upper room daily devotions

Thursday, March 29, 2007

when technology fails you - a tech rant by someone under 40 years old!

This is a follow up to the post that I just added to this blog. One of the core "needs" of churches these days, at least to a national church growth expert, is the integration of technology in worship. We don't use a lot of tech in the worship at my church. And while I wish that we had the money and capabilities to do so, I have to say that as a person in the generational group who supposedly needs technology in order to make worship accessible, I feel the need to state unequivocally that I would rather have no technology than badly used technology. It is often the case that on those rare occasions when I get to visit another church that has added video capabilities into their worship that I am more distracted and aggravated than anything else. The key is that technology has to be integrated not just used. The following is not based on data. These are my rants related to what I consider poor uses of technology.


Power Point presentations can't be timed incorrectly.

Words can't be misspelled, people!!

The person running the show must know what they're doing. No unexpected visuals popping up on the public viewing screen!

Litanies and song lyrics don't need to go on a screen. In a diverse church, there are people with sight impairment. Just use song books if you have them, unless it's a song you sing every week and the words are for visitors.

I don't want to spend the entire service looking at a screen. Use it judiciously.

Screens can't be old slide screens. They have to be integrated into your space. I don't want to feel like I'm watching my uncle's vacation slides or like I'm in a badly planned work meeting.


Use videos to connect me with the church's mission. Pictures tell stories that words will never capture.

No wires and cables running around, please. That's not worshipful. It's a little silly looking.

The screen is not the focus of worship. Please don't cover the cross or another religious symbol with it.

If you use amped music. Don't have it too loud for your space. And, for God's sake (really - God's sake), please be in tune! I'd rather hear an amateur choir sing off key than out of tune elect instruments.

Music needs to be worshipful. I don't come to worship for a Christian concert. I want to sing along. I want to connect to my religious heritage. I want music not to distract but enhance my encounter with God. It needs to draw me into the mystery of God.

I like a little silence. Don't let technology overwhelm silent moments.

I need connection - to the past as well as to God and to the future. Allow some time for organ music or violins or brass choirs or string quartets. All music doesn't have to be two guitars, a keyboardist, and a percussionist.

Don't preach too long. And don't wear a "Madonna" head mic. I'm not at a "power of positive thinking" seminar or a pop concert. If you are over 45 years old, especially don't wear one. It looks silly.

Have Holy Communion and keep it low tech!

Expect me to turn off my cell phone. It's worship. If there are physicians and others on call present, ask them to put their phones on vibrate.

Worship is not just about me. Technology can be isolating. Find ways to bring me out of me - into God, into the world, into discipleship.

After listening to someone in their late sixties tell me who my generation is, I thought I should say what I want in worship.

cong development...another old guy telling me how to reach people my age

Last Saturday I went to a congregational development/church growth workshop led by a national speaker/writer. Once again I sat in a room with people with hair much greyer than mine listening to a speaker with hair much greyer than mine telling me what people my age do and don't respond to in a church. While many of his "fixes" for churches seemed on target, many of his conclusions about people younger than forty-five years old missed the mark of the people that I know. Underlying the entire presentation was an assumption that a large church is a healthy church that is desirable for all folks under forty-five years old.

I have been struggling with this presentation ever since I went to it. Generally speaking, the presenter asserted very strongly that Gen Xers and Millenials will not go to a church that focuses on contemplative worship. Nor are they willing to learn "churchy" lingo. Nor will they turn off cell phones. While there were passing remarks about the importance of authenticity and faithfulness, it seems that these have to be packaged in such a way that oversimplifies the diversity of the population under forty-five years old. It may well be true that the majority of folks who are unchurched need churches that leave religious jargon and tradition at the door, there is a growing group of folks who crave the use of icons, quiet prayer, and the ancient traditions of our faith. I wish that we could have talked about the emerging church movement and the possibility that there is a significant minority that cares about contemplation and that wants a nuanced church that deals realistically with the complexities of life.

