think they are on-line.

If adults don't have a realistic understanding of how much their children use the Internet, it shouldn't surprise me that adults at church (most of whom don't have teens in their house) don't perceive a need for a church to be technologically adept. It's also not entirely their fault -- many of us in youth ministry haven't demonstrated exactly WHY it's so important for us to have quality Internet access at church. It's much easier for us to use wi-fi at a coffee shop or our home than to plead our case at council meetings for the necessity of Internet.

(Of course, this establishes all kinds of bad work boundaries and passes on a financial burden on the church worker, either in the form of $2-3 cups of coffee or $30+ in monthly Internet charges.)

So why is it so important for a church to have sufficiently fast and strong Internet? Here are a few reasons:

1. Inexpensive resources. When I started working at a church in 2001, the best $200 you could spend was on curriculum and leader guides from Group, Youth Specialties, Youth & Family Institute, etc. Fast-forward 8+ years, and you can make a case that youth workers shouldn't need to spend a dime on materials. A person just needs the technology resources and know-how to unearth the wealth of useful information at their fingertips.

2. Communication. Most teens spend 1-2 hours on-line every day. A majority of parents and adult leaders work in an office where they are constantly connected via email and other networking sites. Name another "place" where a critical mass of parishioners are hanging out on a regular basis. Why not make it as easy as possible for people to engage church members where they are?

3. Efficiency. It's a waste of the church's time and money resources to have staff people waiting for web pages, attachments, messages, video and music files to load.

4. Outreach. A friend of mine recently told me that a church web site is "the first set of doors a visitor walks through." If a church has empowered staff people with leadership in the congregation, why not give them the tools to be as welcoming as possible? The presence of functional Internet allows churches to be more nimble, better communicators, and...

...I could go on, but the coffee shop with wi-fi is closing...