Thursday, July 15, 2010

New Website!

Howdy Y'all - if you didn't hear it yet - let me tell you that the new website is up and running!  Please visit regularly for mind enhancing blog posts! 

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Can God Be Surprised?

The eBook will be available here after July 1, 2010.

If you have suggestions for the new website email them to me: theologypirate(at)gmail(dot)com!

Team Church!

What team are you on?  This is a question I enjoy asking our youth on a regular basis.  As the seasons and the interests of young people change it is fun to find out what sport and what team a they are on.  Some youth make the rounds and try everything.  Others stick to one sport and play it year round.  There are moments of joy and celebration when a team does well.  And there are moments of pain and disappointment when a young person is injured from a sport or loses a competition.  There is always much to talk about with sports and youth.  The church and youth group has something to learn from sports.  The commitment and teamwork that a young person invests into a team is a lot like church.  So in this article I will explore what youth ministry has to learn from sports.
The team.  When a young person joins a team they become connected to that group of people.  Everyone on it shares whatever happens to the team.  A win is a win for the whole team, and a loss is a loss for every person.  When you are a member of a church you have decided to join that team.  The wins and the losses that are experienced on this team are shared by everyone.  The birth of a healthy baby, a Baptism, a wedding, and a graduation are all wins in life.  They are moments of celebration that the community shares.  This community helps to increase the celebration and joy at such a victory.  Imagine that you score the winning point in a basketball game.  Isn’t it the team that carries you on their shoulders and douses you with Gatorade?  So it is with the wins of your life.  The church is the team that lifts you up, prays for you, hands you a piece of cake, gives you hugs, handshakes, cards, and gifts to increase the joy of your accomplishments.

But just as no team has a totally perfect record, no church lives life without losses.  In the game of life we will all experience loss.  There is the loss of a job, the loss of life, the loss of a marriage.  There are personal failures: poor choices you make that lead to consequences you regret.  Sometimes you blow it and lose the game.  It’s what the kids call: “epic fail.”  When this happens it is the team that stands by you and shares in the bitterness of loss.  This why at a funeral the church comes together.  We are here to bear a portion of the sadness, to grieve, to hold one another up, and to wait with patient expectation for hope and new possibilities with God.

God is our coach.  A good coach knows her players and knows in exactly what areas a player can improve their game.  Similarly God works in each of our lives through the Holy Spirit to love and support us.  Pastors and youth ministers are like team captains.  You’ve called us to help lead as one of you, but we are in the team right next you experiencing the wins and losses just as you are.  We are not above the game.  And just as the team captain is not necessarily the MVP (most valuable player) neither are we.  There are leaders that rise up from within the congregation to take the lead in the game of life.  Some have been playing the game a long time and have advice on how to win more and suffer losses less.  Some players are younger and full of energy.  We need your youth and exuberance.  All of us look to God for guidance.

Commitment. A team is successful when its members are committed.  Any young person who has gone through confirmation knows that sports and church activities often compete for the time and attention of young people.  When a family has to decide whether to skip a church event or a sports game, I will often here the rationale of, “Johnny made a commitment to the team and he cannot skip out on that commitment.”  What about the commitment made to church?  What is the commitment one makes?  At Baptism parents and sponsors commit to the Christian education of their children.  That is a commitment.  There are no simple or easy answers to these challenges.  Each family and each person has to figure out what they will do and how to compromise. 

I hope that as you join and play with various sports teams throughout your life, that you would remember that there is a team that lasts for more than one season or even one year.  There is a team that has got your back, and is by your side at the highest highs and lowest lows.  You don’t have to retire from this team.  You don’t have to try out for this team.  All are welcome.  You are welcome.  Should you decide to stop playing for a while, you will be dearly missed, but you are never forsaken.  Should you decide to stay on and practice for the long haul, I can guarantee that you won’t regret it, and that the ride will be far wilder and unexpected than you can ever imagine!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Consider the Newsboys

So I've never been a big fan of "born again" theology, but consider the Newsboys.  Here is a new video that puts a spin on being Born Again.  I didn't catch all of the lyrics on the first listen, but the story of the video and the message that I get from watching and listening to it is that being "born again" means being born to the cause of justice and the struggle against poverty.  Is this a "born again" theology you could get behind?  What do you make of the images?  Would anyone like to go to Mexico and help build something?  Or go and learn something?

I can't embed the video, so here is a link.

Friday, June 11, 2010

An Open Letter to Open Theists

I've just finished my first year of seminary at Claremont School of Theology. Claremont is known for being a locus of Process Theology/Thought. There are two centers devoted to it and many faculty who prescribe or are very sympathetic to it. From what I have been exposed to it, I find many facets appealing. I also have several questions.  So here is my experiment: I will post a series of questions centered on process theology and invite people to respond. Perhaps other students wiser than I, maybe some of our fine PhD candidates, or even faculty will weigh in. I welcome the input from wherever it comes.

True Autonomy
I just posted this question on the excellent blog: Ponderings on a Faith Journey.
But I will restate. To what extent does Process Theology advocate a free will? Process theology advocates an openness to both God and the future. However, is the best most creative imaginative off the wall thought a person could ever have, an actualized potentiality offered by the divine? If so - is it really that creative? Is it free? It doesn't really feel that free if the best we can be is already in the mind of the divine.

A corollary question: Is it only human sin, that is, humanity's tendency to not choose to live in accordance to what God's will that creates the openness of reality? In other words, IF all humans and all created beings were to choose to be fully in accordance to the divine lure would the future, in a sense be determined? Is it theoretically possible to "fast track it" to God's ultimate vision of reality?

Diminishing Returns
If each moment is open to influence by all past moments and also by a novel divine lure, does the quantitative power of that novel lure have to increase? Or do past moments diminish or disintegrate over time? This is to say, if the force of past moments do not diminish then as time moves forward all past moments will accumulate and grow larger and larger with each passing moment. Thus their force will grow by (+1) after every moment. Given an infinite amount of moments their force will have to be or will be (depending on one's conception of the origin of time) infinite. If this is the case, then any novelty suggested by the divine must also increase in force or appeal to have the capacity to overcome the weight of past moments. But can anything be bigger than infinity?  So it must be the case that past moments deteriorate in their force, if true novelty is a possibility at every instance.  This is obviously a more technical question, but I raise it because--correct me if I'm wrong--I've heard it said that past moments don't go away in process thought.  What say you?

A Logical God and the Role of Faith
Up to this point in my life there has always been a characteristic in my faith life that I learned to live with.  It is summarized in the great dictum by Anselm, "Faith seeking understanding."  To me this has meant that faith precedes understanding (which is why it is faith) and the task of theology is to seek to understand.  There is not promise that one will ever get there, to total understanding.  But the finer point is that faith precedes understanding.  For this reason any metaphysics that explains God in such a way as to seamlessly integrate into science, reason, and everything else we know about the world seems too good to be true.  What's the use of faith at that point?

Neo Neo Platonism
Is there a qualitative difference between a divine lure and a platonic form? If so please explain.

