Friday, March 30, 2012

Anonymity and the Internet

A scandal regarding blog comments posted by federal prosecutore Sal Perricone has come to light in recent weeks here in New Orleans. Perricone's blog comments, posted under a fake name, trashed local government, judges, and aspects of certain cases in federal court. While his conduct wasn’t necessarily illegal, it was certainly unethical. This story sheds light not just on ethics but on the trend of many people posting on blogs anonymously or under a hidden identity.

I was listening to WWL 870 AM radio station today. The host of a local talk program noted how ugly some of the text messages are that come into his station. He remarked that because there is some anonymity in texting in comments that people will say things they would never say on the phone or in person.

When I first started working for the Vineyard Church of Kenner we would occasionally get letters sent to the church that were very critical of me and my worship leading. However the most hateful letters were never signed and it really sucked getting them. I remember talking to my pastor about it and he told me a great word of wisdom, “If you get a letter that isn’t signed and with no address then just through it in the trash because if the person who sent it isn’t brave enough to sign it then you don’t need to read it.” I have been so thankful for that advice in the years that followed.

What do you think of anonymity on the internet?
Do you agree with the advice my pastor gave me?
Have you ever commented on blogs, or through text, or emails in a way that was anonymous? Why?

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Do Churches Need Statements of Faith?

I visit a lot of church websites and most of them have a statement of faith somewhere where you can read a list of the things they believe. While I think it is good for churches to believe things I wonder if a faith statement is the way to go. I have not put a statement of faith on our church web site yet. Instead I have put links to some thoughts about how we process the faith journey and what kind of church we envision. If one reads through the articles they will see that we are definitely a Christ centered, Bible believing church but probably won't walk away with a creedal statement. I am not opposed to statements of faith but they do seem more to me like preaching to the choir rather than about connecting with outsiders. The truth is we do have a brochure in our church with a statement of faith published by the national Vineyard office.

What do you think about statements of faith and their visibility on web sites?
Also if your church have a statement of faith on your web site give me a compelling reason why I should put one on my site.
And finally, is there perhaps a better framework to communicate belief than a creedal statement?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

We Don't Even Know What We Don't Even Know

I came across a very interesting story a few weeks back entitled People Aren’t Smart Enough For Democracy to Flourish which reported evidence from scientific studies that made the case that for most people most issues are far too complex for them to have well thought out opinions on the complex issues of today.

Here’s an excerpt from the story:
The research, led by David Dunning, a psychologist at Cornell University, shows that incompetent people are inherently unable to judge the competence of other people, or the quality of those people's ideas. For example, if people lack expertise on tax reform, it is very difficult for them to identify the candidates who are actual experts. They simply lack the mental tools needed to make meaningful judgments.
As a result, no amount of information or facts about political candidates can override the inherent inability of many voters to accurately evaluate them. On top of that, "very smart ideas are going to be hard for people to adopt, because most people don’t have the sophistication to recognize how good an idea is," Dunning told Life's Little Mysteries.
He and colleague Justin Kruger, formerly of Cornell and now of New York University, have demonstrated again and again that people are self-delusional when it comes to their own intellectual skills. Whether the researchers are testing people's ability to rate the funniness of jokes, the correctness of grammar, or even their own performance in a game of chess, the duo has found that people always assess their own performance as "above average" — even people who, when tested, actually perform at the very bottom of the pile. [Incompetent People Too Ignorant to Know It]
We're just as undiscerning about the skills of others as about ourselves. "To the extent that you are incompetent, you are a worse judge of incompetence in other people," Dunning said. In one study, the researchers asked students to grade quizzes that tested for grammar skill. "We found that students who had done worse on the test itself gave more inaccurate grades to other students." Essentially, they didn't recognize the correct answer even when they saw it.
The reason for this disconnect is simple: "If you have gaps in your knowledge in a given area, then you’re not in a position to assess your own gaps or the gaps of others," Dunning said. Strangely though, in these experiments, people tend to readily and accurately agree on who the worst performers are, while failing to recognize the best performers.

When I look at the increasingly complex problems in our world from economics to the environment I realize that there are a host of issues of which I am really incompetent. While I am grateful that I get to vote sometimes I wonder if I am really qualified to vote on some issues. I have to admit that on more than one occasion I have gone into the voting booth to vote for a candidate in a national or state election only to realize at that moment that there were several state constitutional amendments to vote on as well. In those moments I tried really hard to read through the legal jargon of the amendments and then to form enough of an opinion to vote yes or no. Many times I just didn’t vote at all. Now some would say that I should have done my homework prior to getting in the voting booth and I would agree… but still on many of these issues homework does someone like me little good because I just don't understand these issues as well as people who have spent many years focussing on them.

