Monthly Archives: August 2013

Outrage Limiter

Back in the 70’s, Gene Simmons did this blood spitting thing for the rock group Kiss. It brought about a fair bit of lamenting at the time as to how horrible it was… but it worked as intended, going outrageous made his mark on the world, it sold a ton of records, and made him a boat load of money.

In the 80’s, Ozzy did this thing with a bat on stage…

Back in the pre-code days of Hollywood, many of the early talkies were pushing the sex envelope in a huge way, it was outrageous, and it sold lots of movie tickets.

Is it any wonder what we had a meat dress a few years back, or something totally bizaro a couple days ago?

Sex and shock sell… if there were no market, they wouldn’t. If the outrage was too great, the market would reject it, but it rarely does. Its no longer just an artist like Gene Simmons coming up with an idea, its high level market research driving ideas to appeal to a given demographic to maximize profit. In fact, I would not be surprised to find out that datamining is a significant driver…

Folks have been chatting about the evils of capitalism on steroids, sexual exploitation, declining morals, loss of community, extreme individualism, loss of Christian privilege / influence in society,  self esteem going too far, artists selling out, the death of eros… and I sort of agree to a point with all of them, but I think the answer is something far more foundational.

Market driven art eventually rings hollow as the market will at some point see it for what it is, an emperor with no clothes, no meaning, just a means of efficient leveraging the actions of the masses… this being a primary driver of why interest in pop music generally declines with age. Its not so much us geezers crabbing about the music of the younger being a bunch of noise, as much as it is that BS detectors improve with age.

Some of the 70’s and 80’s music I played and grew up with blew chunks, some of the 30’s and 40’s music my Dad grew up with also did. Its the same today… a cohort of good music from each generation will survive and thrive over time on its own, another cohort, even if it blew chunks, will survive and thrive due to the memories attached to it, but huge sectors will die on the vine, and for good reason.

If you followed this far, you are probably thinking, why on earth is this on a church blog… Just replace the word music with church practices.

We may not have pastors taking a bite out of a bat in a sermon, but there are a few church practices in each generation that jump the shark. We also have a fair number of practices deriving their meaning via institutional memory rather than standing on their own.

The BS detector for each generation as they become more and more proficient with handling information overload becomes more sensitive. Is there any wonder that the target market for pop music has been trending younger and younger for years? If not for attached memories, there likely would be a pretty abrupt cutoff in the high school range…. not unlike what we see in church membership demographics.


Flipping Sunday School & Multigenerational Integration

From a memory science perspective, Sunday school should not be expected to work all that well, and in general it doesn’t. The primary reason being if you are exposed to a given subject on Sunday, and then never hear of it again, or even anything related to it until the following Sunday, the probability of remembering much of it is pretty low.

This isn’t really anything new, the overall concept of frequent engagement with material has have been around since my Aunt was teaching in a one room school house back in the 1920s. It doesn’t matter whether one ascribes to the more technical approach of Thorndike, or the more humanistic approach of Dewey, if there is too much of a gap between exposures, retention will be compromised.

Luther had some ideas on this as I blogged about Blooms Taxonomy in Luther and the Flux Capacitor. Curricula developers know this as well, and try to work around it using as many tools as they can. Some have gone so far as to set the lectionary aside in light of their own system which integrates Sunday School lessons with the sermon text. Bottom line, its still an uphill battle. Sunday School system design is for the most part counter to our brains natural function.

What’s needed is a way to integrate Sunday school lessons with the entire week, not just a single hour event which repeats every 168 hours. In addition, there are some who find age segregation problematic, and would like to see more of an inter-generational model.

One possibility to combine both of the above is the flipped classroom model. While scientific research on flipping in public school edu is pretty limited, anecdotal evidence so far seems promising. It would seem if it can work in the public school environment, it would seemingly work even better for Sunday school due to the system imposed limitations.

An explanation of flipping is probably called for at this point. In the typical classroom most of us know/remember, students are exposed to a subject, interact a bit with their teacher, given work to do either in class, or at home, and then evaluated.