Hopefully this is enough to get some conversation going. Thanks for your consideration.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Nothing Sells Like Fear - Of Teenagers

Check out this commercial I saw on TV this past weekend.  It features an incredibly messy room that is supposed to belong to a teen-ager.  The commercial is for Hyundai autos and the tag line is, "you may not have to share a room with a 16 year old, but you do have to share the road."  The Hyundai is supposed to be the car of choice for this endeavor because of its safety.  The ad has generated quite a reaction on youtube, and you can read the comments yourself, but beware, they are very explicit.

Never mind the ugly stereotyping and prejudice toward young people in this ad - what about the soundtrack?  The tune is from the Sound of Music.  It is the young Rolf singing to Liesl persuading her to find refuge in him.  He is later recruited or conscripted to be with the Nazis and "blows the whistle" on Liesl's family who barely evades them.  The message of his song - the one in this commercial - is to "grow up" put trust in in the things that can provide and abandon childhood.  But it is Rolf who decides to put his trust in a fascist regime.  Now here is Rolf singing his song to the consumers of America wooing them to grow up and buy a car that will protect them from those foolish teenagers who are on the road like the fascist resisting Liesl, I suppose.  What does this say about youth?

It is an unintended consequence of this commercial that protecting oneself from the dangers of youthfulness is associated with consumerism.  Isn't it young people themselves who are stereotyped as being uber-consumers?  This stereotype should be examined and dismantled.  It is consumerism that in fact spoils the soul of the living and especially of the young.  But instead, Hyundai, and many other people and institutions capitalize off fear of young people to push their product and consequently consumerism.  But what is there to fear?

Don't young people in fact learn their behavior from adults?  And if young people imagine new ways of living, should this change be feared?  How can negative stereotypes of young people be avoided?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Pirates and Undocumented Immigrants

Yarr maytees - behold the Theology Pirate interviewing Jill on why her Christian faith leads her to protest the Arizona law SB 1070 and what she believes is a positive alternative.

What say you?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Happy Birthday to Us!

If you're like me, then you're one of those youth ministers who gets roped into doing the children sermon.  And if you're like me, you also actually enjoy doing it! But fresh ideas are always welcome.  For the first time ever I am posting one of my children sermons.  Feel free to use and/or modify.  The emphasis/inspiration is how the Holy Spirit democratizes the church, cf. "I will pour my spirit out on all flesh." Acts 2:17b  This means that the kids are just as much the church as the adults.  Of course in acts, language isn't a barrier either.  Pentecost...and the formation of the church breaks down barriers, it doesn't put them up.  So let's celebrate that this Sunday!

May 23, 2010
Day of Pentecost
Acts 2:1-21
Children Sermon
[Have a birthday cake prepared]

Good morning girls and boys, how are you?  It is really good to see you today.  Today is a very special day.  Today is the birthday of the Christian church!  As you can see we have a birthday cake, with some candles.  Can we sing “Happy Birthday” to the church?  Put the cake on a stool or table in the middle of the aisle.

Let’s sing:
Happy Birthday to you,
Happy birthday to you,
Happy birthday dear church,
Happy birthday to you!

Now when it is someone’s birthday, what do you normally bring to the party for the birthday person? [a present, or a card]

That’s right, a present!  So who has a present for the church? [wait, allow for pause, or for possible sarcastic answers]

Does anyone seriously have a present for the church?

Wait a second, who is the church, anyway? 
Is it this building?
Is it the altar?
What is the church? 
[The church is all of us! It’s the kids, the adults, the older youth, all of God’s people are the church.]

So if it’s the church’s birthday, and we’re the church, then do we get presents? 
Who is going to give us a present?
Do you have a present?  [asking someone in a pew] Oh wait you’re part of the church too.
Pastor Mark, do you have a present?  You’re the pastor.  Oh wait, is the pastor part of the church too.  Who is going to give a present? [Looking somewhat discouraged]

Well today in our scripture from the book of Acts, we find that God gives a gift to the church. God gives is the Holy Spirit!  Who does God give it to?  God gives it to everyone!  Young or old, rich or poor, female or male, slave or free, people with papers, and people without papers.  Everyone gets the Holy Spirit! And with this gift, God literally gives his power away to us, so that we might be a part of God in the world, and that everyone is equal.  So today I encourage you to receive the power of the Holy Spirit, the very real presence of God with you here and now!  Amen.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

[Super]naturalism - friend or foe?

Okay, so it's not like I haven't been at work, but now that the semester is over and so is my first year of seminary, I am back in the office at Our Savior's.  It is a bizarre and welcome feeling, to be in a congregation doing ministry - during normal business hours. It's not as if I haven't been here...I've just been swooping in mostly during the evenings or on the weekends.  Now it is different.  But why and how does this affect youth ministry and theology?

Today I have experienced what some have called the maceration of the role of a minister.  There are so many jobs and needs that one must attend to, that it is hard to focus for very long on just one thing: like reading and thinking about theology, for example.

Theologians and ministers have a difficult task of thinking deeply and also doing so in such a way that is accessible and practical to religious people in general.  Content must not suffer. Form must be functional.  What a challenging task!  Already today I have read three very cool and interesting blog posts concerned with this very thing, and my brain is hard and work holding them together.

Philip Clayton wrote a piece on faith and science, hoping for a democratization of the conversation. He invites common religious folk would not eschew science, but participate with it, both for positive social change, and to rethink theological positions.

Bruce Epperly wrote on the resurrection being not just a parable or a supernatural event, but a physical reality made possible with a more immanent understanding of God.  Here is a prime example of how theological doctrines are really at stake in one's view of science.

Drew Baker has started a new phantastic blog all about ghost stories (and justice & post enlightenment thought).  He doesn't eschew supernaturalism but embraces it.  This could be a fascinating development.  Have religious folks tried so hard to be taken seriously by science and modernity that we have sold short the wonderfully supernatural stories that thoroughly modern folks believe in anyway?  Talk about ironic!

Wow, if all of these people keep it up, I will have just as much summer reading as I had during the semester (hahahahaha).

Monday, May 17, 2010

Gran Torino - [Spoiler alert] Can Hollywood do religion?

Does Hollywood get religion?

I just saw, Gran Torino, with Clint Eastwood for the first time.  It kept me interested, had suspenseful moments, humorous moments, and everything else one comes to expect from a Clint Eastwood movie.  But I'm confused about what the film said about religion.

There were two religious leaders portrayed in the film: a Roman Catholic priest, and a Hmong shaman.  The priest is portrayed as naive, " a 27 year old over-educated virgin" according to Walt (Eastwood).  Whereas the shaman is given a somewhat more positive role.  The Shaman is spot on with his "reading" of Walt, to which Walt says to himself, "I have more in common with these... (racial slander for Hmong) than my own people."

The main conflict in the movie is a gang of Hmong young men seeking to initiate another young man: Thao, who is Walt's neighbor.  Walt uses guns and tough talk to defend the neighborhood - classic Eastwood.  The role of the priest is further complicated by the fact that he works with the Hmong gang and condemns Walt for using arms to defend himself and the neighbors from the gang.  However, the Hmong neighbors pour out gratitude to the gun wielding Walt.

