Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Positive Thinking Gets Stranded at the Drive In

This last month marked the final gasp of one of the larger and most shiny shiny congregations of the 20th century.   The legendary Crystal Cathedral, home of the ministries of Robert Schuller and the Hour of Power, has been sold off to the Catholic Church.  

The collapse of that congregation was, perhaps, inevitable.  The church soared to amazing heights back in the boom days of California, as Schuller's message of prosperity and positivity resonated with the community.   First he established a drive-in church....yes, a drive-in, just like that theatre in Grease, only with Jesus instead of schlocky horror flicks, bobbysocks, and popcorn.

This was the early 1960s California, before the car had become America's curse and burden, and so folks flocked to that ministry.  From that success, Schuller built the facility that would define his ministry.  The church soared in size, growing to around 10,000 members, with a significantly greater reach through the media.  

That sanctuary...well...what to say about that sanctuary?   Honestly, though it is impossibly over-huge, I find it...well...aesthetically pleasing.  I'll admit it.   I really like the Crystal Cathedral.  It's kind of awesome, sleek and vast and graceful, in a light filled futuristic way.  It'd be at home on Coruscant.  Utterly impractical, and impossibly over-pricey to cool and heat, but but then again, I'm thinking as an Easterner.  This is SoCal, where the weather is utterly fine, all the time.  It's a lovely building, and I can see why the diocese was so eager to snag it.

Then, of course, came the problem of succession.  When a ministry is built on a single personality, and that personality ain't Jesus, it's in real trouble.  Schuller knew this, of course, but succession in the Big Parking Lot Churches is a tricky thing.  The temptation is to keep the name, to cling to the brand, and that temptation was not overcome.  The church was passed first to his son, and then...when his son proved too much of a fundamentalist and started driving away the masses by seeming, well, mean...on to his daughter.

Even with several thousand members, even with a vast congregation by any standard, it had become too facility and staff-heavy.  By the time the ministry filed for bankruptcy last year, they were fifty million dollars in debt.  And so a multi-thousand member church, a church that musters exponentially more resources than my own sweet little ministry, fails.

They'd overreached, assumed things were going to be the same forever, and were so caught up in their own belief that God will provide and that everything will work out for the best that...well...they just kept on trucking down that path to collapse.   Heck, they're still banking on a miracle, even past the twelfth hour.

That, well, that pretty much never works out.  Ever.

And saying so does not reflect a lack of trust in God, or a lack of faith.  Maintaining a positive attitude is absolutely essential in life.  I say this as a compulsive worrier and a pessimist, traits the Spirit works on.  We do best when we are hopeful and bright with joy.

But there are significant and real boundaries to how that works.  If our hope wanders too far from the best probable grace, then we're not hoping and trusting in our Creator.  We are, instead, making demands of God.  

We are saying, Lord, we know we've continually made decisions that fly in the face of how your creation works.  We've been profligate and unwise and lost in our own dreams.   We've listened to that nice man who said the angels would protect us, and stepped right off the edge of that tower in Jerusalem.  Now we're plummeting down, and as the ground rises scary fast to meet us, could You...just for us, because we're so awesome and You love us nearly as much as we love ourselves...tweak gravity a teensy bit for a moment?

That's not faith.  That's not positive thinking.  That's magical thinking.  That gets you branded a fool, right before things get wet and messy.

Positive thinking is different.  It embraces reality, and allows reality to be suffused with grace, no matter what that reality might be.   Positive thinking finds abundance in less, finds places for joy in struggle, and finds ways to speak grace into sorrow.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Oldline and Occupy: Separated at Birth?

We love meetings.  We do.
Over the Thanksgiving weekend, my attention was drawn to an interesting interchange between the church in which I grew up and the Occupy movement.

I'm a child of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in downtown DC.   My parents were married there.  I was baptized there.  I ran and played with other kids through the five-ish stories of the building.  I got confirmed there.  It was there that I watched my very first nasty church fight, which soured me on church as an institution when I was a teen.  It was there that, despite the fight,  I learned the value of Christian service as a way to shatter the self-absorption of adolescence.  It was there that I returned to serve those in need as an adult, and where I reclaimed my faith.

She's a grand old progressive dame of a church, and just a short walk to the White House.  The pew in which Abraham Lincoln sat to worship still holds a place of honor in the sanctuary, and the original copy of the Emancipation Proclamation sits in one of the many parlors.  Martin Luther King Jr. preached from the pulpit, and the church was deeply active in the civil rights movement.

So it's been fun and not-surprising to see the folks who Occupy nearby using the church as a base for occasional meetings.  The church, being the flagrantly and unrepentantly liberal gathering it is, has also reached out to the Occupy folks.

That took most recent form as the congregation opened its doors for a Thanksgiving feast, one that gave the Occupy folks a chance to eat and celebrate together.   It sounds, by all accounts, to have been a joyful occasion, attended by hundreds who had the opportunity to give thanks together.

What struck me, though, was the process by which the whole thing came about.  That process was outlined in an article in the WaPo.   You have to subscribe/link up via FB if you want access to it, so follow this link forewarned.

Here's how it rolled: An organizer from an interfaith coalition approaches Occupy to ask them to dinner.  He is told that any invitation must be handled as an announcement to the General Assembly, the Occupy decision-making body.   There are protocols to follow, though, and such announcements need to be handled by the outreach committee.

The announcement is made, and there's discussion, but it goes nowhere.  

There's another meeting the next day.  Having worked its way through the proper committee channels to General Assembly this time out, the second attempt at the announcement was well received, and approved by consensus vote.  The decision was made, although the outcome was not entirely clear.

I read this, and I think to myself:

Sweet Mary and Joseph, these people are Presbyterian.

We say aye and nay.  They do jazz-hands up or down.  But dang.  Toe-May-Toe, Toe-Mah-Toe.   The similarities are uncanny.

And a bit worrisome, if Occupy hopes to avoid sliding off the same cliff of cultural irrelevance that the old-line has.

One of the aspects of the old-line denominations that makes us so challenged in the face of more aggressive, corporately structured non-denominational churches is the incredibly high transaction costs within our polity.  Yeah, I'll unpack that.

As a community, the way we approach decision making is immensely demanding.  Committees are layered on committees, and the processes of getting anywhere requires negotiating all manner of well-meaning procedural hoops.

Which means getting things done can frequently be an exercise in frustration, and what does get done is so filtered through competing agendas that it frequently reflects no direction at all.  More importantly, a huge amount of effort is poured into managing the complex dynamics of community life.  Those energies can make for strong and mutually accountable communities, but they also are energies being poured inward.  

And if you pour your energies inward, you do not build a church.  Or a movement.  You simply don't have the time, or the sustained sense of purpose.  This is the profoundly ironic reality of anarchist gatherings.  There are few structures more convoluted and time-consuming than the complex political dance of a collective.