In the flipped model, the initial exposure, and a bit of activity are done outside of the classroom, thus creating much more time for peer / peer and teacher / student interaction in class. By outside the classroom, the exposure to material is commonly done via video, perhaps on youtube, or in some areas via take home DVD’s.

One reported advantage is increased retention as rather than a 1 hour class which conflicts with the brains ability to process about 10 minutes of information, the videos are short, and can easily be played back on demand. Another big deal, is that by moving the activity portion into the classroom, rather than leaving it to the students own time off hours, feedback is immediate, and misconceptions can be addressed early on.

One of the non-obvious bits I’ve picked up on this issue of flipping is that rockstar guru videos don’t work all that well. Its fascinating that often times the zero budget, quickly done video of the teachers own creation works better than the high production value, super polished videos of the guru. I tend to think its because of a personal connection more so than the customizable aspect of DIY.

Consider that for most folks, their pastor is not a rockstar preacher and yet only a few would consider replacing them with video screen of a guru. I think a large part of this is that the personal connection aspect plays a greater role than greater preaching skill and/or depth of topical knowledge in the domain of a rockstar guru preacher video.

Thus my wild idea of multi-generational integration…. What if the videos for flipping were made by a cross section of a given congregation? Ie, there is a huge depth and breadth of knowledge in the pew. Why not leverage this with 30-60 second segments featuring different folks of all ages through out a flipped video series?

Why not connect the Sunday school class to the wisdom of the entire congregation? Ever further, consider those with distant links to the physical worship space. Ie, it might even be possible that a student off at university a thousand miles away might be in the same video with a OTR truck driver, or a home bound member, or someone in a nursing home.



A Song which would not fly on Christian Radio

Last Sunday’s lectionary is one of those sticky bits of scripture. The anti-peace, divided family stuff out of Luke 12 seems way out of sync. Even more so, to top it off, Jesus introduces it as wishing it was already kindled for the fire he was fixing to bring.

Yep, write a song on that text, and its pretty much guaranteed zero airplay on family friendly Christian radio… so it might be just the sort of thing which would be fun to do. 🙂

I’m sort of bummed out not making it to church last Sunday, as sermons on this text are fascinating. It can be a tricky one to navigate as there are so many themes which can spin out of it… which makes building a song around it challenging and then some. One of the interesting bits to consider is the sequencing of events in Revelation… terror and stress, then worship, and a sort of cycling repeating affair. It doesn’t fit with the family friendly CCM model of “Jesus is my boyfriend” but there are multitudes of similar ripples throughout human existence.

Another way to consider the pushback this text provides is along the lines of a Rich Mullins quote:

Christianity is not about building an absolutely secure little niche in the world where you can live with your perfect little wife and your perfect little children in your beautiful little house where you have no gays or minority groups anywhere near you. Christianity is about learning to love like Jesus loved and Jesus loved the poor and Jesus loved the broken.”

The Ragamuffin film will be coming out in the next year or two, and there is a record exec talking to Rich in the trailer.

All this talking you’ve been doing at your concerts, thats gotta stop. You’re there to make fans not enemies.

in reference to any number of Rich’s sayings that went against the teachings of popular evangelical preachers.



Pew Isolationism

Pastor Peters of Grace Lutheran had an interesting post on pew isolationism. He states the following:

I know exactly what this person is talking about.  I see it every Sunday.  It is as if the people in my parish seat apart from each other on purpose.  Perhaps it is an over abundant sense of personal space. Or shyness.  Or maybe fear.  We sit in ways that magnify the spiritual distance between us.

I tend to concur with the observational aspect as its been my own experience and practice for a multitude of years. As far as the why aspect goes, I find I must disagree with Pastor Peters. The primary reason for disagreement is that congregations are typically a mixture of introverts and extroverts.  If a congregation were mostly introverts, Pastor Peters views would make sense. On the other hand in a mixed introverted / extroverted congregation, one might expect clumps of extroverts… but clumping in my experience is even rarer than a church that doesn’t practice pew isolationism.