[Here comes the spoiler]
At the end of the movie Walt offers himself as a sacrifice.  The result is that a community and one family in particular is "safe" from gang violence, and the gang will likely go to prison for a long time.

At Walt's funeral, the priest comments on how he learned form Walt about life and death.  But what of the priest's efforts to work with the gang before violence was perpetrated and perpetuated?  In this fictionalized account of inner city struggles it seems like the role of a priest is quite insignificant.  What would the real life clergy persons who work day in and day out with gang members make of this movie?  What would Father Gregory Boyle of Los Angeles have to say who created Homeboy Industries?

Does anyone out there recommend movies that deal with inner city issues that have a more nuanced and realistic representation of both the shortcomings and contributions of religion and religious leaders?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Tattoos as a Sacrament?

Alanna's understanding of communion focuses on an open table, and connection to Christ.  Her tattoo of the elements of communion helps me understand how through communion Chris is connected to the one who receives.  Thanks Alanna for this deep reflection!

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Hand of God

Bryan reflects on his journey to Los Angeles, Skid Row, and Pershing Square.  There he met a man by the name of Michael who was "wise without trying to be wise."  Bryan shares how he thinks the hand of God is at work in the world.  Thanks Bryan!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

How to [Not] Talk to Youth

My friend Katie shares where she finds ultimate authority.  Advice and opinions can be helpful, but eventually God is the ultimate source. Our youth group watched this, talked about it, and then practiced it with some sweet Lectio Divina.  It was super powerful.  Thank you Katie!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Theology Pirate Strikes Again! One Hard Core Drummer Falls Victim!

I hope you enjoy this sweet video of the Theology Pirate interviewing Austin, a real life Hard Core/Death Metal/Straight Edge drummer on his views of authority, God, and music!  Rock on!

Monday, May 3, 2010

I Need You to Lead Me

I’ve never read a book quite like “Tribes” by Seth Godin.  I’m usually not one for books on leadership.  But the subtitle grabbed my attention: We need you to lead us.

It takes a lot of courage to admit that you are a follower and need to be led. Martin Luther talked about the “priesthood of all believers.”  I think he realized that he could not do it all.  He needed help.  I can relate to that.  I need lots of help, in many different areas of my life.

But Godin didn’t spend much time talking about how to follow.  Instead, most of the time he gave examples of people who lead “tribes,” and how you too can lead a tribe.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about leadership it’s that it’s really hard.  I don’t know of too many people who lead out of choice…seriously.  Pastors care called to congregations.  That is, they are called to lead.  Sometimes they don’t want to, but the Lord has need of it, so what is one to do?  Take the prophet Jeremiah, for example.  He wasn’t chomping at the bit to lead.  But resistance to God was futile.

In the context of faith, even a leader is still following God.  Learning how to follow is at least as important as learning how to lead.  I believe there is one whom is worthy to follow.

We need you to lead us.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

What Would Jesus Deconstruct - Book Review

Last week our youth group visited a Hindu Temple.  Here is what I learned:  Three main deities in Hinduism are Brahman, Vishnu, and Shiva.  There are hundreds others but these are three main ones.  They are understood to be manifestations of the "one real."  Brahman is a creator god.  Vishnu is a sustainer.  And Shiva is the destroyer.  You might be struck by the parallel with the Christian trinity.  The Father is creator like Brahman. The Holy Spirit is a sustainer like Vishnu.  But can Jesus Christ be though of as a destroyer?  If one takes the cross as the central event of Jesus' life then perhaps.  Jesus questioned the status quo of his day.  Some might have feared that he had the power to destroy.  He died, his life was destroyed, on the cross.  In Baptism, we say that a person is baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ.  God does not leave destruction without the hope of restoration.  God restores.  God resurrects.  Hinduism, too, offers hope of new life in ways distinct to its tradition.

I don't want to force these two historically distinct traditions to align.  But it is interesting to hold our traditions in conversation and see what emerges.  Learning a little something about Hinduism helps me to appreciate something in my own Christian faith.  Resurrection comes after destruction.

In the book, "What Would Jesus Deconstruct?" by John D. Caputo, a case is made for considering deconstruction as helpful for the Christian life of faith.  The basic gist is this: conceding that everything can be deconstructed awakens the Christian from dogmatic slumbers.  Rather than put one's faith in a particular theological doctrine or reading of scripture, the Christian should put their faith in God alone.

Is it right to put faith in the project of deconstruction?  If we take deconstruction seriously then the answer is no.  Faith should be put in God alone.  But deconstruction might be a helpful path, that is, a dead end which allows a way to be made out of no way and the fullness of resurrection to be known.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Danger of Seminary

Seminary is a dangerous thing.  It gets you thinking.  And I’ve been thinking a lot.  Fortunately, at Our Savior’s (my home congregation) we are Encouraged to Think! So I’d like to share with you something I’ve been thinking about, it’s called: youth theology.

Youth theology is a perspective that values the theological insight of youth.  Have you ever been amazed at something a young person has said about God?  Just the other day one of our pre-school teachers told me about how a pre-school student, who is also a member of our congregation, explained the Trinity to one of her classmates.  She was able to explain the Trinity in a way her four-year-old friend could understand.  This is an example youth theology.

Young people have a way of interpreting classical ideas about God in a way that makes sense today.  This is a gift that they have.  If something does not make sense to a young person, they are not afraid to question and ask why.  Some churches might be afraid of this.  But thankfully, we are a part of a church that does not shy away from questions.  But when we ask difficult theological questions (questions about God) who as the authority to answer?  Do young people have any authority?

I recently made a video asking this very question and put it on the Internet to see if any young people would respond.  They did!  But the answers might surprise you.  When we talked about this question at youth group, the youth were quick to point out two things. One, yes young people do have authority because they have a unique experience and therefore insight about God. The Bible supports this notion.  See: 12 year old Jesus in the temple, 13 year old Mary, David the shepherd boy, Samuel the boy in the temple, etc., etc. Two, they did not want to say that adults had no authority.  Rather our youth were quick to affirm the authority of their elders!  Because the longer you live, they said, the more life experience you have.  The concluding point is that the experience of young people is not necessarily better or worse than that of adults, but it is different.  Therefore, if experience matters when it comes to talking and thinking about God, young people matter!

If the church leads the way in acknowledging the authority of young people when it comes to thinking and talking about God, then what would result if the rest of the world followed suit?  I encourage you to both speak up to share your experiences, and to listen to the experience of others around you.  In this way our theological understanding will be enriched by the insight of young people.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Spanish - Espanol

Buenos Dias senores y senoras,

Este dia, que ha hacido el Senor, es una nueva oportunidad trabajar por paz. Ayer, desafortunademente, habia un terrible ocasion de violencia en Los Angeles.  Unos organizaron un demonstracion de "white supremicy."  Ellos tendran un mensaje de odio y racismo.  Cientos de personas vinieron para contra-demonstrar.  Desafortunademente habia mucho violencia.  El "Los Angeles Time" dicen que la violencia fue causado no por los neo-nazis, pero de la contra-demonstracion.  Esta situacion me causa pensar en una pregunta: "Como responder, una persona, al odio?"