Or a presbytery, for that matter.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Freedom, Faith, and the Jefferson Bible

The original text, handmade by Thomas Jefferson.
Yesterday, the boys, the missus and me decided to head out of the house and roll into downtown DC to do a little museum hopping.  We're remarkably blessed to live so close to the Smithsonian museums that line the National Mall, which are 1) an amazing resource open to the American people and 2) free.   Gotta love you some "free."

There were a couple of exhibits that struck our fancy.  The little guy was big into hitting an exhibit of American military history.  The big guy, while feigning early-teen disdain, called our attention to a display of art based on the photoluminescent creatures that live in the ocean's depths.   My wife was looking forward to an interactive display, in which you could blend your facial features with that of a proto-human.   I will not share that picture, although it was amusing, for reasons having to do with wanting to sleep in my own bed tonight.

The two donor Bibles.
Me?  Well, I wanted to see what is popularly known as the Jefferson Bible.

As a religious studies graduate of Mr. Jefferson's University, this little tome has some iconic power for me, and seeing the thing itself, right there in the case, well, that was cool.

In the event you've not been aware of it, the Jefferson Bible is Jefferson's fairly straightforward attempt to create a text that he found amenable to his Enlightenment Deist sensibilities.   Jefferson, being an eminently rational and philosophical soul, well, he had some trouble with the Bible generally.   His faith...and he was a faithful person, in his own way...really did not extend to being able to embrace the more supernatural elements of the Christian faith.  Miracles?  Angels you could hear on high?  Ancient legal and purity codes?   He just couldn't get there.

Still, he'd been impressed enough with what he had learned about the teachings of Jesus to feel they were worth reading and studying.   So he created his own "Bible," entitled "The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth."

He did not do so by engaging in a careful scholarly re-translation from the most ancient and reliable of texts.  Nope.   Instead, he took a couple of bibles.  Then, he cut out the parts he liked, and pasted them into another book.   That's it.  Hey presto, Jefferson's "The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth."

It's striking for a variety of reasons.

First, given the context, it was a thing to do.  There were plenty of proto-Americans who would have looked rather unfavorably on slicing up a Bible.  There are some even today, although if they've ever cut and pasted a verse into a document, really, honey, it's the same thing.  And you don't get that "Founding Father" status unless you're willing to stand up boldly for what you believe in.

Second, I was struck yesterday at how Ol' Tee Jay managed to inadvertently create a document that looks remarkably like the "Q" source proposed by redaction criticism, that collection of sayings and teachings that both Matthew and Luke most likely had in common, but which has been lost to history.   That was, of course, not his intent.   Jefferson couldn't have cared less about the connection to prophetic literature or to Torah.  He was a busy man, what with a nation to create and all.  He was just pickin' the stuff he liked, without really focusing on the way that the text linked to other texts. 

Third, in creating this document,  Jefferson was doing what most Bible readers do anyway.  We read the bits we like, and focus on the bits we like, and ignore the rest.  We may not go all kindergarten on it with our scissors and paste, but we're perfectly capable of doing that in our minds.   And Lord knows, we do plenty of it, constructing our own understanding of what is valuable and what is not.

There's both necessity and danger in that, of course.  If we get our sorting right, we end up focusing on the parts of the Bible that should be most radically defining.   If we get it wrong?  Well, that can take us into all sorts of odd and delusional places.   But Mistah Jeffahson was discerning enough that he caught most of the good stuff.

Finally, staring at this Jesus mashup cobbled together by a bright soul nearly 200 years ago, I found myself being thankful for the country that he helped form, a country in which we're free to believe as we wish, and where no human being can force belief upon any other human being.   We can persuade and argue and debate.  But we remain, within those boundaries, wholly free.

On this Thanksgiving week, that's a vital and real blessing to remember.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Information for Consumptive People

After watching the long, long lines of eager shoppers who were completely happy to ditch Thanksgiving/rest/family to line up for hours for bargains, I started looking around for some way to wrap my head around that level of consumer motivation.'t seem healthy.

Then I remembered something.  Consumption?  Wasn't consumption once a disease?

And lo and behold, I found this handy-dandy poster.  It reminds us that consumption is an infection, and provides some interesting but somewhat dated suggestions for preventing the spread of consumption in our culture. 

For the current version of that plague, I'm not sure that we've got to worry quite as much about the disposal of spittle.  But some of the suggestions still hold.

Like, say, the reminder that intemperance...that means living out of balance, as I read one major cause of consumption.  Living in dark dwellings, particularly those illuminated only by the light of cable TV or the glow of your laptop?  That's got to be a contributing factor.

I like this recommendation, too:

REMEMBER that FRESH AIR and SUNSHINE are the greatest enemies of consumption and will often cure it when not too far advanced.

That would get you away from the ads and the market propaganda for a while.  

You know, I think that just might work. Assuming we're not all too far gone.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Black Thursday

As we count down the days to Getmas, the biggest festival day of consumer engorgement in America's ritual year is approaching.  That day, of course, is Black Friday.  It's the day set aside for shopping, when most Americans are available to get out there and buy, buy, buy.

If you're working retail, Black Friday is the day you hope to hit profitability for the year.  It's the day when the shoppers come out in droves, and so, well, it's a work day for many, many Americans.

Given how important this day is to our economy, the job creators have over the years gradually tweaked it and expanded it a bit.  A few years ago, we were introduced to the idea of Cyber Monday.

Cyber Monday is that day three days after Black Friday when agoraphobes and those of us who get the heebie jeebies at the very thought of being trapped in traffic in the mall parking lot can all do our shopping online.

This year, we've seen two new spins from the minds of those who are most concerned about making jobs.  There's "Small Business Saturday," when we're supposed to go shopping at small local businesses with whatever money we have left after hitting the Big Boxes on Black Friday.

And then, of course, there's tomorrow.  It's Black Thursday!  Yes, Black Thursday.

Tomorrow is the day right before Black Friday, when most Americans are given a pre-Black Friday vacation day to prepare themselves for shopping.  It's been neglected as a day when consumers could be doing their consuming, and that needs to change.

Yes, I know, this was the day we were supposed to be making lists and reviewing the catalogs that make up 95% of our mail.  But honestly, American shoppers have been wasting this time allocated for Black Friday preparation.

Instead, they've been just sitting around pointlessly at home arguing with their families, eating too much to compensate, and then zoning out unproductively in front of their completely inadequate 42 inch television.   They're often so wacked out on triptophan that they're not even awake to see the ads so carefully placed in the game.   Because of this, we're totally wasting their potential as the engines of our economic recovery.  This year, many of our retail giants have noticed this glaring omission, and are doing what they can to correct it.

Best Buy, Target, and Macys are all bumping their Black Friday start times right up against the border of Black Thursday.   They'll be opening their doors at midnight on Black Thursday, for the shopping convenience of every American.