While the "technical fixes" may have been on target, the "adaptable change" talked about was a gross oversimplification of people under forty-five years old. I don't have data, but I do have friends who desire not large mega-churches meeting in warehouses. They want small communities that comprise people of all ages. They want a sanctuary that feels like set apart space and that inspire a sense of awe and wonder (something not found in worship rooms that look like corporate meeting rooms). They love stained glass, organs, chants in Latin, and learning the Greek of their New Testaments. They don't want a faith that gives pat and artificial answers to life's difficult trials; they want a faith that anchors them to a rich and ancient past and that invites them to witness to a gospel of liberation and interconnectedness in a world that is too fragmented and individualistic. Of course I believe that my friends and I are in the minority; I am a pastor, after all. But we do count and we are out here. Just because the statistical average calls for us to build corporate feeling and looking churches doesn't mean that there aren't Gen Xers who know how to turn off a cell phone and sit in the Divine Mystery in silence, drinking in the goodness of God.

I don't have any answers. I have a lot of questions about the whole church growth movement. Of course the institution of the church is facing a crisis. In twenty years about 80% of the church's membership will be dead. But I'm more interested in living faithfully in community than in growing my congregation's size for the sake of growth. Perhaps that makes me a bad evangelist. Clearly I am; my church is one of the many that is struggling to grow. And yet, something is possibile in my little church. It is diverse economically. It is diverse theologically. It is diverse politically. It is diverse in age. It has gay and straight folks, married and partnered folks (not many singles...that's a struggle for us). It has children and people entering their ninth decade. We use traditional liturgy peppered by things that make sense to us. We do a lot of little things that I believe hinder our growth, but I don't count in that the use of silence or our use of a sanctuary. Any thoughts on how to build a healthy, non-mega-church, diverse, faithful, progressive, church? I'm open. I sure didn't hear it last Saturday.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

christians protest for peace at washington national cathedral

In today's Seattle Times, an AP article by Sandra Karush tells how Christians gathered at the Washington National Cathedral in Washington, DC to pray for peace and for an end to the Iraq war now beginning its fifth year. I am not naive enough to believe that the use of force can never be exerted by a nation. However, as a Christian, my beliefs tell me that God is a God of peace and that war is never God's hope for us. My prayers were with those in the cathedral last night and I continue to pray for the end of this war. For those in the Seattle area, a prayer service sponsored by the Church Council of Greater Seattle will be held at 5PM on Sunday, March 18 at Seattle First Baptist Church. A rally for peace will follow on Monday, March 19, at 3PM downtown Seattle. I will participate in these events and it is my fervent hope that more Christians will witness to the God of peace by naming this war for what it is - immoral and unjust. I will preach on the war Sunday, March 18 in the 10:30AM service at Woodland Park United Methodist Church.


Christians gather in Washington, D.C. for protest against Iraq warBy Sarah Karush

The Associated Press


WASHINGTON — Thousands of Christians prayed for peace at an anti-war service Friday night at the Washington National Cathedral, kicking off a weekend of protests around the country to mark the fourth anniversary of the war in Iraq
. Read more...
For a video on the event at the Washington National Cathedral, go here.

Friday, March 16, 2007

happy saint patrick's day


The shamrocks and dancing leprechauns found on many a Saint Patrick's Day card have little to do with Saint Patrick. Nor do stories about snakes driven from Ireland (he never drove them out!). Nor does the tradition of wearing green for good luck. Saint Patrick was born in c385 as Patricius, the son of a Roman decurion (a tax collector)named Calpurnius. He most likely lived in Wales. At about sixteen years old he was abducted and taken into slavery in Ireland, and became Patrick. While there Patrick had two visions. The first told him that he would someday go home. The second vision told him that a ship was ready and waiting to take him away; he travelled over 200 miles to find it. After fleeing Ireland after six years of enslavement, he returned home to Britain and became a staunch opponent of slavery in any form. He went to Gaul and studied to become a priest and eventually saw a vision that led him to return to Ireland to live among the people, thus bringing Christianity to Ireland. While he was not the only Christian in Ireland at the time (432), he had the biggest and longest lasting impact.