Que piensas tu?

[Es mi primer vez escribir en espanol en mi Blog, lo siento por el calidad peor]

Monday, April 12, 2010

Introducing the Theology Pirate!

Avast ye scurvy dogs!  Meet the theology pirate!  Who do you think has authority?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Youth Theology - an Invitation

Youth ministry is often viewed as a side dish of the church. It is a way of dealing with a problem.  The problem is that young people are not involved in church.  This problem-oriented approach to youth ministry is bound to fail. What lies at the heart of profound ministry to youth is an unfettered proclamation of the gospel: "the Kingdom of God is at hand." If one concedes that youth do in fact have brains, and are capable of comprehending sermons, and Bible studies, then the uncomfortable question emerges: is there a theology worth captivating their attention? Is there truly a gospel message that speaks to them? If so, what is it?  If there isn't one, then what might it be?

Here are some potential theological launching points:

To be young is to be fully human.  Adulthood is not a destination, but another step on a journey of faith.  Babies, children, adolescents, teens, young adults, adults, and seniors are all human beings. One is not better than the other. Each has specific gifts that it offers to the community of the church at large. Language that puts down teenagers is just as oppressive and inappropriate as racist or sexist language.  Furthermore youthfulness is a state of being that crosses boundaries of race, gender, class, etc.  The experience of adolescence varies from person to person and group to group, and having dialogue among young people from various social locations can contribute to a richer church.

Bringing young people together in conversation, and adopting a theology that prioritizes their experiences will help contribute to living out the Kingdom of God hoped for by many people around the world. Because young people have an innate sense and experience of what it means to be both privleged and oppressed they are natural bridge builders between disparate groups. In other words, it may not be enough to teach young people how to serve the poor, for example.  Instead, placing a mirror in front of adolescents so that they might see how they are at times oppressed, and at times the oppressor would help them see the larger issues of justice and righteousness in the world today.  This will lead to a solidarity with people who greatly oppressed in the world. Solidarity will lead to social action and the building of a more just world.

What are the needs of youth?  What matters most to you? Creating justice with youth begins by creating justice for youth.  This is youth theology.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Empowerment of Youth...a Dangerous Cocktail

I just finished reading "Flickering Pixels" by Shane Hipps.  What a compelling exhortation for people of faith to take a sober account of how "technology shapes your faith." I definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in the confluence of technology and faith, especially folks in the Theology After Google conversation.

Hipps' peace-making Mennonite Christian faith overlaps with his background in marketing/advertising/media.  He has a profound respect for community: face to face interactions, and makes their primacy clear for Christian faith.  Yet, he engages media and technology head on, with plenty of cautionary tales, but also a realistic conceit as to how they affect theology!

Hipps argues that the advent of the printing press and the proliferation of printed media were as influential to the Reformation as the content of theologians like Luther and Calvin.  He also argues that the ubiquity of images today with TV/internet changes the way persons think and theology too.  Here is a priceless quote: "The Internet makes a flat stone of the mind and skips it across the surface of the world's information ocean.  A book, by contrast, is a sturdy submarine, diving the mind deep into the sea" (pg 146).

Most fascinating of all was Hipps' insight into the “empowerment of youth.”  Because they learn and adapt to technology faster, argues Hipps, they become the ones in control--the adults, and adults become the marginalized—the young; thus a reversal of power.  He then goes on to highlight some forms of encrypted language people use for drug use and other illicit behavior. Another quote: “This unprecedented empowerment of youth, along with our image-fueled obsession with beauty, is a dangerous cocktail.  In a culture that worships youth, what incentive do our kids have to ever grow up?” (139)

What’s wrong with empowering youth?  I would argue that the problem exposed is not empowerment of youth; the problem/danger is the exploitation of youth. If young people are given the chance to be full participants in the body of Christ, they will. Youth are human beings. They are not deranged beings with insatiable appetites for drugs, sex, and rock and roll (ok maybe rock and roll). They have insatiable appetites for community! If kids invent language for drug use, this is in large part because they are being exploited by a network of drug dealers (probably with influential adults at the top), and not given proper oversight and boundaries. I agree with Hipps whole-heartedly that boundaries are essential for youth, just as they are essential for adults. I think that an emerging theology of the 21st century that openly recognizes the influence of media is one where young people are empowered to be full members of the body of Christ. The gospel for youth is that Jesus at 12 years old was in the temple teaching the adults.* Youth, who are empowered by technology have an opportunity to teach adults something about God, just as Jesus did, and Mary, David, Samuel, Ruth, Abel, Hagar, Ishmael…

Hipps’ cautionary notes are still perfectly valid. Technology can liberate, but can also be used to enslave. The task of the church is to take the advice of McLuhan seriously, “There is absolutely no inevitability as long as there is a willingness to contemplate what is happening” (182).

*Thank you Angelina, for reminding me of the story of 12-year-old Jesus.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

youth and interreligious conversation

Last night at hs youth group, a super cool guy, by the name of Rami shared his faith with us.  He is a Muslim, which means he practices Islam, or as he describes it: submission to God.  Rami was very honest and articulate about his faith, and shared openly about what he believes and why.  He was generous and kind, not judgmental in the least, and open to questions as well as eager to learn more about the Christian experience.  At the end of our time together, Rami prayed, one of the the five times during the day that he does an intentional form of prayer.

His prayer was at least five minutes long, and in mostly complete silence.  Everyone at our youth group was totally silent, respectful, and observant.  But what struck me most profoundly was the openness and inquisitiveness of our young people.

This is week four in a multi-week series of inviting people to come and share their faith with our youth group.  I have found that the youth are so curious!  They really want to know about the religious experiences of these people.  Sometimes biases come out, in both directions, but never in a seldom to never in a condescending tone.  This is led me to a hypothesis:

Young people are specially equipped to have religious dialogue.  Their brains are more plastic than adults.  They are not "locked" into one way of looking at the world.  They themselves are more likely to be honest about still figuring out their own faith, so the conversation tends to be more candid.  As they begin to understand their faith in the context of a wider spectrum of religion, they gain insight and wisdom.  This wisdom allows them to observe their own assumptions critically, and critical self-reflection is essential to authentic religious experience.  I'm going to go reflect on that for a while. 

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Tila Tequila & Theology After Google

I read this article in the LA Times today about Tila Tequila.  I had never heard of her before, but maybe that's because I live in a salt mine (self snark).  She had her own show on MTV, and a cultish following on Twitter.  The story was a very provocative follow up to the recent Theology After Google (TAG) conference, also covered by the LA Times - which gives you a taste of the spectrum of life in southern California.