Walmart, which always has the interests of consumers at heart, will be opening up at 10:00 PM on Black Thursday.   The official announcement from Walmart is:
By sharing our Black Friday specials earlier than ever, we hope to make buying decisions easier for parents working hard to give their families the Christmas they deserve.
Not to be outdone, ToysRUs will be opening at 9:00 PM on Black Thursday.

Of course, some people have whined about this.  You always have some whiners, who are just lazy and unaware of how generous and beneficent our job creators are.  They even got a petition going, which, fortunately, does not have to be paid any attention.   It'll be drowned in the endless sea of catalogs and Kardashian coverage.

So remember, my fellow consumers:  This year, forget about that wasteful, pointless time with your families.  Set aside that unAmerican failure to bump out against the backstops of the credit you've been extended.   Be in touch with the knowledge that your children and your spouse and your friends will not love you unless their market-driven expectations are met.  Get out of your house, put your nose to the shopping grindstone, and do what you've been told to do.

For that, the job creators will be truly thankful.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Keeping Myself Occupied

One of the things I enjoy most about my new ecclesiastical digs out in P-ville is the depth to which my wee kirk is engaged with direct service ministry.   From its active and invaluable engagement with the local direct service ministry to youth-lead engagement with kids in West Africa, this is a church that is actively living out the demand to serve the last and the least and the lost.  Is it perfect?  Nah.  But it's still pretty cool.

That balancing out of theology and service can be a tricky wicket for some congregations.  On the one hand, you've got folks who fixate on theology.   These congregations can be gentle and quietistic.  Or they can be filled with very earnest hard-eyed folks who are more than happy to tell you that they have the answer, and why you really don't understand exactly how You Need To Be Just Like Them.  These congregations can be mean, mean places.

Then there are congregations that flip that, and which are so earnestly focused on fixing injustice that they never quite get around to telling people why they do it.  These congregations are perfectly nice, but they're lousy at adding to their number.  It's easy for them to spiral into isolated grumbling about how things used to be, and how no-one cares any more, as they trudge about wearily resenting the rest of the planet for not getting it together.

I've always been most personally and spiritually content when I'm balancing the two, by which I don't mean being both mean and resentful.  I mean living in the balance between orthodoxy and orthopraxis, between faith and the works that are faith's fruit.

If it's all worship and God-chatter, then I feel dissatisfied.   It's not so much that I feel obligated to engage in service, but rather that when I'm not doing it, I feel listless and frustrated.   If I'm hearing and speaking of the Reign of God, then I naturally yearn to feel that Kingdom dirt between my fingers.  It's what is asked of us, after all.

The challenge is, of course, that I'm just too dag-blanged far away from the teeming metropolis of Poolesville to get deeply engaged in the good work my congregation is doing there.  Some of it?  Sure.  I'm going to be on it if I'm there.   But otherwise, I just cain't do the hour-each-way-with-no-traffic schlep every day and keep my life in balance.  The physical distance is too great.

Plus, I'm only half-time-ish now, and need to respect that.  Some might say I'm underemployed, though I don't feel it.

So this last month, I decided to do what my church does.  To act in solidarity within my own community, so to speak.  From the heart of my "underemployment," I started up working with something called Annandale Christian Community for Action.  It's a direct service ministry right here in my community, and what I'm doing is some grunt work for the Meals on Wheels program.  Meaning I'm now part of the volunteer cadre that drives hot meals to elderly shut-ins in my own neck of the woods.  It's good solid, roots-rock justice n' service stuff.

Unfortunately, those programs have really suffered over the last decade.  It's not that the need isn't there.  The need continues.   But, rather, it's that the culture around us has changed.

If everyone is obligated to work until they're eighty, or engaged in the endless demands of managing children's schedules, then there is no time to dedicate to the needs of those around us.   The deep bonds of voluntarism and neighborly care that are the lifeblood of healthy communities become frayed.

So if me...find yourself with a little bit of extra time on your hands, and the "job creators" haven't found a way to consume your every last waking moment with low-paying labor, consider what you might be able to do with your fallow time.

Perhaps you're called to go camp out in a park.  If so, bless you, my child.  Try to stay warm, and remember to stay focused on why you're there.

If you prefer things to be a bit more hands on, just spend a moment or two on Google.   Start typing the words "Volunteer Opportunities," and the Goog will autofill the places within your area that you might find some meaning and purpose.  There are countless opportunities for action that fulfills the meaning of our day to day.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Church Growth, Presbyterian Style

The goal of every pastor, pretty much without exception these days, is to "grow your congregation."  We train and attend seminars and pray earnestly that the Good Lord will see to bless our efforts with an abundant harvest of eager new pledge uni...I mean, disciples of Jesus of Nazareth.   We talk about new buildings, and salivate over that great plump bunch of unchurched bipeds that seems to dangle ever beyond our reach, like we're Tantalus in Church Planting Hell.

Well, that's the case for pastors outside of the oldline churches, at least.  Y'all either have nice new buildings radiant with big screens and parking and a great honking mortgage, or you're renting and dreaming about it, or you're still flailing away with the same dozen folks in that Bible study/praise circle that was supposed to be a megachurch already, dagflabbit.  

In older churches, there is yearning for more folks, but less earnest entrepreneurial evangelism.  

And we Presbyterians, we're, well, older.  We've been around longer.  We move at our own pace, sonny.

Yesterday, I gave a group of local pastors a brief tour through my rumpled, comfortable, and well-worn church.  I showed them our warm little sanctuary, built in 1847, which is easily the smallest church building in our small town.  I walked them through the building containing my office and the classrooms.  That aging structure was built in 1827, and feels every one of those years. 

One of the pastors, the Baptist, noticed the glassed-in bookcase in my office.  "Wow," he said, perusing the ancient tomes.  "Look at this!  These are really, really old catechisms!"   I told him I'd been meaning to look at them, but the case appeared to be locked.

After they left, I decided to explore the case further.  I fiddled with the lock for a moment, then realized the bookshelf wasn't locked at all, but held closed with an interior clasp.  I gave it a bit of a tug, and the door opened.  The smell of dust and must was strong, but I began to peruse the objects within. 

They were, almost without exception, ancient.  There was a silver bell, undoubtedly used to bring a classroom or meeting to order, that still sounded a tone so bright and clear and sustained that I half expected to look around and find myself in Narnia.   Many were old hymnals from the first decade of the 20th century.  Many more were books that had once been part of a Sunday School, readers and stories and collections of lessons that little groups of children would have had to memorize and recite.

There was, as seen above, a neatly maintained roll book for the Poolesville Presbyterian Sunday School.  Lists showed the names of every child who'd attended school, and whether they'd completed their assignments, and whether or not they'd checked a book out of the library.  It covered the years 1883 through 1885.

At the top of the case, I found a book of Session minutes.  The Session, for if you're blissfully unaware of Presbyterianese, is the group of Elders who are charged with gettin' the work of the church done.   Our board, basically.  As I had a Session meeting coming up in the evening, what better time to peruse Session minutes?   I wiped the dust off off the cover, dust that had gathered over what had clearly been many years, and cracked open the book.