The story of Saint Patrick is an astounding story. The very fact that we know much about him at all is remarkable. Written records don't exist for Britain during this time period. Somehow some of his writings survived and stories about him were written. He moved Christianity beyond the bounds that held it for four hundred years into Ireland. He lived among his captors a free man, reconciled with his past as a slave. He was a mystic and an adverturer. Saint Patrick believed that those who once enslaved him deserved to experience the gospel that changed his life. He was deeply devoted to God. He was a bishop of the Church.

On this Saint Patrick's Day, I wish you the tenacity of this saint, his heart for reconciliation and forgiveness, his sense of adventure, his openness to dream visions, and his love for the Divine. And, oh, feel free to wear green, drink a beer, and have some fun. Just because legends and traditions don't lie at the heart of the matter doesn't mean they aren't fun!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

effects of climate change - intergovernmental panel on climate change's upcoming report

In the current issue of The Christian Science Monitor there is a story that previews the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's second report that will be released next month. This report lays out the humanitarian effects of climate change. They are stark and they are already underway. This is a criticial issue for this world. It is vital that Christians take a lead in addressing the overconsumption and unmonitored actions that are creating these changes. Humans are a primary source of climate change. Our actions matter and they are having an impact. However, as Christians, we believe that we are stewards of God's Earth. How are we caring for creation and all that dwells in and on this living miracle of our planet?

Sneak preview of big report: Change is 'already showing up'

The second report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts massive humanitarian crises.

By Brad Knickerbocker


Reports that the effects of global warming may be felt by the average person quicker and deeper than previously thought were reflected in a flurry of news coverage over the past week.

The Associated Press broke a big story last weekend, giving an advance look at the draft of an international scientific report due out next month. Among the findings, according to AP: "The harmful effects of global warming on daily life are already showing up, and within a couple of decades hundreds of millions of people won't have enough water...."
Read the whole article!

how are your lenten disciplines going?

How are your Lenten disciplines going? Mine are fairing so-so. While I haven't been watching TV, I have spent too much time and money downloading music from iTunes. I've been more successful saying grace regularly. And, as I've gotten in the habit of taking a moment to be grateful for what I have to eat, my prayer has grown to include, "Help me to be mindful about what I eat and to be grateful for what I have." This has made saying grace even more meaningful. I also have been trying to find something related to the environment to add to my Lenten schedule. I've settled on joining a local neighbors group dedicated to "greening" our neighborhood. I also have been looking for a new home that is certified "green."

Lent is a holy time. I find it especially meaningful. Too often progressive Christians get wrapped up in the work for social justice and leave behind the state of their soul and the health of their spirit. Christianity is not work for social change; it is a vision for a different world altogether - a world in which the least and the last are invited into the center of communal life, a world in which the lost find home, a world with no war, no bigotry, and no violence. Social justice is a part of this vision, but it is not the entirety of the vision. Without connection to the Divine, the work for social change is overwhelming and the realities of this world too disheartening. During Lent, I remember my connection to the Divine. I remember that I belong to God before I belong to country, church, or community. I am a member of an ancient faith that stretches through time and place to a group of people held captive by a powerful Pharaoh. I am a follower of a wandering Galilean carpenter who challenged the powers and principalities of Rome and charged the peasants and city dwellers of his time to live according to God's plan for a just and compassionate world. Lent is a holy time that ties me to my past, roots me in my present, and sets my face toward the upcoming miracle of Easter.