Rather, I think contemporary Christianities radical individualism combined with the sacredness of worship, brings about desires for a more transcendent assembly than a physical one. In addition,for some, the physical can serve to disturb the transcendent.  If one combines the two, its no wonder that folks tend to physically distance themselves, even though they are connected spiritually. At least this is what I picked up from reading 35 comments across the blogosphere.

As an extreme example of the sacred / transcendent / corporate domain is if I am participating in the daily hours, whether alone, or in the rare church that provide such, it is a massively corporate, spiritually connected event rippling throughout time zones around the world. The same massive transcendence, albeit in more of a gaussian distribution across time also occurs in Sunday worship. The physical and the global transcendence aspects come together at intervals during the singing of hymns and/or choruses, the liturgy or group readings, and the sharing of the peace, the corporate prayers, and the eucharist.

I even saw this connectivity during the opening worship at churchwide assembly this week. Not only were a few thousand folks participating in proximity, there were multitudes of us from afar who were participating via livestreaming and twitter. There was even a photo on twitter of one fellow singing along with what looked like an Ipad hymnal, all the while watching the assembly on a large monitor. Such is a wonderful thing, when logistics, time, and/or economic factors preclude being there in person.

Alas, as wonderful as today’s tech is, or the tv church of the past, one looses the connection to the sacraments, and the physical proximity of other worshipers. Many of us have, or at least abide by a projection of Northern European Lutheran tradition of close, (but not too close) as concerns physical proximity…

And there in lies a few dangers.

  1. If we go too far into the radical individualism in corporate worship, it ends up being a discrete set of concurrent “me and Jesus events”… in physical proximity, but excluding all others, perhaps even excluding the transcendent connection to the saints.
  2.  Hebrews tells us not to foresake the assembly, and we are to encourage one another. Granted, there is a legit debate of whether corporate worship is really the space for such… but it may be the only space a visitor experiences before dismissing a given church as cold and distant. The idea that the church pot luck, the donuts, the small group, the mission project, the Sunday school, or even the fish soaked in lye. is where edification of one another occurs is well established in our traditions… but visitors are likely to be unaware. Even more so, congregational participation in such events if adjacent to worship in the time domain is often times pretty spotty, again a potential negative for visitors.
  3. The tradition of close but not too close works out ok in a homogenious environment… but is contraindicated in a multi-cultural one. Out theology is greater than this, but its something we need to get past or many are likely to self-exclude.

As far as what to do, I look to the examples set by a couple local church founders… Wally at 90+ years old is probably the best Lutheran evangelist I’ve ever come across. He is turned on at nearly every waking moment, and his story resonates in a huge way… No way is a visitor ever going to be ignored, as he once was. Karl, another founder I met over the years practices in a similar fashion. The church Wally founded was not synod driven, nor churchwide driven, or even pastor driven. He took it on himself from the ground up gathering a few others to get rolling… indeed, he was a bold Lutheran.

Wally and Karl also hit on something that far too often occurs in the domain of radical hospitality and how it can ring unauthentic… Pastor Peters hits on this with the following.

A welcoming people are attuned to everyone around them, new visitors and old members, and reach out with friendship equally.  Incidentally, I find that often a “cold” congregation is not simply distant from new folks, those folks are generally as oblivious to the old members around them as well.

Bottom line, this boldness and fire that comes from building a church from scratch is probably the answer. Pew isolationism, style, or even church conflict is no longer a factor when there is a Karl or Wally in the vicinity. A church needs the boldness and fire of a founder who then transitions to an ongoing catalyst to foster scaling. Even as a multi-site musician juggling logistics, or as of late the caretaker who arrives late and leaves early, I find the catalytic action of a Wally or Karl a huge deal. You will be welcomed, you will be invited to participate, its ongoing, and its the authentic real deal.