For instance, let’s say there was an issue up for a vote concerning issues of when Louisiana should allow the Mississippi river to be diverted into the Achafalaya Basin or Lake Pontchartrain to help alleviate flooding up north. I could spend a week studying about the benefits and downsides of diverting the river, but the truth is no matter how much homework I do in a week I won’t really know enough about the issues of destabilizing of ecosystems, swamps and lakes, or of what a river can introduce into these environments to make more than a guess at what the right course of action might be. In the end I would probably take the approach of sparing humans from flooding. And yet this short term solution may very well have long term effects on the environment and eventually humans as well.

I use this as one example that illustrates from my own life some of the findings from the above article. If you want to talk church, music, or theology, I am reasonably qualified (at least from experience with these issues) to contribute to the conversation (though certainly not an expert).

The truth is we don’t even know what we don’t even know and many times what we think we know is just a mix of our own culture, background, sprinkled with sound-bytes from news outlets and the internet.

Speaking of not knowing stuff… I read a great blog by Frank Viola entitled I Don’t Know. Please go read it. It’s full of advice I wish I would have come across many years ago.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

What Mormons Can Teach the IRS - Tithes and Taxes

Planet Money is a great podcast. If you haven't checked it out do yourself a favor. The podcast comes out about 3 times a week in 15-20 minute episodes that all have to deal with economics in some way or another. But this ain't your typical boring economics program. It's quite informative and fun to listen to.

Today I was driving around and getting caught up on a few episodes when I came across an episode on tithing, specifically tithing in the Mormon church. Many a Christian might be surprised to find out that Mormons give more money per capita than any other religious groups (the average church goer in America gives less than three percent of their income). This story was about how the federal government could learn something about creating better tax systems from the Mormons. Tithing has come up as a topic on this blog a few times recently so I thought I would through this podcast episode into the mix.

Check out the podcast here: WHAT MORMONS CAN TEACH THE IRS

The KONY 2012 Campaign


The last few days I have begun to notice the name "Kony" appearing in various places. I have to admit that I didn't know what this "Kony" was all about. I thought it must either be some sort of fashion brand or fragrance or something of a political campaign. This morning I came across a video from the organization Invisible Children that explains the campaign. The video is about 30 minutes long but is worth taking time to watch.

Joseph Kony is a rebel warlord in Uganda that has been responsible for kidnapping and conscripting some 30,000 children to fight in his LRA (Lord's Resistance Army). This guy is about as bad as scumbags come. The Kony 2012 campaign is based on the idea of making Kony famous so that the international pressure to find him and bring him to justice won't let up. The video explains this idea more so I won't go into that much detail here. I will say that the campaign worked in raising my awareness. I watched the video this morning with my son Ezra.

My initial thoughts are that this is a good cause to back because it is not simply anti-war in an abstract way but rather focused on a specific situation with a specific plan. The strategy to make Kony famous is quite creative as well by turning the tables on this wicked leader.

What do you think?
Is this a worthy cause?
Is this a good strategy to take or does making him famous send the wrong message entirely?
If you disagree then what would you propose to do to deal with Kony?

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Slow Church Anyone?

“[Old Entish] is a lovely language, but it takes a very long time to say anything in it, because we do not say anything in it, unless it is worth taking a long time to say, and to listen to.” – Treebeard, from Lord of the Rings

Several years ago my dad passed a book on to me called In Praise of Slowness by Carl Honore . In the book Carl writes about the growing Slow Movement around the world. The movement is a revolt against the relentless drive to do more, better, faster that has characterized the world since the industrial revolution and continues at an exponential pace as a result of the technological revolution. The slow movement questions whether societies and cultures may be losing their soul for the sake of efficiency and productivity, building a wonderful world where wonder itself is relegated to the margins.

Much of the “slow” movement started around the concept of slow food. Slow food is food that is prepared with intentionality, fresh ingredients, and celebrated with others. As far as the slow foods proponents are concerned the journey (preparation of the meal) is as important as the destination (the meal itself). The slow foods movement recognizes the central place of the table in relationships and that a meal can be nourishing relationally and emotionally as well as physically. But the growing slow movement isn’t simply about food but about coming out from under the tyranny of the urgent in all areas of life, living as human beings and not just human “doings”.

When I read In Praise of Slowness it really resonated with what I was beginning to feel at that time in my life as well. It seemed as if I had spent so many years working at a frenzied pace and all the while missing some of the greatest blessings that were all around me yet that I was too distracted to notice. So I was pleased to stumble across a blog today called Slow Church. The subtitle of the blog is, “because you can’t franchise the Kingdom of God.” While I haven’t read that much from the blog I am excited to see people in the church wrestling with the idea of slow church.

In the past few decades the church has become so influenced by the culture and practices of corporate America that the idea of Slow Church seems not only countercultural but almost heretical in some circles. There are very few churches questioning the paradigm of “more, bigger, faster” church growth. It is assumed that if a church is successful it will embody that way of thinking. Perhaps there is a different way to grow a church that isn’t so focused on numerical growth and quantity but depth of growth and community.