My disciplines may be going only so-so, but Lent is going great. I hope it is for you, too. It has steadied my feet so that I am ready to participate in an interfaithprayer for peace/an end to the war in Iraq. Lent has also given me conviction to participate in Step It Up, calling for an 80% reduction in carbon emission by 2050. Lent has been good for me. I am repenting - turning around, and I am finding God right before me calling me into new and wonderful life.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

today my heart rises


Last week I wrote about my heart hurting at the needless slaughter of three very rare lions. My heart sinks at such stories. I feel the need to claim that my heart rises when I read of an environmental gain or an ecological triumph. They don't seem to happen very often. But sea turtles have returned to South Africa in record numbers. The turtle is the image of my soul; I have a little ink on my leg attesting to the power of the turtle as a symbol of steadiness, peace, wisdom, and longevity. If you are interested in learning more about the surprising return of endangered sea turtles, read here. God made this beautiful, remarkable, and tenacious Earth. We were tasked with tending it. This lies at the heart of my understanding of my faith.

*This picture comes from the Coastal Resources Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. Go to their website to learn more about sea turtles, especially those found in waters off of the coast of the US.

Monday, March 12, 2007

in a quiet place

On Saturday I stood in a place where the Earth breathed. I lifted my chest and breathed with it. There was a deer - unafraid and apparently hungry. There were two eagles - just overhead and flying in circles. The Earth's breath sounded like the ocean, grossly like traffic, a rush of bending trees, circling the clearing where I stood...in the mist. On Saturday I walked a labyrinth - a time and a quarter. I got lost on a path where you can't get lost. I stopped, watched the eagles, turned in circles following them around and around and forgot where I came from. There in that place I was present, wholly and holy present. I took a breath, a deep breath. When I thought of what life is bringing - a rally and a prayer service to end the war, a rally and a march for the environment, a rally and a march with palms... I took another breath and said, "Right now I am here. Then I will be there." Duh. Obvious. But I tend to live in the future, two meetings down my calendar, two weeks ahead. On Saturday I was reminded that the hard work of Christianity begins with the simplicity of being with Christ, honoring the Creator, and breathing the Holy Spirit. On Saturday I was in a quiet place that readied me for the labor of being the body of Christ in the world. Thank God for Saturday. Why doesn't it come every week?

Friday, March 09, 2007

"what is progressive christianity?" workshop

What is Progressive Christianity, Anyway?

In 1994 there were no organizations, books or scholarly papers that used the term “progressive Christianity,” except in a historical reference. Today “progressive Christianity” is a common term in the Christian culture. It is loved, appreciated (and hated), but it is there. There are over a dozen national organizations that have Progressive Christian in their name, vision statement or self description. What does it mean? Where did it come from? Where is it going?

Rev. Fred Plumer is president of the Center for Progressive Christianity.
Recommended Texts – John Spong: A New Chrisitianity for a New World, (Harper Collins); Hal Taussig: A New Spiritual Home: Progressive Christianity at the Grass Roots, (Polebridge Press)
Meets Saturday, March 10, 9:00-11:30 a.m.
Fee: $25 before Feb. 23; $30 after Feb. 23
Pacific Lutheran University
A workshop in CommUniversity
Go here to register or show up at PLU!

why walk labyrinths?


I was asked this questions recently: Why walk labyrinths? When I was asked this question, I could tell that the person talking with me was confused by more than why I find walking labyrinths meaningful; she also didn't really understand why people enter in to most spiritual exercises or disciplines.

Spiritual disciplines are the daily steps we take in our life's spiritual journey. What we do on Sunday in worship is a communal gathering that brings together people who spend time most days of their life attempting to draw closer to God. If we hope that all of our spiritual work will happen on Sunday, we will be a very disappointed group of people. We come from disparate lives and we are diverse people; the Sunday morning ritual will not/cannot reach all of our hearts each week. Personal spiritual practices/exercises/disciplines are where most of our spiritual journey takes places. Sunday morning is like a gas station where we get a little fuel for our spiritual journeys.