Street Preaching, 2nd Use Disconnect, and Questioning

When a receptive Christian back story is missing, some approaches to evangelism no longer work very well. I think of the street preacher discussion on @JimHazelwood video set from the New England Synod Assembly. The street preacher could have just as easily been trying to sell gold plated buggy whips to a person who just brought a brand new car. He was seemingly manufacturing things out of thing air and was trying to sell them as obvious truths.

Consider this attempted 2nd use of the law for another example

“…this opening of ourselves up to question is central to our Christian duty. Near the heart of the Christian message is the declaration that we are in the wrong, that our subjective position is radically compromised, and that we must be put to rights by someone else.”

Without a framework of the a specific type of evangelical Christianity underneath, this verbiage outside of the scriptures could just as well have been a foreign language.

Granted, its easy to see the dark triad to say nothing of the theology of original sin in the world, but without serious reflection, it is for the most part non-obvious on a individual level today. In some ways, presenting the God-man gap as the first step of evangelism is easily perceived as something manufactured and an end justifies the means to gain converts and their money. I don’t think it computes all that well anymore as a first step, and perhaps not even at all until much later.

God Man Gap

Professor John Hoffmeyer expands on this a bit.

 ….I’m now wondering if we are offering an answer to a question that is no longer being asked.  Is that possible?  Let me be clear, I am not questioning our theological structure, nor am I doubting our core understanding of Justification by Grace through Faith.  Rather, I’m raising the possibility, that in the 16th century people did experience, feel, think about and have a “terrified conscience”, and therefore Luther’s re-forming of the faith resonated culturally as well as theologically.  Our panelists may suggest that in the 21st century people are not experiencing, thinking or feeling a strong sense of having a “terrified conscience.”  If this is the case, we may be providing answers to a question few are asking.

This lack of alignment begs quite a bit of wrestling and pondering. I came across the following and the author puts in words what I’ve been trying to nail down out for weeks.

The wrong questions force reality into ill-fitting frameworks of understanding. People who take the appropriateness of their questions for granted are people who presume the universal applicability of their terms of understanding, of their ways of perceiving and framing the world, not alert to the possibility that reality might only be rightly understood on quite different terms.

One could take this a couple different ways. One path might be to double down and try to bend the seekers reference frames to a 16th century model prior to engaging them. Such often falls into the domain of the fire and brim stone street preacher. Ie, first create an environment where a person aligns with Luther’s terrified conscience model prior to the Gospel, to drive folks to ask the “right” and canned answerable questions. Anecdotal evidence suggests this does work some of the time. Other anecdotal evidence suggests bending as an ends justifying the means thing doesn’t last, as the re-framing eventually springs back to normalcy, ie its a borderline theology of glory.

The other possibility is to consider that a near exclusive 16th century framing is not really viable in the 21st century. Luther seemed to consider that in his commentary on Galatians 5:8, not by throwing the terrified conscience out completely, but by making it situational.

Satan will circumvent the Gospel and explain Christ in this his own diabolical way: “Indeed Christ is meek, gentle, and merciful, but only to those who are holy and righteous. If you are a sinner you stand no chance. Did not Christ say that unbelievers are already damned? And did not Christ perform many good deeds, and suffer many evils patiently, bidding us to follow His example? You do not mean to say that your life is in accord with Christ’s precepts or example? You are a sinner. You are no good at all.”

Satan is to be answered in this way: The Scriptures present Christ in a twofold aspect. First, as a gift. “He of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification and redemption.” (I Cor. 1:30.) Hence my many and grievous sins are nullified if I believe in Him. Secondly, the Scriptures present Christ for our example. As an exemplar He is to be placed before me only at certain times. In times of joy and gladness that l may have Him as a mirror to reflect upon my shortcomings. But in the day of trouble I will have Christ only as a gift. I will not listen to anything else, except that Christ died for my sins.

Granted, one might suggest this is only a third law type of thing, ie only for believers, and that 16th century framing is an absolute for the seeker… I think that is running dangerously close to the diabolical explanation Luther attributes to Satan. I’m also more than a bit concerned that it opens the door to spiritual abuse and forms of passive aggressive behavior, neither of which have any place near the Gospel.