Inside, the minutes began with a record of a meeting of the Session of Poolesville Presbyterian Church on July 12, 1885.   It was written in ink, possibly with a quill, and was in a neatly angled handwritten cursive, precise and meticulous.  This clerk of session---that's the person charged with maintaining the records---really cared about his work.  

He chronicled the decisions of the church, the folks who were seeking to join, and the activities of the pastor, who barely missed a day, except when the weather was most severe or he was called to preach the Gospel elsewhere.   He noted, in a reflection section, that Poolesville Presbyterian Church was not prone to outbursts of the Spirit, as were so many others, or prone to manifesting charismatic gifts.  But they were nonetheless, he mused, doing just fine.  Sounds oddly familiar.

As I read, my curiosity was piqued.  If this was a Session book...of a Presbyterian Church...then it would have the statistical records and accounting.  It would tell me just how big my church was back then.  I flipped through to where that would be in a current book, and lo and behold, there it was.

Total membership of Poolesville Presbyterian Church, one hundred and twenty six years ago?  

Seventy One.

Our current membership lies at around eighty-four.

I guess that means we're growing, by, hmm, what is that, almost 20% every one hundred years.   

So we're on track to be a thousand member church by, hold on, let's do the extrapolation, the Year of Our Lord Thirty Four Hundred and Two.

All part of the plan, my friends.  All part of the plan.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A Very Starbucks Christmas

Last night, as I chugged a thousand words closer to the manuscript I'm currently working on, I did so whilst ensconced in one of the thirty-seven Starbucks within a five mile radius of my home.  I'm there regularly for a few hours on Tuesdays, while my little guy rocks out at the School of Rock for a three hour band practice.

This last week, it being a whole week before Thanksgiving, Starbucks did its Christmas morph, going from being pumpkin-orange and Fallish to being full-throttle red and white Lil' Baby Jesus cheer. Yeah, it's not Thanksgiving yet, but given the failure of the Salted Mocha Caramel Turkeychino last year, I guess the guys at corporate just assume that they may as well go with Christmas.

Take note, O ye who fret about the War on Christmas: there was plenty of Christmas on display at Starbucks.  It's the Christmas Blend, not the Holiday Blend, so our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ may be honored by the "signature blend of aged Sumatran coffee and other Asia/Pacific and Latin American beans" that most fully gives Him the Glory.

The background music piped in wasn't just Jingle Bells and other unacceptably pagan accretions.  It included indy-lite palatable versions of the Little Drummer Boy, and then a full on version of Silent Night.  As the sound system cooed about the Holy Infant So Tender and Mild, I found myself wondering why it was bugging me so.

The rendition wasn't a bad one, but Silent Night is a sacred song, one that evokes candlelight and gentle reverence.  As marketplace muzak, it felt misused.  Desacralized.

The three twenty-something baristas working there seemed to be struggling a bit with the music, too, although for a totally different reason.  One commented to another that he wasn't sure he could live with hearing this music, over and over again, for the next two months.

I chimed in, asking how long they'd been playing it, and asking if they could survive another month of it.  Another barista responded that it was going to go longer, out 'till mid-January, to squeeze every last drop of Christmas out of the season.  He groaned.  It was clear that they'd be totally sick of all of these songs by the time they were finally given permission not to play them any more.

Twenty minutes later, as I was the only patron in the store, the assistant manager asked me if I'd mind if they changed it over to blues for a bit.

Whatever's going to keep you sane, I replied.

So blues it was.

I don't think Jesus minded the switch.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Occupy Targeting

Stay on target.   Stay on target.
With a tiny bit of free time on my hands this last week, and my flighty muse temporarily disinterested in the book I'm chugging away on, I found myself doing a little bit of research.

With the days growing short and the winter coming on, the Occupy Movement here in DC is going to be facing a conundrum of sorts.  The long history of sustained camping-demonstrations here in the Nation's Capital combined with a moderate-to-progressive local ethos may not yield the sort of forcible removals we've been seeing in city after city this last week, but one never knows.  It didn't stop the aggressive action to clear out Zuccotti Park last night in New York, at the heart of where the Occupy movement began.  There, the response of the Movement was mostly what it needed to be.  Just clear out.  Just pick up peaceably, smile at the nice officers and tell them you love them, move, and then settle back in the next morning, like the murmuration you are.

Still, time is short.  The Death Star is clearing Yavin.  It is important to stay on target.

The larger challenge will come, in DC at least, in reinforcing identity and in spreading popular support for the movement among Americans generally.   To do this, I would ask that Occupy K St and Occupy DC consider direct action that reflects the actuality on the ground.   Having gotten the satire out of my system on that subject, here's a simple proposal for consideration by the General Assemblies in question:

As the political system is not, not yet, the focus of Occupy, focus on the ground you inhabit.  Call out those places of power that are not accountable.  What troubles most Americans is the control over our political system by powerful, entrenched, and moneyed interests.  The One Percent, as they say.  These are the lobbyists, the potent influence-shops that employ our politicians and politicos after they've left office.   This is where corporate money buys the direction of our culture, and where the good of the country is taken out of the hands of voters and citizens.   This is the heart of injustice.  The political leaders from either of the two parties we're permitted to choose from do not speak against these places, and they will not.  Not ever.  It's where their campaign staffers go to work, and where they themselves hope to pad the nest for their retirements.

Resisting those places would have purchase, deep purchase.   If America hears you are doing this, Honeychild, ninety-nine percent of them will wave their hands in the air and say AMEN.  Even the Tea Party will acknowledge the excellence of your kung fu.

Here in the District of Columbia, there are plenty of office-fronts where a few hundred souls with signs making noise could light up, in a prophetic way, those places of unaccountable power.  These are not places known to most citizens, but as I'm a DC townie who likes to do research, I know 'em.   The next time you're considering a nonviolent Guy Fawkes-masked march or an impromptu resistance dance party, consider these as destinations:

The Podesta Group.   Akin Gump.   Patton Boggs.   I have selected these three against two primary criteria:  1) they need to be in easy walking distance of your encampments, and 2) they need to perfectly represent the essential power you oppose.

Let me light 'em up a little for ya.

The Podesta Group is a good place to start.  They're at 1001 G Street, NW, Suite 900.   They are, according to opensecrets, the number three lobbying shop in DC this year, pulling in over twenty million dollars from their clients in 2011 alone.  And oh, what lovely clients they have.  They've pushed the interests of BP, Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, Bank of America, and various Big Pharma corporations, and that's just this year.

If you're having a Pavlovian response to Podesta, well, that's because it is just so very tasty.