Our spiritual journeys really take place in the ways in which we lead our everyday lives. How do we make room for God? How attentive are we to the God who resides in our hearts and in our world? How much time to we spend with this Friend? How often to seek the Comforter? How much do we allow the gospel to stir our hearts with passion for justice, and how much does the gospel crack open our hearts with mercy? Each day - each breath - we are invited to live deeper inside of the Divine. And yet, despite God's persistent invitation to dwell there, most of us need to practice recognizing the Divine and responding to it. Spiritual practices are set aside activities that we do to remind us of the holiness of life. They invite us to be attuned to God. In them is where our relationship with the Holy One really takes place. We can make up our practices or use practices that have been tried and true, extensions of our ancient faith tradition.

I walk labyrinths because I need about fifteen to twenty minutes of quiet if I really want to shake loose my brain's attachment to its own noise. I can't slip into a deeply prayerful attitude very easily. As a product of MTV, multi-tasking, video games, and the cell phone generation, I am used to lots of noise coming at me. As someone who lives in a city, I am used to noise all around me. Walking a labyrinth takes time - usually about 45 minutes for me. About twenty of these minutes is getting my head to quiet itself and allowing my soul to open itself. Nothing magical is happening. I am simply allowing myself the time necessary to be fully present in time and space. When my mind revs up, I take a breath and say to myself, "I am here." Once my mind is quiet and my soul is open then I may think a scripture ("Be still and know that I am God") or ask a question ("Why have I been so restless? What am I being called to do? How can I find forgiveness? Where am I experiencing God?") and I just slowly walk. Once in the center of the labyrinth, I give thanks for the gift of my spiritual journey. Sometimes I lament things that I have been grieving but haven't given proper time to letting go. Then I begin the walk out, slowly emerging and still resting in God.

This is not necessarily the spiritual exercise/discipline/practice for everyone, but it works for me. I am excited to go to the Whidbey Institute tomorrow and to walk their labyrinth. It is in a field, marked by stones, surrounded by the incredible towering trees of the Pacific Northwest. It is quiet there with occasional voices along adjacent hiking trails. The air is pregnant with life. I can't wait to walk this labyrinth. Why I would want to do it seems quite obvious to me.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

today my heart hurts...

Here is another article about human greed violating the magnificence of creation. While this site is intended to create community and offer positive thoughts/ideas for progressive Christians, sometimes the most I can do is lament and hope that humans will one day repent of our lust and greed. Perhaps lamenting is important. I hope so.

3 Rare Lions Killed in India Sanctuary
By GAVIN RABINOWITZ, Associated Press Writer
Mon Mar 5, 10:47 PM

NEW DELHI - Poachers killed three highly endangered Asiatic lions in their only remaining sanctuary in western India, removing their claws and bones and raising fears for the future of these rare cats, wildlife officials said Tuesday.
Read more...

Thursday, March 01, 2007

domestic partner bill on path to become law

On Monday, several hundred people met on the steps of the Capitol in Olympia to rally for equal rights for GLBT people in the state of Washington. It was the third annual rally for equal protection for sexual minorities. Sponsored by Equal Rights Washington and Religious Coalition for Equality (along with about 80 smaller sponsors, including my local congregation), the rally included speeches from religious and political leaders from around the state. At the heart of this year's gathering was a hope that a domestic partner bill sponsored by several legislators in both the House and Senate would pass; it seems that it will.

The Seattle Times today is carrying a good article outlining the benefits the bill extends to both queer and straight couples (straight couples must include at least one parter 62 years old or older). If you live in Washington, please write your legislators in support of the bill; it still has to pass the House. Gov. Gregoire has pledged to sign it should it arrive on her desk.

While I am very glad that religious leaders have been campaigning for this for some time, I also realize that multiple challenges to the bill can be raised. The struggle isn't over and gains are not complete. But in a country where loving people are denied basic rights, this is indeed a wonderful breath of fresh air. As a progressive Christian, I have no ambivalence about the rightness of such a bill. Struggles like this remind me that religion can be used to hurt and to heal. I am grateful that so many United Methodists were at the rally and in their legislators offices speaking on behalf of glbt folks.

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