Archive for April, 2010

A few years ago the Macbook Air came out.  When I saw it advertised I was mildly unimpressed.  Yes it’s super thin but has very few ports, no CD/DVD drive and little connectivity, other than bluetooth. Not to mention the fact that it started at $1,500, making it really expensive.

But then I held one.

One of the professors at seminary got one because he travels quite a bit, and for that it’s pretty hand.  As soon as I picked it up I giggled and said, “oooo, that is so cool!”  Even though I knew that this was an limited piece of technology I was still sucked in by the newness and novelty of it.

I wonder if that’s what our faith has turned into.

It seems like everywhere I look there’s pressure to have the next new thing in Church.  Rick Warren once said, “Our Message must never change, but the way we deliver that message must be constantly updated to reach each new generation.”  I understand that he’s wrestling with the tension between an ancient religion and a modern setting but more often than not it feels like the emphasis is put on the new medium and not the ancient message.  This even comes through in one of his other quotes, “At Saddleback, anytiem a new tool comes down the line, we embrace it.  Right now we’re using TIVO to broadcast our weekend sermon into several different venues on our campus.

The medium has replaced the centrality of the message.

In a conversation with another pastor in my conference he made the comment that, “The language that we use grows tired very quickly and constantly needs to be updated.”  He said this in the context of discussing their new mission statement and reflecting on how their old one was no longer reflective of who they were or shaping of who they wanted to become.  I partly agree with what he’s getting at but this is also a church that has been quick to adopt the next new thing over and over again in the past.

It’s more than just language getting tired.

Even in my own life, I’ve begun to be very shaped by and attracted to ancient forms of spirituality.  I’ve been drawn to the contemplative vein of spirituality, some of which dates back 1,500 years.  It is very old.  It is not the next new thing…..in comparison to the history of the world.  If I am honest with myself, though, it is the next new thing for me.  I’m drawn to it because of it’s ancient and lasting nature but it is also new and different from what I had grown up with.

It’s the next new old thing.

We are being taken over by the theology of the ‘new’.  It’s sweeping over us without us even knowing.  Our highest good, our pearl of great value is no longer Jesus and his message, but rather it is the next new thing.

This church doesn’t meet my needs.

It isn’t high energy enough.

Organ music is for funerals.

Praise music is so 90’s.

Whatever it is, it’s not attractive because we’ve been there and done that.  The novelty has worn off.  It has grown stale for us.

The most significant thought that I’ve had in relation to this topic actually has to do with sports.  I ran across a little anecdote that said that in order to become skilled at any particular motion (shooting a basketball, throwing a baseball, etc…) that you have to do that motion 10,000 times.  As someone who has played a lot of sports over the years, I would say that that sounds about right.  In order to become good you have to practice, practice, practice.  And then when you’re sick of practicing, practice some more.  In order to get good for the big game, you have to spend hours working your tail off in the snow and rain, getting up early and staying late after practice.  Honestly, most of it kind of sucks, but it’s necessary in order to be good.

Why is faith different?

Why is it that we think that every time we do something in church that it’s supposed to be this magically fresh experience where the heavens open and the the light of God stirs our soul so that we are giddy with excitement?

When we make faith into something that is supposed to be new and fresh all the time we loose the opportunity to truly deepen our faith.  Yes, there are some days that doing our spiritual disciplines kind of suck.  Prayer is sometimes empty and rote.  Fasting is sometimes an obligation.  Leviticus is an awfully boring book to wade through.  But we train our mind, bodies and spirits in these practices so when we really need them we are capable of doing them with the depth and skill of a pro.

Larry Bird famously wouldn’t leave practice until he made 10 free throws in a row.  Some nights he was there until late in the night.

Tonight, don’t go to bed until you’ve said the Lord’s prayer 10 times.  Then tomorrow….do it again…….and again……and again……..and again…..and again……………………………..

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I didn’t really get to see my wife this weekend.  The last time I saw her was Thursday evening, and then not even for very long.  Friday evening and Saturday morning we were setting up for an auction that was put together for a fundraiser for our youth.  It brought in fair bit of money but it was sure a lot of work.  We were expecting the sale to not last a whole lot past noon but it wound up going til 3:30.  It was something of a shocker at how much stuff showed up.

Right after the sale was over I quickly packed up my stuff and headed out to the Men and Boys retreat at Camp Mennoscah.  It was great to catch up with some old friends out there.  The real reason I went, however, was that they asked me to preach on Sunday morning.  The verse was on building you house on the rock.  It was a bit of a challenge to figure out how to talk about building stuff to a group of men, most of whom had a principle hand in building every single structure at camp.  The weekend was great, but I had forgotten just how bad the mattresses in the cabins are.