Akin Gump is a DC powerhouse, and has been for decades.  I used to work in the same building they inhabit, at 1333 New Hampshire Avenue, NW.  I watched former lawmakers and power-players go in and out, in and out.  The guy who advised Clinton to hush up the Lewinsky thing?  He worked there.    They represent, among many others, Chinese interests, Big Oil, Boeing, and casinos.  It's a short walk, right next to Dupont Circle, and if you want to stop in for a beer at the Front Page afterwards, it's right there.  They're number two on the list of 2011 lobbying firms, at twenty-five million in receipts in 2011.

Finally, there's Patton Boggs, the big boy on the block.   They're looking at nearly thirty million in client money for 2011.  Their huge client list includes various large big Pharma players and Walmart.  They are also in the notable employ of several big-ticket investment and financial interests, who are their largest dollar amount clients.

Meaning, my friends, that they work for Wall Street.  This is where the power of Wall Street reaches into the halls of governance, kids.  This is where the social connections of power are leveraged, bought, traded, and sold.    This is why you're here, and it's only a 25 minute walk from McPherson Square, at 2550 M Street, NW.

So I will leave this in your hands, to do with what you will.  Be peaceful.  Be loud.  Be gracious.  Be bold.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Descending Into Hell

After two great worship services, a meeting or two, and some prep-work for this week's session meeting, I  clocked out of Poolesville at about 2:15 PM yesterday.  My pastorly duties were done for the day, but I wasn't finished being a Christian.

I donned my riding gear, threw a leg over the 'Strom, and hopped on the One-Oh-Seven heading back towards Dee See.  My destination was about 45 minutes away, at a local hospital, where one of the members of my former congregation has been for the last month.  

This is, let me note, not my job anymore.  I know this.  I do.  But that isn't really what matters, not ultimately.

He never really quite fit in at my old church.  He was an older man, big and vigorous and musical, but could be completely oblivious to others.  He also had an unfortunate semi-adolescent forwardness around women, one that required me, with others, to sit on him a little bit.  But my talks with him, which were frank and direct, both yielded a cessation in behavior and a knowledge on his part that I was looking out for his well-being spiritually.

He never married.  He has no kids.  His relationship to his family was, where it existed, only marginally functional.   His approach to finances was not wise.    And his health, over the last year, began to collapse, in that cascading way that bodes ill for life.

It was never quite clear what his diagnosis was, or, at least, he was never clear on it.   Weakness begat weakness, and his life spiraled downward into hospitalization, being sent home, and then being re-hospitalized, after which he'd be sent home again, too weak to care for himself.  His home descended into squalor.  I'd visit, and even though there were provisions for in home care, he'd have not eaten in days.

He had a stroke just after I moved on from my Bethesda church, and I'd visited him.   Then the word came that people thought...thought...he was in a coma following a surgery.  No-one was quite sure.

So of course, I had to visit.   Not because I was his pastor, but because I am the only person who visits him.  I got the hospital to confirm that he was there.  No other information provided, of course, HIPAA be damned to the hell it inadvertently creates.

I wish he'd been in a coma.

He was, instead, intubated.  He was also being fed through a tube.  He was catheterized.  And he was, despite being too weak to move his arms and unable to speak because of the breathing tube, aware, and in considerable discomfort.

I struggled to find a way to communicate.  My ability to lip-read is marginal, and as he tried futilely to speak, I ascertained that wasn't going to work.  A few simple questions indicated that no-one had been to see him for a while.  I talked for a little bit myself, spinning a simple wordspell of calm, of a beautiful fall and bright crisp days and little country churches that sang the old, old songs.  That helped, for a moment or two.

But he again grew agitated, and asked for the writing pad that the nurses had tried to use to reach him.  I saw it covered with meaningless chicken scratches.  He tried, he really did, to write.  But he couldn't.  He was simply too weak.

I simply could not understand him.  I tried to get him to sound out the letters of what he was trying to tell me.  After a minute, only one word:  AGENDA.

Is that what you mean, I asked.  He nodded.  This was what he meant to say.  I am still not quite sure what that means.

He began to mouth things animatedly, but I couldn't get most of what he was saying.

Before I left him, I held his hand, and we prayed together.  It seemed to help him a bit, and there was little else I could do.

I could not ask after his prognosis at the nurses station, because they are legally mandated not to tell me anything.  I could not ask the doctors what the goal of their treatment regimen was, of whether they thought that the tubes and the indignity served any ultimate purpose other than sustaining the organic process of human suffering.  I could not ask their agenda.

Though I was his pastor, and am still his friend and his brother in Christ, and he is otherwise alone in the world, that means very little in the American medical system and the laws that now govern it.

HIPAA does not recognize those things as valid categories.

I wonder just how many more souls like him there are, hidden away in the great warehouses for the broken and the alone we have created.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Abortion, Mississippi, and Personhood

One of the more surprising outcomes from this week's electoral event was the solid defeat of the "Personhood" amendment in Mississippi.   That amendment, in the event that you're not aware of it, would have changed the Constitution of the Magnolia State to include the following language:
"The term person or persons shall include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the functional equivalent thereof."
The purpose of that amendment was simple.  If a human being becomes a person at the moment of fertilization, then abortion involves terminating the life of a person.  If that is the case, then abortion is not permissible under any circumstances, as it would be killing a person in the eyes of the law.  That approach reinforces the understanding, commonly presented in anti-abortion circles, that any murder.

That's a great rallying cry, a marvelously Alinskian way to motivate and stir the passions of a movement.  The primary problem with it, of course, is that it has no connection to reality.  It is an axiom utterly ungrounded in both human biology and the ethics of Scripture.  I say this as someone who does not embrace abortion as a means of birth control.  Abortion is plain ol' kind of horrible.  My views on it reflect what I see to be the actuality of abortion, which is that it exists in a difficult area of ethical greyscale.   The application of a binary worldview to this issue is both misguided and destructive.  Sure, it's easy.  But some things are just hard.

From a biological standpoint, fertilization can hardly be considered the moment at which life qua life begins.  The joining of egg and sperm does begin *something*, but having actually taken biology coursework, I know that this *something* very often amounts to nothing.

Damaged or non-viable embryos typically self-abort.  Many years ago, my wife and I went through this when we were trying to conceive for the first time.  She had an early miscarriage while we were on vacation, and while it was really no fun at all, we didn't feel we'd lost a child.   "Missed Abortions," as they are called, are surprisingly common.  They are completely different than a late term miscarriage, which is a wholly different and far more tragic thing.

But according to the axiom of the personhood supporters, there is no difference.  Allowing for difference would require watering down the rhetoric.  Unfortunately, sticking with that rhetoric and codifying it into law means that many common means of birth control (the pill, IUDs) would be impacted, as would many of the techniques medical science has developed to help couples overcome infertility.

Mississippi, even though it is deeply and essentially conservative, was able to see through the falseness of that reflexive and dualistic approach to being a person.

What's interesting to me here is that in refusing to support this amendment, Bible-Belt Mississippi has actually taken the Biblical road on the subject.  The ethics of Torah, Wisdom and the Prophets do not assume personhood for an early term embryo, but instead assume that it inhabits an in-between-place.  The Bible indicates that it is not nothing, to be thrown out or discarded without a thought.  But neither is it fully human, as you or I are human.