Sex.  It's a huge issue on the internet and in the post Google world, but I am just now realizing that the TAG conference mostly avoided it.  The Times article highlighted how Tila's sexuality had been exploited from an early age first by the online version of Playboy, then the magazine, Twitter, and MTV.  Tila very successfully built a loyal fan base, but seemingly at the cost of her own identity.  This is an extreme example of the dangers of becoming absorbed into online social media.  Tila said that she would be feeling horrible in the middle of the night, then get on twitter and reveal extremely personal information and images, which was a "temporary high."  The next day she would have to answer to the media who were having a heyday, sending her into another depression.

Tila is only 28 years old.  She is quite young.  I am concerned about how life after Google, can so easily exploit and enable young people to exploit themselves on the internet.  Theology After Google should speak prophetically, by that I mean: speak truthfully, honestly, and critically, to the places of power on the internet that enable this kind of exploitation.  Theology After Google should also speak words of Gospel to young people who geot caught up in such schemes and offer them an alternative way of living.  This means being honest with young people and exhorting them to have boundaries and value their sexuality as a sacred gift, not as a commodity.

Young people have the skills and the desire to make connections on the internet.  The church must ask itself if we are inviting the voices of young people to be a part of our conversation.  Are we?  What can the church do to offer a positive interaction and online community that values young people as children of God and vessels of grace?

Monday, March 15, 2010

Crazy Deal at Buca di Beppo

This blog post is dedicated to finding a cheap meal for your family/friends.  We just did it, and it worked!  Today only Buca di Beppo has a promotion: a free personal size serving of spaghetti along with an order of a small or large pasta or entree.  But to maximize your saving you should also use this coupon: $10 off of $20 spent.

The best bang for buck is to order two small spaghetti's with marinara sauce (10.45 each).  A "small" can easily feed two people.  With each of those smalls you get your free serving of spaghetti (with or without meat sauce).   That means you get enough spaghetti for six people for 20.90 minus 10.00 (from your coupon), for a total of 10.90 (pre-tax)!

Dinner for six at Buca di Beppo for $10.90 can't be beat!  Let me know if you take advantage!

Good Luck,


Sunday, March 14, 2010

Am I My Brother's Keeper?

Today our youth and young adults read Genesis 4, the story of Cain and Abel.  Abel is the younger brother and gives a better offering to God: the choice fatty cuts of firstborn livestock. Abel, however, just gives fruit of the Earth - not first fruits and not the best fruits.  God acknowledges Abel but not Cain.  Cain is jealous and angry, and despite a warning form God to master sin, kills Abel.

Many of the youth at the study were older brothers.  They shared what it is like to have the responsibility of being the older sibling.  One described it as being, "the Guinea Pig." I asked what it felt like to be "shown up" by a younger brother or sister?  Response: Depressing, because the older is expected to get things right and show the younger how to do it.  But I ask: Why can't the younger sometimes teach the older?  Everyone present acknowledged that they had at one point learned something significant from someone younger than themselves (myself included).

Later, God wonders where Abel is and asks Cain.  The response is classic: "Am I My Brother's Keeper?"  Even though the language is biblical, everyone present at the study knew what it meant, and admitted uttering the very same words about something similar to their parents.  I asked: What was your parents' response?  The answer was unanimous: Yes, as a matter of fact you are your brother's keeper! So God punishes Cain, but it was so severe that Cain requested mercy, and God showed mercy.

Why is it assumed that the only the old must teach the young about God?  God accepts Abel's offering and rejects Cain's because the one is appropriate, not because the person who gave it was older/younger.  It is tempting for some to think that age, sex, race, language, etc. entitles favoritism by God.  But this is not true.  All creatures are precious to God. Youth have just as much worth in the eyes of God as do adults.  Young people have a critically important role to play in the world.  What we do matters!  This is clear from the story of Cain and Abel: the choices and consequences of young people are widely felt.

If you are reading this blog right now, I hope you realize just how important you are.  The choices you make affect everyone around you.  If you think what you do doesn't matter, you are wrong!  It matters a great deal, young or old you are a child of God!

Note: Picture is from "Brick Testament."

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Google isn't Evil?

I invite you to help me think about “youth theology” or a you(th)eology according to some of our presenters so far by TAG, #tag10:

Jeff Jarvis – “Youth used to be something you had to get over.  Now youth is an asset.”  Amen.  Unfortunately Google, Facebook and others mine information for targeted adverising of young people, to make money, that is exploitation of their value.  Shame on them! Don’t be evil?  What about being good?  Google should give 1% of their funds to end extreme poverty and starvation of children around the globe.  That would be good.  To not do so is evil.  Is Google is in violation of their “mission statement”?

Roger asked, “How can I teach my children about a God who waits, when they are used to instant results"?   Great question! And what about the converse?  “What can adults learn about God from young people?”  Youth have a particular experience that adults do not.  They are natural waiters.  Youth are always waiting for something: waiting to be a teen-ager, waiting to be able to drive, waiting to be able to vote, waiting to be able to drink (hopefully waiting), and waiting to be an adult and therefore know something about God (sarcasm).  Let the generations learn from each other!

Philip Clayton said Gen X and Millennials are not jointers.  Is this because youth culture has changed their social behavior, or is it because they are not treated as full human beings?  What if churches invited youth to teach adults about God just as much as adults teach youth?  Then they might become joiners!

Monica Coleman – Yes thank you for witnessing to the community that can form online.  Why does resurrection matter?  Young people can teach us about this too.  They embody transformation.  They live in the midst of fear drenched world in perpetual angst about death, yet everyday they offer hope for the world. 

Adam Walker Cleveland hosts conversations.  This is youth theology.  He allows a plurality of voices to participate in theological conversation.  This is a theological practice that brings youth/adults to church.  Thank you!

Callid Keefe-Perry – You want to bring the margins to the middle.  Adolescence is itself a marginal space between childhood and adulthood.  Jesus was a teenager at one point in his life.  God called Samuel the boy prophet, Esther the young woman, and many others in the prime of their youth.  Did they conform to the status quo?  No they did not.  They challenged social structures to bring about justice and righteousness.  We need justice and fairness for young people, who are co-workers in the Kingdom of God.

What say you?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

“Progressive Christianity” is Meaningless

A friend of mine had recently graduated from a Pentecostal College in Minnesota, majoring in Biblical Studies, and was thinking about Seminary.  I suggested Luther Seminary in the twin cities.  “No,” he said, “they’re too conservative.”  I was taken aback (shock on my face).  He went on to explain, “Lutherans have one set way they like to read the Bible, and it’s to fit their theology.  You can take one little step to the left, or the right, but there’s no freedom to read scripture on your own.”

That conversation rattled my theological assumptions. My professor, Philip Clayton, would say that was the work of the Holy Spirit. A Pentecostal was condemning a Lutheran for interpreting scripture too narrowly!  But my friend had a good point.  Lutherans do prefer to use scripture that supports our favorite theology: saved by grace through faith.  Luther openly admitted that he preferred some passages of scripture over others and had major issues with at least one book of the Bible, James!  Yet Luther is the godfather of “Sola Scriptura!”

What does this mean? (That’s also Lutheran by the way.)

The categorical boxes we put on ourselves, or try to put others in are heretical.  It is possible for a Pentecostal to exhort a Lutheran to read and use scripture more liberally, or for a justice seeking Catholic to exhort an Evangelical to interpret Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount more literally.