So here’s a few slow questions for today (take your time in answering them):
How do the ideals of the slow movement resonate with you?
What can church learn from the slow movement?
What might a slow church look like?

Related Posts:
Running to Stand Still
Open Hands, Open Hearts, Open Eyes
My Holograph Preaches Better than Your Hollograph

Monday, March 05, 2012

REPOST: Where is Your Church Going to Be?

The following post was originally published on June 3, 2009 at a time when we were still making preparations to plant a church but had not yet started even meeting as a small group. I referenced this blog in a message this past weekend: WE CARRY EACH OTHER and got to thinking that it might be cool to repost it here over two and a half years later. For what it's worth I still agree with what I wrote here and am still working to see these ideas take shape in downtown Covington.

June 3, 2009

Since announcing our intentions to plant a Vineyard Church in the Covington / Mandeville area (which we are calling North Shore Vineyard) a couple of months ago I have been asked two questions just about every day and some times more frequently than that.

The first question—“Is ‘north-shore’ one word or two?” On this particular question I have sided with the Microsoft Word version of spell-check and have kept is as two words (I know deciding anything based on a Microsoft program is heresy to a Mac user but at least I used the version of Word for Mac.)

The second question that I am asked, even more often than the first, seems easy enough on the surface but is really packed with certain assumptions—“Where is the North Shore Vineyard going to be located?” I realize what folks mean when they ask this question and it has something to do with the location of the building in which a Sunday service will be held. However, the implications of this question have really got me thinking. The very question implies that the church building is perhaps the central defining element of what constitutes a church. And while most folks ask this question innocently, I can't help but think that it is indicative of the way church is increasingly perceived in this day and age where the most meaningful part of the Christian faith is linked with the attending of a service in a building. Now, before I go on any further I want to make it clear that I am not against church services or having buildings to meet in. It just seems to me that this type of thinking is evidence of a deeper problem with church in our culture, no doubt tied to the highly consumerist society in which we live, where church is looked at more as a product or service rather than a vibrant community of faith and mission.

I have heard the question posed, “If your church were to disappear tomorrow would your community notice, or for that matter, even care?” While this is a very good question to wrestle with concerning mission and outreach and connection to the community, another helpful question might be, “If your church building and Sunday service were to disappear would your church still exist?” This may sound like a very odd question to ask in a country with so much religious freedom and so little persecution of Christians but I believe it is a very constructive question to ask because it gets to the heart of some of our false assumptions about church and can maybe help us to a better understanding of what church could be.

This August will mark four years since the church of which I am a part experienced the very scenario posed by this question. When Hurricane Katrina devastated the New Orleans area, most members of our congregation evacuated to various locations around the country, only to find that many would end up being in those places for more than a few days (some for weeks, months, and some never to return). Our old building was a mess from roof damage and flooding and our new building, which we had just been moving into over the previous weeks, was without power and had sustained some minor damage itself. So for several weeks we had no central location for weekend services and when we finally did start using our new building it was under a paradigm that had been completely altered in the wake of the hurricane.

What happened with our church in the months following Katrina was interesting to say the least. Looking back I can see that there was in fact more to the church than the building. In fact Christ-followers from our church who had evacuated all over the country began finding each other in the cities they fled to—Baton Rouge, Lafayette, Houston (I was a part of some gatherings with folks from our church in the Houston area). And wherever folks from our church ended up, they did what Christians naturally do—they gathered together, worshipped, prayed, shared meals together, and did a lot of grieving and processing loss together. But what is even more interesting is the type of church experience folks began returning to back here in Kenner. In the aftermath of Katrina the Kenner Vineyard lacked the resources and volunteers to offer the previous schedule of multiple weekend services, and the lineup of classes, programs, and Bible studies that had typically occurred on a weekly basis before the storm. But amazingly even without being able to offer folks much in the way of services and programs the Kenner Vineyard began to thrive. How could it be?

What began to happen was that folks began to gather around mission—cooking and serving hot meals to people, ripping out sheet rock and carpet in flooded homes, staging job fairs, praying with people, or just sitting with folks in front of their ruined homes and listening to their stories. It’s as if the New Orleans metro area had suddenly become a mission field (really it always was, we just needed the veil pulled back a bit to reveal it again) and instead of folks just showing up to be attendees of a weekend service they were actually beginning to be the church in the community—being the touch of God to a hurting and broken world.

Was it messy? You bet!
Chaotic? At times very!
And, by the way, it wasn’t all good.
The truth is that the shaking up of everything caused some pretty ugly stuff to come up in the hearts of many a sincere believer, certainly including myself (I will no doubt address this aspect in another blog).
Yet in the wreckage of Katrina, when all rhythms of life were broken, when infrastructure was crumbling all around, when the very fabric of the culture and the government seemed to be coming undone, Christ-followers almost instinctively began to move from passivity to active mission.
The church in a very real sense had left the building!