Just after lunch at Mennoscah, I quickly packed up all of my stuff and sped back to Harper to catch a ride to the Kansas Mennonite Men’s Chorus practice and concert at Bethel College. This is the first year that I’d ever been in the Chorus.  In fact, it’s probably the first year that I’ve ever even attended a concert.  It was a lot of fun though.  The director of KMMC is Greg Bontrager who is the vocal music teacher at Buhler High School.  Although, I know him because he was my vocal music teacher at Goessel.  He came to Goessel when I was in third grade, which makes both he and I feel pretty old.  At the first practice for KMMC, I found myself having flashbacks to High School music class.  I was amazed at how all of the technique came back with Mr. B at the front.  By the way, for those of you who missed this Sunday’s performance, there’s another one next week at Presser Hall in Lidsborg, Ks on the Bethany College campus.  7pm, I think.

Needless to say, after this weekend, I slept in a little bit on Monday.  I’m still sore and tired today though.  Oh well, here’s to another couple ibuprofen and a nap!

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Friday video fun

Fun little video from Granger Community Church in Northern, Indiana.  King David with Legos.  Enjoy!

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Last year I wrote about my frustrations with Mennonite Media changing their name to Third Way Media.  Now, another one of our “Mennonite” organizations has dropped the name Mennonite.

A couple of weeks ago MMA (The organization formerly known as Mennonite Mutual Aid) changed it’s name to Everence.  What in the world is “Everence” supposed to mean?  For more on that you can read their justification here, but it’s basically supposed to evoke words like “reverence” and “ever”.  Personally, none of the justifications for this particular name are compelling, interesting or worth paying attention to.  But, hey, I don’t work for the expensive branding agency that they hired.

It should come as no surprise to anyone who reads this blog that I’m not particularly thrilled with this move.  I have a variety of issues with this particular move but I’ll try to keep short and organized.

In the article from The Mennonite online, they gave the following reasons for the change.  “MMA told the Mennonite Church USA Executive Board on Feb. 18 that it planned to unveil a new corporate identity and name “that brings together all parts of MMA into a unified brand.” Among the reasons: MMA members are confused by the variety of names currently being used; Mennonites no longer seek out other Mennonites to do business with as they did two generations ago; as an organization that works with multiple denominations, the word “Mennonite” is both a positive and a negative; in Internet search engines, the acronym “MMA” has been taken over by Mixed Martial Arts.

Some of these reasons are interesting but silly.  The Mixed Martial Arts reason is so patronizing it’s not even funny.  There are a couple of reasons buried in this statement that I think hold more weight.  Namely, “Mennonite” has become a liability.  I’ve written more this in other posts so I won’t go into it now but it’s deeply troubling to me that Mennonites have such a bad name that it pushes so many people away that we can’t continue to do business that way.

The other line of note is that there is a critical lack of Mennonite loyalty.  Mennonites not longer seek out Mennonite institutions to do business with.  There are all kinds of issues involved here from acculturation to theology and being different from the world around us.  But this lack of loyalty is not new.  Ask anyone who works at our church colleges what kind of loyalty incoming Mennonite freshman have.  Parents and kids alike simply don’t value Mennonite education and institutions in the way they did even 30 years ago.  That’s a huge problem.

Part of me is unhappy about this change, but part of me is also happy because it finally brings out the fact that MMA is not now, and has not been for a very long time, a true Mutual Aid organization.  A long time ago when MMA was started, it was actually real mutual aid.  It was Mennonites helping other Mennonites.  But somewhere along the way it turned into just another insurance company that intentionally sought to broaden it’s “market” to include many other denominations.  It is telling that now 1/3 of MMA’s customers have no Anabaptist connection.  Clearly, this organization is a long way from the one that it was started to be.

I’m willing to go out of my way to support a church agency that is doing some radically different things.  If MMA was actually Mutual Aid I’d work pretty hard to support it.  But as it is, it’s just another insurance company.  And quite frankly, they don’t offer that good of insurance.  They’re mildly more ethical than some other companies but I know enough of their history to have serious questions about ethics of MMA as well.  The only program that I’d really be willing to stick up for is the new Corinthian plan for pastors in MCUSA.  It’s a plan that combines regular insurance with a mutual aid program to help provide insurance for pastors working at churches that simply can’t afford it.  But the reason that I’ll support this program is because it’s not a regular insurance plan!

While I have issues with the broader theological and philosophical impact of dropping the name Mennonite, I also have real questions with MMA/Everence having the backing of our entire denomination.  Currently they are still our “official” provider of financial services.  I would seriously question this powerful monopoly of MMA/Everence, precisely because I think that their name change is an accurate representation of deep and long standing moves away from what it was created to be.

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