Christians cannot be divided between “conservative” and “progressive.” 

Calling oneself a “Progressive Christian” is like trying to say, “I’m a Good Christian.”  It’s a defensive move that tries to justify the positions one takes as being “good.”  It’s also unlikely that one is truly progressive across the spectrum of beliefs on every issue.  And who gets to decide what is progressive?

Tonight begins the conference, “Theology After Google.”  If everyone in attendance thinks they are “progressive” and are meeting to advance a “progressive agenda,” then I will be greatly disappointed.  I hope the presenters and participants are geared up to dig into theology that has a scope and depth that will challenge all Christians and perhaps even extend out beyond that to religious persons of various stripes.

I hope new technology will be leveraged to bring Christians together, not further divide them. 

So once again my compatriots - Bring the Theology!

This post was inspired by a class discussion we had on “Thy Kingdom Connected,” by Dwight Friesen, a cool book that explores these issues in great detail.  Dwight challenges the readers from either/or thinking to both/and thinking.  He uses network theory as a metaphor for the Christian life and theology.  He will be speaking at the Theology After Google conference starting today!  It’s not too late to register!  If you don't want to spend three days in sunny southern California then you can watch the conference live video streamed.  You can also participate via twitter at twubs.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Bring the Theology!

Did you see the recent findings of the Pew Forum on the Millennium Generation?  This generation has an even higher portion of young people who identify as athiest/agnostic/non-religious than ever before!  So take that Gen-Xers!  You thought you were so non-religious...well it turns out you're quite conventional.  In fact, the study indicates that every generation is conventional.  The older people get, the more religious they get.  The myth that people will "come back to church" when they are older isn't totally untrue!  The problem is that not everyone comes back.  And with that means as time goes on the attrition rate compounds like a sick investment you don't want to be in, but can't pull out of.

This report affirms what I already knew after reading a book everyone who works with youth in a religious capacity should read: Soul Searching by Christian Smith.  That book lays out in scientifically rigorous detail the cold hard facts of religious inculcation in America it is spectacularly conventional!  Young people almost always echo the beliefs of their parents.  In other words, it's not difficult to instill religious sensibilities in young people.  It happens naturally!

The phrase, "Spritual but Not Religious" is meaningless.  Yound people don't say that, don't claim that, but we like to think they do.  Religous leaders like to think that there is a whole generation of "seekers" out there who are just waiting to find a slick blog, connect on facebook, or watch a compelling youTube video and be "saved."  But guess what?  It ain't gonna happen.  That's not what young people want, and its not what they need.

So what do we need (I am a young person after all)?  What will stem the tide of each generation becoming slightly more non-religious?


Theology is the way a group of people talk about God.  But communication doesn't happen merely with words.  So theology is more than words.  It is the way in which God is communicated.  How is God being communicated?

In the upcoming conference, Theology After Google (TAG), a lot of people will be weighing in on this question in light of new technologies.  This is great.  I hope that the very talented and gifted (tag) people who are speaking at TAG will raise the bar.  I truly hope nobody spends too much time on the supposedly "spiritual but not religious" generation that doesn't exist in any demonstrable way.

Rather, give your best theological pitch.  Throw something out there that is risky but imaginative.  Get to the heart of what matters: theology!  Don't waste our time trying to sell a bunch of already mostly tech-savvy people on Web 2.0, or even worse, don't attempt to convince already hard working pastors that if only they use Facebook they can save their churches.  Let's be real.  Facebook won't save the church.  We need theology.  So bring it!

Friday, March 5, 2010

A Great [Computer] Cloud of Witnesses

Cloud Computing is Theology After Google computing.  Users depend on a network of servers, but then accesses and modify information from a user station.  In other words the millions of people doing Facebook don't depend on their computers and mobile devices to contain and do the computing required to run and sustain Facebook, they merely access the Computer Cloud that does it. 

Does "Theology After Google" rely upon a network/cloud of servers/witnesses?  Yes!

"Therfore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of wintesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us..." Hebrews 12:1

On Tuesday our class skyped with Brian McLaren about his new book, "A New Kind of Christianity."  It was a good conversation, and Brian shared a lot of anecdotes.  I left with the distinct feeling that Brian, as well as everyone else in the room depended on a network of connections or a cloud of witnesses that have helped in developing one's faith.

With the internet, the people with whom one can connect, and the witnessing that help to form one's faith are different than ever before.  There can be no doubt that the cloud of witnesses literally surrounds each person.  Faith in this context, is to rely upon the cloud of wintesses, to let go of the heavy things that slow one down and to run with perseverance.

Monday, March 1, 2010

A New Kind of Christianity - A Summary from the Blogosphere

Summation/conglomeration of Blog postings on Brian McLaren's new book, "A New Kind of Christianity." From the class, and soon to be conference: Theology after Google. Another summary can be found by Jon Visitacion.

First off - my thoughts - not unlike editors of certain canonical books I am the redactor so I get to insert my theological spin using everyone else's.  Brian has positioned himself in a tenuous place.  If I may totally oversimplify: on the right he may be criticized as a heretic.  (Which I was, by the way for giving a favorable blog post.)  On the left he may be criticized as "too late" or not radical enough.  But here's the deal - Mr. McLaren has been at this for a long time.  These criticisms are pase.  The grey area is precisely where Brian likes to be.  Brian is very clear that he is putting forth the questions that people are already asking.  At this, I think, he is spot on.  His responses to these questions may not be to everyone's liking - but just putting forth the questions and getting people to discuess is fantastic.  Brian never claims to be constructing or systematic theology for the 21st century.  Though there is some substantial fodder to get that project underway.

So On With the Questions...
The Narrative Question - Is there a monolithic theological narrative that dominates the canon of sacred scripture?  If so, is it necessarrily imbued with the theology of Augustine and Aquinas (Plato & Aristotle).  If not, how do we respectfully and reverently read sacred scripture?  I took a stab at this from a youth ministry perspective.

The Authority Question - How do Christians appropriately read the Bible? James Kang offers compelling thoughts in his blog. He lifts up the long tradition among mainline protestants of wrestling and studying the Bible and not settling for a surface level literalistic reading.  James also pushes forward with a question.  What would it mean to read the Bible 2.0?

The God Question - Jae Seon Seo gives a nice historical perspective here. Brian succinctly articulates four aspects to the nature of God (as humans understand it) that have changed - 1 - monotheism over henotheism, 2 - ethical social justice over ritualistic/cultic sacrificial, 3 - God of the universe not just of a tribe, 4 - immanence over transendence (qualified version).  Brian also suggests that the four Gospels are the most important parts of the Bible.  As a Lutheran I sympathize with this, as Luther had a nuanced understanding of what the "Word of God" meant.  It means God's particular revelation through Jesus Christ.  Yet, I believe that the Word of God is present and revealed in all of sacred scripture, so I cannot fully get behind the proposed metaphor of how to read the Bible.