The largely untold and unreported story of relief and reconstruction in the New Orleans area after Katrina is just how much of it was done without fanfare or hype or news conferences—by Christians. But in spite of the lack of publicity, people in the New Orleans area know the role the church played in it all. They know that when the government was bickering over how to respond, when FEMA couldn’t seem to get their act together, when even reliable non-profits like the Red Cross were stretched thin it was the church who just did what Christians have done through the ages—helping hurting people.

So back to the question—“Where is your church going to be?”
Well hopefully wherever there are broken, hurting people who desperately need to experience the love of God through compassionate humanity. It will be with at-risk children in the public schools and single moms who are just trying to make ends meet. It will be with those struggling to find their way out of addictions and those who are empty after being filled with everything this world has to offer. With down-and-outers and up-and-outers. It will be with those who are fumbling towards faith and those who are wrestling with doubts. It will be with those who gather in homes, coffee shops, the local bar and those who gather on a weekend to celebrate who Jesus is and what he has done. The actual location may be hard to pin down from one moment to the next, but hopefully the church will be recognizable not just by a building where it meets weekly but by its mission, and by a community of people who have been absolutely ruined by the love of God.

Monday Morning Quarterback - Teaching the Bible Better Pt.6

One thing that has really helped me get better at teaching the Bible over the years has come from the simple practice of listening back to a recording of myself speaking. I know a lot of musicians and pastors who really hate listening to recordings of themselves. I get that! When I first started listening back to recordings from the weekend it was oftentimes really painful. I remember listening back to some of the first recorded messages I had. I could believe how many times I said "like" and "you know". I remember thinking that I sounded like a freakin' valley girl!. The same is true for listening back to live recordings of my singing. But I highly recommend this process to anyone who wants to get better at speaking.

My weekly ritual involves being a Monday morning quarter back, so to speak. I download the podcast from Sunday and go for a jog or a drive and listen. What am I listening for? First off, I just want to see if the talk connects with me. If I am bored by it or distracted by rabbit trails then I know others had to be. Secondly, I pay attention to the intro, the transitions, and the conclusion and try to take note of those aspects that were kind of flat. I am not trying to be a perfectionist, I just want to be sure that I am consistently growing and getting better at communicating. Finally after listening back I start to work on the next weekend's message. This really helps me connect one weekend to the next. I find many times that I actually get inspired with new ideas by listening back to the weekend message.

More from this Blog series:
Pt. 1 - The Teaching Team
Pt. 2 Preaching What You Practice
Pt. 3 - LEarning from Listening
Pt. 4 - The Teacher as Pastor
Pt. 5 - Sharing Struggles

Friday, March 02, 2012

A Reconciling Community

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Martin Luther King Jr.

The above quote is one of the most famous quotes in American history and one of the underlying values of the whole civil rights movement in this country. But where did Martin Luther King Jr. come up with such an amazing idea? I think he got it from the scriptures. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:16-20
16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.

It is quite a trap to think of Christianity as merely being a religion about morality and private devotion to God. Sadly this philosophy has characterized much of the American church of recent history. But as St. Paul sees it we who have been reconciled to God through Christ are now called to a ministry of reconciliation. We can't just form clubs populated with only those of our race, religion, culture, or politics. Rather, the church is to be the one place where the differences that separate people in the world are done away with. While Martin Luther King Jr. took issue with the racial segregation of his day, there is still plenty of other kinds of segregation that are allowed in the world, and sadly in the church as well. The truth is that wherever humans gather they will look for ways to divide themselves whether in a small group or in a nation.

Here are a few questions to wrestle with:
What does it mean for the church to have a ministry of reconciliation?
How can reconciliation be carried out without coming across as forced?
What does this look like on an individual level?

I'll close with an interview with Ruby Bridges. If you have never heard of her story go look it up. It is very powerful. Her story is a window into a kingdom point of view on reconciliation.

Related Post:
Racism in the Church is Anti-gospel

What Could You Really Do With $10,000 Worth of Apps?

It is likely that some time today Apple will cross the 25 billion downloaded apps threshold. To celebrate this they will be awarding a $10,000 App Store Gift Card. While I will probably download some app today when the numbers get much closer to the 25 billion mark, I really have no idea what I would do with $10,000 worth of apps. In my opinion this is kind of a lame prize for such a milestone (at least throw in an iPad and a MacBook Pro). As it stands I have probably spent about $30 total on apps in the last 2 years of owning an iPhone. I love apps but thankfully most of them are very cheap or free.

So the questions for today:
What do you think of the prize?
Will you try to win it?
If you do win it what will you really do with it?

Thursday, March 01, 2012