Rhetoric that argues otherwise cannot claim to be Biblical.  I'm not sure if that makes its way into most Mississippi sermons, unless its the one on the last Sunday before the pastor is encouraged to consider a career in retail.

But perhaps the practical wisdom of a conservative people means a significant majority get it anyway.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The One Percent Commute

For sale!  Price? $4.8 million.  That's $18,000 a month, kids.
It's my commute every day now, this journey up River Road, northward to my little church in the little town of Poolesville.  I depart my modest brick rambler, located in an inside the Beltway Virginia suburb, in a neighborhood inhabited by federal workers and military officers.   These are not inexpensive homes, because nothing around DC is inexpensive.

But they are also utterly average, in fact, smaller than average.  It's a nice neighborhood, but it is not rich, at least not yet, not by the standards we so desperately cling to as we feel them slipping through our fingers.

I motor onto the Beltway, slog through traffic, cross the Potomac on the American Legion Bridge, and then take Exit 39 onto River, headed west north west, through an area called Potomac, Maryland.

I have often commented in blog-passing about the homes on this road, about their size and ostentation.  Today, I thought I'd share a representative sample of them with you, a picture being worth a thousand words and all.  So I stopped the bike, here and there, and took some snapshots.

A nice little driveway.
Understand this:  there is no significant industrial base in and around DC.  It is not a major financial center.  It is a government town, and I am not overreaching when I state that these homes are built on the foundation of our tax dollars and/or the good faith and credit of the United States.

They are not, of course, the homes of federal workers, those "wasteful bureaucrats" who exist primarily in the minds of those who buy what the right-wing corporate-funded media sells them.  You can live comfortably on a federal government income, but even people who've climbed the ladder all the way into senior executive service do not live in homes like this.

These are the homes of high powered lawyers, and lobbyists, and contractors.  These are the homes of those who live and work in the private sector, and who make their money off of government.  These are the homes of those with the power that comes with wealth.

A quaint little residence.
Now, some of the residents of these homes are perfectly pleasant people, I have no doubt.  I also don't doubt that many..if not all..of them are educated, hardworking, and driven.  Some may be quite charming.  Some of them may well have created interesting new products or services.  Some may be foreign dignitaries, here to schmooze and wine and dine.  I cannot speak to the particular merits of the souls in residence at these places, nor would I presume to.

But I can note, because it is hard to miss, that the row upon row of vast homes and estates out on the periphery of the nation's capital seem strangely incongruous in a time of concern about governmental efficiency and stifling debt. 

A personal favorite, for it's tackiness and eagle-based decor.
Driving a road upon which one passes one vast mansion after another after another, it's hard to see just quite how the ethic that builds these homes meshes with the economic worries that consume the nation whose wealth went into building them.  It's hard to see how these homes, which present like the estates of Venetian gentry or the dachas of Soviet commissars, mesh with the values of our republic as it struggles to find its feet again.

Though I've been riding this road for months, it still feels vaguely unseemly and unsettling as I pass through them.

Fortunately, River Road continues on, and the homes grow more modest.  By the time I've reached my destination, the surroundings are small town humble, surrounded by farmland and cattle and horses, large working plots of land with well-kempt but relatively modest homes.

It feels like America again.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Virginia, Government, and the Golden Egg

This morning, I went to vote in a local election here in the great state of Virginny.  The wife and I motored the several hundred yards to the local Episcopalian church, which has served as our polling place since we first moved into the area.   There, our way through the cast our votes.

Not really, of course.  It being a state and local election only, the turnout was marginal.   I wait longer in line at Chipotle than I did this morning to vote.  If you hit Politico's website, you've got to dig through the Herman Cain psychodrama for a ways before you even discover there was an election today.  We Americans are remarkably good at announcing how wonderful our democracy is, and completely wretched at participating in it. 

The polls were empty, but for once, it wasn't for a lack of sound and fury at the local level.  This is the first time I've ever, ever gotten an attack-text, for instance, sent from an anonymous number and insinuating that a school board member (a Democrat) was responsible for the misuse of funds.  Conservatives are taking local elections seriously, and it's going to pay dividends.

It's looking to be a bad day for the Democratic party in the state, which has a strong chance to lose the Virginia Senate, leaving Richmond entirely controlled by the GOP.  This sets up a rather odd dynamic.

The VA GOP, like the GOP across the country, is vigorously anti-Washington.  Government is the enemy, and business is the source of all things good.  So the rhetoric here is radically anti-regulation, anti-tax, and anti-federal government.  That's why Virginia is now frequently rated as the most business-friendly state in the Union.

Here's the odd thing.  If you look at Virginia's economic base, our business community is in fact thriving.  But the primary pillar supporting of the Virginia business economy is the federal government. 

Heck, the primary business of Virginia IS government.  Not just federal civilian employees and members of the armed services, mind you, although there are plenty of 'em. 

Federal contractors, defense contractors, government-funded research, and Navy shipyards are the meat and potatoes of what Virginia's business sector does to make money.  Given that the state can no longer fall back on good ol' standbys like tobacco and slavery, the gutting of the federal government...the killing of the beast that has been the quest of conservatism for a generation...will smash a huge hole in the economic health of our region. 

The collateral Virginian economy, meaning retail, construction, real-estate, and services, all of that relies on the tax dollars and deficit-spending that the GOP so vigorously opposes.  Remove that base and the difference between the economy of Virginia and the economy of West Virginia is reduced in ways that I think most Virginians probably aren't eager to see.

The success of a pro-business, anti-Washington, pro-austerity GOP agenda means significant pain for much of the Virginia economy.  The GOP in the state has gone hard into that national level focus, which would seem to fly radically against the actual self-interest of most of their constituents.  And yet, here we are.

Whereever you stand on the role of government, it's an odd irony.  

Monday, November 7, 2011

Re: The Occupy K Street Account

The following represents a privileged client communication of Ferguson and Cohen, LLC as defined by federal law, SEC Section C642.h - C645r, 1992.   Any unauthorized distribution of this material represents a violation of the aforementioned statute, and will be subject to felony prosecution and penalties.

DATE:  10.28.11
TO:  R. Cohen, D. Ferguson
FROM:  J. C. Morgenstern
RE:  Occupy K Street Account Development Strategy Session

Following our new client development strategy session last month, I and my staff were tasked with doing an initial development FTF with Occupy K Street.

As the management team discussed during our September 17 planning meeting, the Occupy movement has increasing brand visibility, with all media-market metrics since brand incept showing explosive and exponential growth.   This growth is coupled with a strikingly positive brand-identity in broad and multiply replicable public survey data, a yield that is verified by our own internal assessments.