The Jesus Question - Mr. Charles Dorsey blogged here.  He asks the question (this is something Charles does a lot), who is the 'Real Jesus'?  By asking this questions Charles raises the issue of casting Jesus in one's own image - which is idolatry.  Brian adresses this in his book too. So who is the real Jesus?

The Gospel Question  - What's the good news? An ontological salvation from a state of total depravity?  Or the proclomation that the Kingdom of God is at hand?  Whence faith?  McLaren is unclear if faith is defined as a specific belief in Jesus Christ.  Or if Jesus Christ makes possible faith/trust/fidelity in God in general.  Romans is at the heart of this argument.

The Church Question - Minho Chung posted his blog here - which has generated quite a bit of conversation.  Everyone (including myself) is weighing in on what is the church, what needs changing, why does it need changing, etc.

The Sex Question - Bob Rhodes posted his blog here.  Lots of interesting thoughts and conversation on this topic.  Brian challenges the reader and the church and Christianity to participate in conversations about sex without condemning.  From a youth ministry perspective, this is really important.  So much is at stake for a person's identity and life outcomes by the choices they make.  The conversations need to happen, and they must happen in a safe space.

The Pluralism Question - Two posts on this topic: Ruth Marston and Rev. Jan Chase.  Ruth gives a nice summary of the pluralism conversation along with some thoughts inspired by Brian's book.  Rev. Chase compares "New Christianity" to "Old Christianity" before it partnered with Roman Empire.  She talks about the oneness of God.

The What-Do-We-Do-Now Question - Angelina Duell writes her blog on this topic here, then here, and finally here (with other commentary on the book here.)  McLaren outlines a progression or evolution of religious thought.  There is also a notion that change will come from young people.  Angelina raises some questions about assumptions made about young people and "formal training" as well as questions about this linear view of human progression.

So there you have it. The major questions of "A New Kind of Christianity."  Feel free to post your own questions or thoughts.  Thanks, -Wes

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Discovering Our Prophetic Voice

I'm appearing as a guest author for the ELCA World Hunger blog, Hunger Rumblings.  Check it out!  It's about my experience attending a theological conference, Developing Hearts that Yearn for Justice.  It was quite an experience!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

King David - Anointed Boy

We kicked off the first week of reading the Bible from a youth perspective with a look at David (1 Samuel 16-18).  He was the youngest of eight brothers (were there any sisters)? Yet the Lord chose him, youngest to be the next king of Israel, why?

I asked the youth of our church and their answers were insightful:
-The young may not have as much experience, but they can think more creatively than adults
-The young have a more naive faith and pure heart, they are not as concerned about establishing their own well beings, and they are more open to serving God.

We then read about how David became the private harp player for King Saul, and then slays Goliath.  Strangely, after David kills Goliath, Saul doesn't recognize him.  Why not?  My professor of Hebrew Bible claimed that it is written as a polemic against Saul.  Either way, it is the young David who is overlooked by royalty.  He is literally just a "little guy."  I asked the youth if they could relate to this, to ever being overlooked.  They said, "yes" unanimously.

We ended our discussion by looking at how David grows up and mimics some of the same behaviors shown to him.

What are your thoughts?  What other youth-oriented perspectives are in this text?  What do you think we should read next?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A New Kind of Youth Ministry

Youth ministry must change.  Christianity must change too!


Brian D. McLaren argues  in his book, A New Kind of Christianity, that the Bible has been co-opted and dominated by one narrow interpretation: the Greco-Roman narrative which forces all of scripture to conform to one philosophical outlook and forsakes the beautiful diversity of voices found speaking in the Bible.

Brian challenges Christians to learn about Jesus in light of the great biblical heroes who precede him like: Adam, Abraham, Moses, David, {Amos, Isaiah, Jeremiah}, and John the Baptizer.  Who were these people and what do they teach us?  Who is Jesus in light of them?

What about the voices of the young?
Cain & Abel, Isaac & Ishmael, Dinah, David the anointed boy, Amos the farm boy, Esther the Queen, John leaping in the womb, Jesus the adolescent alone in the temple?

Up to this point in my tenure as a youth minister most of the resources I have encountered have all been attempts to better teach the Greco-Roman Narrative that McLaren criticizes.  I claim that youth ministry should take on the task of empowering young people to read the Bible through their unique perspectives.

I propose that a thorough reading of the Bible be done looking specifically for the experience and voice of young people.

I am calling for a systematic youth theology to be constructed that is essentially concerned about God’s love for young people.

Nothing less but the future of Christianity depends on you(th).  Brian McLaren claims that a New Kind of Christianity is emerging.  I hope that a new kind of youth ministry is emerging too!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Do you want to do good? Join a church!

Do you want to good in the world?  Join a church.  At least that's what Dan Dennett of the "New Atheists" thinks you should do.  And I quote:

"Churches are great for moral teamwork…in a way it is a sad reflection on secular institutions that people in large parts of this country.  The good news is they want to lead good lives, they want to do good… and they look around…the only way they can see to do a lot of good is by joining a church. So they join a church because that is the only institution in their neighborhood where they think they can do good works and they’re right!  That’s all good.  And I say so."  -Daniel Dennett recorded on February 16, 2020 in Albrecht Auditorium source.

Of course, not all of what professor Dennett had to say was affirming of religion or theology, but these gracious words are very good indeed.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Theological/Philosophical Debate!

And the debate is...on!  My professor, Dr. Philip Clayton has extended an invitation to Dr. Daniel Dennett to a theological/philosophical debate, and the invitation has been accepted!

February 16, 2010, 2.00 - 3.00pm Albrecht Auditorium at Claremont Graduate University.

What's at stake?
Dennett is part one of the "New Athiests" along with Dawkins and Harris.  Clayton is a theologian and philopher of process thought.

What will be the nature of the debate?

The existence of God?

What will be parameters of the debate be?

Will there be audience participation with Q & A?

What will their arguments be and what sources of authority will they draw upon?

Is Dennett familiar with a Process Theology/Philosophy perspective?  This is a viewpoint that is not always understood or considered.

Will there be civility and mutual respect?  I hope so!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Who Ate This Bible?

Two nights ago at our high school youth group, our adult leader was handed a Bible that was falling apart (even worse than the one in the picture). She asked sarcastically, "Who ate this Bible?" The youth laughed! Indeed most of the Bibles in our youth room are in tatters. For a moment I was a little embarrassed that our Bibles had fallen into such disrepair, but then I felt a warm sense of pride. We have been using our Bibles so much that they have fallen apart! I can think of the dozens and dozens of times that these Bibles have been passed out, opened, read, discussed, and wrestled with. Yes, there have even been more than a few times when perhaps a Bible was tossed or even thrown around the room bordering on irreverence. This is the fine line that all youth ministers must navigate: shoe reverence, but also keep it real. So now our Bibles are falling apart and what are we to do? The next day our pastor recommended that we buy a new set of Bibles for the youth room.

Do you have a story of a tattered Bible? Do you have a picture you'd like to share? Post it and link it to this site! What kind of Bible(s) should we get for our Lutheran youth group?

