Saturday, December 22, 2007

Googling God

If your church is not interested in reaching young adults, it should be! For many years, campus ministry was the laboratory for the church in reaching young adults. Denominational collegiate ministry was a place of experimentation and innovation in finding new ways to tell the old story. I am not so sure that is true today (but that is a story for another time).

From time to time, a new resource surfaces to aid churches and church-related ministries in their outreach to young adults. My friend Dick Olsen of Central Seminary introduced me to a new one recently: Googling God: The Religious Landscape of People in Their 20s and 30s by Mike Hayes (Paulist Press, 2007).

I did a quick survey of the book and have to start with a couple of disclaimers:

First, it is written from a Roman Catholic perspective, so the reader will have to work through that and interpret the comments in his or her own context.

Second, if Hayes talked about postmodernism, I missed it. He takes a generational cohort approach, considering how the church can reach out to those 18 to 39 years of age. This age grouping intersects two generational cohorts--the Gen Xers and the Millennials. Although I think that the generational approach is interesting, it misses the point of the real change that is going on in culture. As Jimmy Long points out in Emerging Hope, we are dealing not simply with generational change, we are dealing with a change in epistemology or "our way of knowing." The generational view is the up close and personal approach; the postmodern view is the satellite photograph.

Hayes takes the generational approach seriously. His understanding of the needs of these two generational groups can be summarized in this quote on page 124:

Milliennial adults as a whole do have more of a longing for security and certitude than do their Gen X counterparts. By the same token, Gen Xers are spiritually enriched by being together in communal experiences but have little need for a personal or private spirituality. Both have an overwhelmingly need to intellectualize their faith--how does all of this make sense in the everyday? Faith for young adults is not a spectator sport. They long to integrate it into every fiber of their lives and live that faith unapologetically.

Even if he misses the postmodern perspective, Hayes' book is worth reading for chapters 7 and 8. Chapter seven is entitled "Doing Ministry: Fifteen Initial Steps in Starting a Young Adult Ministry." It is practical, informative and will stimulate your thinking about doing ministry with this age group. Chapter eight on"Resources for Building a Young Adult Ministry" emphasizes the use of digital resources--the Internet, web pages, podcasting, blogs, and many more.

Whatever your denominational bent or cultural perspective, Hayes provides some helpful ideas for young adult ministry through local faith communities. I wish that more church people took it as seriously.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Putting Christ in Christmas?

In his book Christmas: A Candid History, Bruce David Forbes "deconstructs" the holiday. He is not attempting to be the Grinch, but he points out that much of what we love about Christmas predates Christianity. Romans, Scandinavians, and others attempted to break the hold of the coldest and darkest time of the year with celebrations that involved hospitality, gift-giving, eating, and drinking.

Forbes points out,

One idea I do not recommend is a campaign to turn Christmas into the purely spiritual holiday it never was. My understanding is that the Christmas message is "incarnation," that God entered fully into the world. So combining Jesus' birthday party with at least some worldly celebrating seems appropriate.

We talk about being a missional people--those who are on mission with God and speaking the truth of God to our culture. Perhaps we should adjust our paradigm a bit and consider Christmas as a model of how the Christian message can engage the culture by breathing the sacred gospel into secular patterns. Is this so different from what God did by becoming incarnate in a baby?

The point is not to "put Christ back into Christmas" (as some would proclaim) but to celebrate Christ not only within Christmas but the whole of our lives. By so doing, we truly become a missional or incarnational people

Monday, December 17, 2007

The World Without Us

In his book The World Without Us, journalist Alan Weisman poses an interesting question: "What would the world look like if humankind were suddenly removed from the planet?" Actually, he develops this idea in two steps. First, he speculates what the world would be like today if humanity had never developed, then he looks at what the earth would be like if we no longer existed.

He makes a good case that, from the beginning, humanity has impacted the ecosystem through pollution, farming, and species extinction. Wherever we have lived, we have both used and abused the environment. Weisman gives some fascinating examples of how the environment has experienced a resurgence when a certain area--such as the Demilitarized Zone on the Korean Peninsula--has been abandoned by humanity. He argues that nature tries to restore the proper balance when given the opportunity.

In an interesting thought experiment, he discusses both the consequences of a sudden absence of humanity for the ecosystem and then what would survive that absence. The most frightening thought is what would happen to large chemical processing and storage facilities, nuclear power plants, and nuclear storage sites when abandoned by their custodians. He notes that there are some things that would survive as witnesses to the human era. The most enduring human construction would probably be Mt. Rushmore! Bronze statuary would be very durable. The item that would probably outlast everything is the common plastic water bottle. It seems that polymers are forever!

Weisman draws on geology, paleontology, physics, biology, chemistry and anthropology to present his sweeping case. In the end, he even touches a bit on philosophy and religion in considering various apocalyptic scenarios that might "take us out."

Even if we don't take into the account the biblical teachings about Creation and stewardship of all things (which Weisman does not do), we must realize that what we do to the created order does make a difference. We were not meant to exploiters of the created order but, rather, to be participants within its grandeur and richness. Weisman reminds us of the importance of healthy and wise human interaction with the world. It is an impressive and enlightening argument.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

An Inconvenient Truth

I finally got around to watching the DVD of "An Inconvenient Truth", the award-winning documentary about Al Gore's presentation on global warming and climate change. Although it comes across at times like a political campaign film, the film makes quite an impact on several levels. For one, it shows us a man's passion. We don't know what kind of president Al Gore would have made, but it is interesting to see an interesting, articulate person who was once "the next president of the United States" (as he jokingly notes) make a clear case about a difficult issue. That's rather refreshing.

Humankind is a force of nature. Even if one wants to skip over the Genesis account and its theology of stewardship of all creation, there are others besides Gore who make this case. In his book The World Without Us, Alan Weisman argues that humankind and its progenitors started affecting the ecology very early and were responsible for the annihilation of whole species in the prehistoric, pre-technological era.

But back to Gore. Whether you buy his argument or not, you should take two things into account. First, his interest in the environment goes back to college when professor Roger Revelle shared with students his research on climate change. According to Gore, Revelle was a major influence on his life and created an interest in environmental issues that followed him into politics. The question for the church is, "What concerns are we instilling in young adults today?"

Second, it is clear from the audiences shown in the film who attended Gore's presentation around the world that this issue resonates with young adults. I am not sure if this is because they consider it a moral issue (as Gore argues) or because they are concerned about their survival and that of their offspring. Either way, young men and women seem eager to not only learn but to become involved. Is the church recognizing this?

I don't know what kind of president Al Gore would have been, but in the long run, he may have greater impact for good than the present resident of the White House.