Our review of recent contract-chatter through informal professional social networks indicated that, amazingly, neither Occupy Wall Street nor its subsidiary Occupy K Street have retained the services of brand management and strategic planning consultants.  Clearly, this represented an opportunity for F&C to expand our client base into a new and growing market.

Our New York office was charged with initial contact with Occupy Wall Street, and I and my team began preliminary work on potential front-end deliverables for the K Street subsidiary.

To that end, my client development staff conceptualized some preliminary Six Sigma/POLIS Delta protocols for the movement, which we felt would clearly represent the value-added of engagement with F&C's branding team.  The two most promising POLIS/Delta yields:

1) Increased Drilldown on Brand-Specific Marketing Events:  In our assessment, Occupy K Street has the potential to be the most viable of the Occupy subsidiaries, particularly given its location at the nexus between corporate power and the American political system.   Its primary location is within several hundred yards of some of the most influential and well funded corporate lobbying firms.   To date, however, it has failed to leverage that synergy to any discernable advantage.

Instead, it appears primarily focused on impromptu dance parties in intersections, making cardboard signage, intense respectful discussions, and drum circles, none of which are recognized as mission critical functions in our Six Sigma protocols.  It has also diluted brand-identity by engaging in non-productive partnerships with previously established brands, such as FreeTibet LLC and GazaCorp.

Our value-added on this front would be to identify individual lobbying firms, their partners, and their office locations.   Focusing media events on the entities that define K Street in the public eye would, in our assessment, yield a positive and predictable process result.  It would also expand brand appeal into the fragmenting Tea Party market.

2)  Improve Social Media Messaging Brand Protocols:  A review of social media outputs indicated considerable potential for improvement in messaging strategy.   The primary twitter feed, for example, seems primarily used to say there isn't enough water/shelter/pizza, or to fret about the cops, or to talk about interpersonal disagreements.  As messaging goes, this could use some refinement.  A market-identity that is hungry/thirsty/cold is unlikely to draw significant support in the key 18-34 young urban demographic, and while highlighting interpersonal drama works well within the reality television marketplace, it has been shown to be less effective as a tool for mass movement mobilization.

Refocusing primary social media messaging away from damage control, in-house-chatter, and development efforts and towards the aforementioned Brand-Specific Marketing Events would increase the visibility of the Occupy K St movement.  Those functions could be dealt with by secondary outlets.

With these two primary yields, our team endeavored to approach senior management at Occupy K Street to establish the front-end relationships necessary for proposal negotiations.  Background research indicated that the management structure at all Occupy subsidiaries is a carefully guarded corporate secret, and our experience onsite confirmed this research.  Each initial contact insisted they had no knowledge of senior management.  Most seemed unwilling to admit to any knowledge of CoC structure, and would stay messaging-consistent, insisting that there was no such thing.   Despite this considerable and impressive control over management access, we persisted.

Our eventual on-site FTF came following a chance encounter with an individual named Johnny Justice Muffin, who admitted that he was, in his own words, "The Supreme High CEO of All This [Fornicating] [Excrement], Bro."   CEO Justice-Muffin indicated that there is some distance between our anticipated front-end billables (150 hours at a staff-average $100/hr, plus 35% overhead) and their fiscal year 2012 budget for management consulting (a previously used tarp, two hand-made free-range squirrel-fur caps, and a package of what was described as "some seriously kind [stuff], it only looks like shake, man.")

Given this hard-line approach to contract negotiations, it is our recommendation that next-stage conversations be subcontracted to our contract development specialist team.  I will look forward to further conversations on that front, and to responding to your questions, at this next months client development strategy session.


Friday, November 4, 2011

Oakland, The Black Block, and the Ethics of Anarchy

Given the absence of any membership fee for the Occupy Movement, it was perhaps inevitable that there'd be the kind of unpleasantness that was seen in Oakland this last week.  Yesterday, the reportage of the actions of a few non-representative human beings was extensive, as the seemingly inevitable masked and black-clad young men smashing things made their always-welcome appearance.

Their actions diluted and distracted from what appears to have been an entire day of nonviolent direct action, as large crowds of demonstrators...families, kids, veterans, young people, blue-collar workers, and folks of all races and creeds...loudly but peaceably expressed their resistance to the structures of consumer culture that have cast our society out of balance.

Many media outlets identified the window-smashers and rock throwers as representing the actions of anarchists.   They're wearing black?  They're smashing things?  Must be anarchists.

Here, though, I must demur.

There were anarchists present in Oakland that day.  The anarchists, however, were the ones who showed up during the daylight hours.  They were the the students and moms and the kids and the workers.   They were the peaceful ones, the players of music, the chanters of slogans.  The smashers and throwers and breakers of [stuff]?  Not anarchists, not really.

Why not?  Aren't they the archetype of the anarchist, so definitive that they might show up in a children's picture book, under "A is for Anarchist?"

Anarchy, as I have and will continue to assert, is the fundamental ethical refutation of coercive power.   "No-power-over" is, after all, what that word means.  It stands in radical contrast to the power of the state and the subsidiary but related power of the marketplace.  It is not a system of government, but instead an ethic, a worldview that defines the actions of a human being no matter what the structural context in which they find themselves.

From that as a conceptual foundation, engaging in violence means that you haven't grasped or internalized the ethic you purport to live by.  Violence is, after all, the application of coercive power.  If you claim to reject coercion as inherently destructive to the integrity of human beings, and yet inflict direct and material harm on others to get what you want, then you have not internalized the slogans you wear on your black t-shirts.

You aren't an anarchist.  You're a hypocrite.

There is more to anarchy than saying "I can do anything I want, and no-one's the boss of me."  That is the ethic of solipsism, the delusional assumption that the entire universe revolves around you and your needs.  That ethic gets along just fine with consumerism.

Anarchy goes deeper, requiring an individual's rejection of violence even as a means of achieving their own needs.  For that, an anarchist turns to nonviolence, expressing their will while intentionally refusing to allow the ethos of violence to define them.

The folks who smashed and burned are no more anarchists than those men who recently attacked and cut the beards and hair of peaceable Amish-folk are Amish.

If you yield to the ethics and instruments of the Enemy, you serve the purposes of the Enemy.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Mysticism, Liberalism, and Post Modernity

Yesterday, as I walked to get dinner on a clear and beautiful Fall evening, I found myself inexplicably musing on a tension that exists between my own strain of flagrant and unrepentant liberalism and the liberalism of post-modernity.

I'm unquestionably a liberal, by any meaningful definition of that term.   I think the first response that any sentient being needs to have to an encounter with the new or the different needs to be openness, consideration, and forbearance.   That leads me to be open to gays and lesbians, open to people of other faiths, and open to individuals of varying political philosophies.  It doesn't extend to tolerance of intolerance, violence, and hatred, of course, but otherwise, we cool.

Underlying that worldview is a rather fundamentally mystic view of the nature of existence.  I believe that all things are interconnected, that I and you and everything are woven together in ways that we understand only through a glass dimly.  That sense of interconnectedness is itself undergirded and founded on my Christian faith, as I see my Creator's work all around me, and the potential grace of the Nazarene and the light of the Spirit in every human being I encounter.