Green Bible
Poverty and Justice Bible
Red Letter Bible
CEV (What we've been using)

I don't know about you, but I am not always happy with 'youth' Bibles. It seems as if too often a 'youth Bible' is regular Bible that is jazzed up with few graphics. Does anyone know of a good Bible that actually gives commentary to the text that is applicable to youth? Let me know!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Roman Roads and the Internet - Platforms for Religion

In my New Testament class we learned that the development of Roman Roads were instrumental to the spread of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire. These roads were constructed primarily for the military, to expand and maintain the empire through force. Yet in times of peace they allowed a marketplace to emerge. This marketplace included commercial and intellectual aspects. Certain business and commerce flourished. Philosophers and would be religions leaders too set out to spread their messages. The apostle Paul would be one such person. This is an example of a platform, that is read and heard about from people who think about new technologies.

A platform is something that allows for innovation, and for people and groups to build upon. The obvious platform of today is the Internet. Yet the Internet is so huge that platforms are being created on that platform. Google is an example of this. Google provides services, and yes has very powerful ways that it makes money, but it allows for creativity and innovation within itself. For this reason it can be considered a platform.

What can the church learn from this? In my view, the church as at least two major places to grow in light of new platforms.

One - To play a role in new platforms that develop. What is the niche that the church can occupy on the Internet platform?

Two - How is the church developing platforms of its own? That is, how is the church allowing for innovation and the development of an ecosystem in which people and groups occupy niches? I think it has done this in various ways throughout history, but now the challenge is to do this in light of new connectivity with one another through the Internet.

What do you think? Does the church act as a platform allowing for innovation? How can it do this better?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Apple's 'Magical Realism' the Ipad

This week, in my Theology After Google class, one of our presenters (via Skype) Steve Knight shared some thoughts on the theological implications of social media. In particular, Steve brought up the issue of the sacraments--such as communion--which are best understood as liturgical rather than magical. Something that is magical is done for someone, the emphasis is on a one way action for an individual or group. Liturgical means "the work of the people," something that is done by a group of people for each other.

How Ironic that but two days later Apple launches its new iPad, and what is their ingenious marketing pitch: "Our most advanced technology in a magical and revolutionary device at an unbelievable price."

So the theological question emerges: Does technology pull one ever closer to the magical or to the liturgical? If I were to innovate a new theology and market it with the power of Apple, perhaps my tag line would be: "Our most advanced theology in a liturgical and revolutionary community at an unbelievable price." The only question is...what is the price?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Can Google Save the World?

Last night while teaching confirmation the pastor explained to the class what BC (Before Christ) and AD (Anno Domini) meant, and what the more current forms of marking time are (CE and BCE). When I got home I realized that I am in a class called, "Theology After Google." Time is no longer delineated from the Jesus of Nazareth event, but the advent of Google!

What's more, I am reading a book called, "What Would Google Do?" This is, of course, a play on the phrase, "What Would Jesus Do?" Has Google become the standard of being in the world?

What do you think? Can Google save the world?

Check out what our professor Philip Clayton, or Trip Fuller has to say. You can also see what I have written, or what James Kang, Angelina Duell, and Jon Visitacion have said.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

What Should Google Do?

Hi everyone,

This is my first blog post regarding a class that I am taking this semester at Claremont School of Theology. The class is called, Theology After Google. Our professor, Dr. Philip Clayton, has blogged about this class and the corresponding conference, to take place in sunny CA March 10 - 12, 2010. If you sign up to come, and I hope you do, do me a favor and mention my name--I'll get 'extra credit'!

What Should Google Do?
Our first assignment was to read and blog about a book, "What Would Google Do?" by Jeff Jarvis. I just finished the book, and it was very interesting. I learned a lot about Google and its many groundbreaking ways of doing business. I can see how many people in the business world and to some extent in the not for profit and even religious world could take many valuable lessons. I certainly have. With that being said, I am somewhat critical to the question itself, "What Would Google Do?" because it implies that Google has a normative status. The following comments are some theological criticisms of Google, that Mr. Jarvis brought to light in his book. [Readers note: page citations are for the Large Print edition of the book.]

Truly Geek, or Just Geek Chic?
Jarvis starts out praising geek-hood claiming that the future of the world will belong to geeks. He says that Mark Zuckerberg talks like a geek, and that everyone better get used to this (82 - 83). But in the closing remarks of the chapter dedicated to "New Ethics" it says of Google's "Don't be Evil... It is not a campaign pledge or a geeky Bible lesson about good and bad. It is a calculated business rule: When people can openly talk with, about, and around you, screwing them is no longer a valid business strategy." (180) In other words be like the super rich geeks, not the ones who geek out on what it means to be good in the world. The more subtle point is: appear to be good, but don't be all 'religious' about it. Excuse me, but is anyone else having a moment of cognitive dissonance? Isn't theology all about geeking out on what is good? What is ultimately and fundamentally good, not just "calculated business rules." When theology is informed by "Calculated business rules" the church is in for some sorry sorry times.

The Real Dream...or Nightmare? - Google Everywhere!
In the chapter called "Utilities" and subtitled: Google Power & Light, and GT&T the author explores what it would mean if Google were in charge of utilities and telecom. In it, the author recounts the exciting time in 2008 when Google battled out (against mainly Verizon) for control of newly expanded bandwidth. Google won, not by exacting ownership but forcing openness so that they could a piece of the market share. What the want is ubiquity. The greater the availability of the Internet is to people, the better profits Google can make. Why? Advertising, advertising, advertising.

Google allows so many free applications and advocates for accessibility because they are not evil, they are our friends, they want to help us, and also of course give us the chance to gander at a few of their "sponsored links" and advertisements. Have you ever noticed how when reading an email in gmail those sponsored links eerily match the content of your email? How closely is content read? Are you comfortable knowing that Google might be reading all of your emails to more closely match advertisers with your needs? It's all well and good until you are considered a threat and Google decides to hand over your secrets to the government like they did in India. (176-177 "Don't Be Evil" Section)

Keep the Masses Dissatisfied
The backbone of the Google economy is advertising plain and simple. And advertising works by according to Printers Ink, "Keep the masses dissatisfied with their mode of life, discontented with ugly things around them." (262) This is what drives our lovely capitalist economy over the cliff into over indulgence and greed.

1% a Tithe of a Tithe
Google gives 1% of its profits to itself for charitable work. Way to go Google. Just multiply that by 10 and try giving it to somebody besides yourself and you might get close to the Biblical...geeky mandate. But even so 1% is something. I'd like to challenge Google to give 1% of its net earnings to eradicate extreme poverty in the world. This is the goal of many people, such as or Pete Singer's (not religious per se by the way) If we all gave 1% (to not ourselves) death by hunger and extreme poverty would cease. That's just one idea and a start to what What Google Should Do.

Business Hater?
I hope you don't consider this to be hate for business or anything for profit. It is not. I concede that business has a vital role to the economy and people's well being. However, I maintain that Google is not normative, it is groundbreaking and worth learning from, but it should also be informed by religious values and theology.