Here, though, if I am honest, I think my foundation for liberalism diverges from that of secular post-modernity.

As I grasp that worldview, the underlying assumption is that all meaning is socially-mediated or derived from particular individual contexts.  There is no "truth," at least not with a capital "T", beyond those truths that we fabricate for ourselves.  What is good is what we individually say is good, and it is not possible to make any assertion of the good that extends beyond individual preference.

Within the context of that radically individualistic and particularistic worldview, tolerance of other perspectives arises from the assertion that if no perspective is normative for all, then no perspective is invalid.   We must accept all perspectives, because our own is just ours.

While both can yield acceptance of the stranger, one is an ethos of separation and difference, another, the ethos of interconnectness and union.

This, I think, may be one of the more significant distinctives between being a progressive person of faith and a secular progressive.  

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Google+ and the Integrated Person

I had a short exchange on Google+ today, with someone who'd suggested in a comment that a recent blog post of mine was "manufactured" and "irresponsible."  It was interesting, in that it represented the first time I've ever had any sort of interaction on that new-ish social network.

About two months ago, I plopped into Google+, along with everyone else.  This was, in the event you've forgotten, supposed to be a very big deal.  Here, finally, was a threat to Facebook's total dominance of the social network marketplace.   The "pitch" for this new network was that it would revolutionize social media.  Now, finally, there was a way to insure that your mom wasn't going to see you tagged in that picture backin' up and/or gettin' freaky on that skeeve while clubbing at 2:32 am Sunday morning.   

"But honey, didn't you say you couldn't make it to church because you had the flu?"

Having been kept outside with the rest of the rabble by the virtual bouncers at the gate as the hip and the powerful were admitted, I expected something different.  When I arrived on Google+, I expected to experience the humming chatter of eager first-adopters, as the net-elite filled the new network with their radiant, connected savvy.   

Instead, it was like going back and visiting my MySpace page.  It was dead as a doornail, as stale as canned laughter.   There was nothing going on.  

So I got to wondering why.

Part of it, I'm sure, is social network fatigue.  Those friends on Facebook haven't all migrated over, nor has everyone who follows you on Twitter.  Managing all of it is undoubtedly too much, and once you're invested in several online communities, you're probably at your saturation point.   There's only so scattered we can get, after all.

But I did wonder if perhaps...perhaps...the whole "Circles" thing is part of the reason that Google+ has proven so anticlimactic.  I've never seen any reason to break my online presence out into discrete and separate demographic groups.  It becomes yet another thing to manage, and Lord knows we don't need that.

There's something else, though.  Something more important.  If I post something on Facebook, or write something here, I don't care who sees it.  If you're an evangelical Christian or an atheist, a friend or a troll or my mom, you're welcome to see what I put out there.  

Rule of thumb, in the online world?  Never write or say anything that you're not willing to have everyone see.  That includes your aforementioned mother and the gentle-spirited eight year old child of the person whose web-site you're trolling.  Think and try to be discerning before you hit return or click post.

It's not a bad rule in life, actually.  For despite the unreflective self-indulgent me-ness of this era, self-editing is not dishonest.  It's the hallmark of both wisdom and personal integrity.  So what I say all represents me.

Well, not entirely all.  There's stuff I do and think that I don't put online.  There are things in my life that are intimate, and things in my life that I occasionally struggle with, that I'm not going to disclose in a long rambly post or a TMI moment on Facebook.

For those things, I talk to other people.  Face to face.  Person to person.  There, I don't really need another circle, nor do I need a mediating structure to help me connect with it.  That circle already exists, and is woven out of the flesh and faces of friends and family.

Maybe Google+ will survive.  But does it need to?  I don't think I'd even notice if it was gone.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Occupy Church

Over the past week, one particular image has made the rounds through my social network.  My corner of the twitterverse and my Facebook neighborhood is unsurprisingly inhabited by a fair number of progressive Christians, most of whom feel considerable solidarity towards the Occupy movement.  The image that's been passed along and shared by at least a dozen folks from within that self-selected group is apparently either a Keynote or a Powerpoint slide, converted into an image file.  OCCUPY CHURCH, it proclaims, followed by a list of demands.

It's got a slightly casual font, the requisite bullet points, and a picture of the inside of a very traditional church.   Somewhere, some leftist pastor talked this one out in front of a group, before pitching it out to their social network.  I considered reposting it on several occasions, but just couldn't bring myself to do it.  Why?  Because it's not quite where it needs to be if it is to be OCCUPY CHURCH.   It's not bad, mind you.  But it's not there yet.  Let me elucidate:

First, it's not got the lingo down.  Yeah, the language might warm the cockles of the hearts of progressives, but it's too generic and secular.  There's not a single thing in the entire list of demands that would identify this as being pertinent to faith in the Nazarene.  Yes, you can get to every single one of those principles from the teachings of Yeshua Ben Yahweh.   That's certainly how I get there.  But the slide itself seems oblivious to the context into which it needs to speak.  Change the picture and the word "church," and this could easily be the list of demands from the Governing Central Council of Occupy Boise.   That dog don't hunt, people.  If you want to speak into a faith context, then respect the language of that community, and the faith ethos that defines it.

Second, it's a list of demands.  As such, it comes across as disconnected from the community into which and for which it presumes to speak.   Honestly, it's a tich reminiscent of the Judean People's Front.  Sorry...that's the People's Front of Judea.  If you want to make demands of church, then, brothers and sisters, you first need to be church.   And if you are church, meaning you speak as a person who is living  into the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, then, dagnabbit, include yourself into those demands.  It's not an "I demand that you."  It's a "Christ demands that we."  If it isn't a "we?"  Then it's culturally imperialistic.

Third, if you're going to Occupy Church, then you need to be willing to get people into church.  The oldline pews in that slide are notably empty, eh?   That means...and I know this is a hard one for progressives...that you have to be evangelical about it.   Yes, EEE-van-Jell-ickle.  That word means good news, after all, and when Jesus talked good news, it was first and foremost to the poor, the struggling, and the disenfranchised.

You don't need to be a self-righteous, judgmental New Pharisee.  You don't need to spew fear and Hellfire and Brimstone at gays and women and Democrats.  But you do need to tell people about the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth in such a way that they feel it's worth listening and joining in.  Otherwise, you're just blowing smoke.

So, in the interests of not just complaining and actually doing, I've reworked the slide a teensy bit.  That reworking is above.  The symbolically imperfect six bullet points have been replaced with a perfect seven.  The demands are the same, but inclusive and participatory, and clearly rooted in our sacred tradition.   References are included, because for many Jesus people, that's kind of important.   And it does talk about encouraging others to join in.  Because if you don't do that, you don't have a movement, now, do you?

Feel free to share it, if it works for ya.