Monthly Archive: August 2008

technology and worship: initial reflections

I’m participating in AMBS’s conversation on technology and worship. I have to put together a paper. Below are my initial reflections as I work towards something of substance. I would appreciate any critical engagement. Am I going in a helpful direction? Should I turn around while I still can? Thanks.

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Why not start with Karl Barth? In his essay, “Church and Culture” (in Theology and Church, London: SCM, 1962), Barth disallows any uncritical approval of culture, nor does take a consistent stand against culture. As usual, Barth makes things complicated. On the one side of the dialectic, Barth takes up the ax of John the Baptist: “Christian preaching…has met every culture, however supposedly rich and mature, with ultimate sharp skepticism” (quoted in T.J. Gorringe, Furthering Humanity: A Theology of Culture, p. 18). But later in that same essay Barth has no patience for a spiritualism that ignores our cultural milieu. There is no room, Barth writes, “for a basic blindness to the possibility that culture may be revelatory, that it can be filled with promise.” The seeds of God’s kingdom proliferate throughout the world. Barth pursues the same line of thinking in Church Dogmatics IV/3, where he claims that if “all things are created in and through Jesus” (Colossians 1:16-17), then, as Prof. Peter Dula puts it, “there is nowhere, not even the mouth of an ass, that we cannot expect to find words reflecting the light of the Word” (Peter Dula, “A Theology of Interfaith Bridge Building,” p. 164 in Borders and Bridges: Mennonite Witness in a Religiously Diverse World). Barth goes on to call these diverse worldly witnesses to God’s kingdom “secular parables” (CD IV/3, p. 115). The earth and human culture resound with echoes of the one Word of God which speaks into existence the kingdom of God. Therefore we must pay attention to the places we inhabit, the cultures that permeate us. “The Church,” he writes, “will be alert for the signs which, perhaps in many cultural achievements, announce that the kingdom approaches” (20). The kingdom does come. The question Barth poses to the church is whether she is ready to receive it, however strange it may appear.

It’s a strange possibility to consider how the pieces of culture called ‘technology’ may display God’s kingdom, if only parabolically. Barth won’t let us rule out an abstract category like “technology” without serious engagement in particular technological machineries–he calls them “cultural achievements.” Nor will he take up every new sophisticated invention as a chance for the kingdom to make headway. There’s nothing wrong with a healthy dose of skepticism.

In The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture (Zondervan, 2005), pastor Shane Hipps critically considers the place of technologies in worship. He carefully steers clear of many church leaders who welcome any and every form of technology as the panacea for dying churches. Blindly welcoming technology into church life turns worship into another capitalist commodity. We then become one show among many where Christians can find “new experiences to consume” (15). In Modernity, writes Hipps, “churches heeded consumer demands and sough to reinvent church. They either had to compete in the consumer marketplace on the consumer’s terms or face extinction. In the spirit of modernity, these churches reincarnated themselves as highly competent vendors of religious programs and services” (99). But the answer, according to Hipps, is not a reactionary turn against all forms of technology. “I’m not arguing for some Luddite strategy of literally destroying media” (65). Instead, we carefully and communally discern how modern technologies can aid us as we embody the good news of Christ. In Hipps’ words, “We learn to understand the power of our technologies to shape us, thereby regaining power over them” (122). (more…)

The Prophetic Discourse: What We Can Learn From It

Exploring the Old Testament
J. Gordon McConville
vol. 4 – A Guide to the Prophets
Intervarsity Press, 2002

I am new to the Church, as many of you know if you have read any of my previous posts. Therefore, I am constantly grappling with the Church, in ways that I think are different from those of folks who are inside the Church and have grown up in it. A number of folks who have grown up in the Church have had to grapple with the way the Church has treated them in the past and heal from a lot of wounds. Often, I think those wounds stem from how the church teaches its people – as the way the people are taught guides how they act and how they respond to issues of faith.

With that in mind, I have one thing to say that I think gripes me about Church teaching: I have found that the Church teaching on the Prophets is inadequate. As I see it, either the church underteaches the Prophets, ignores them all together, or just picks out those bits which prophesize the coming of Christ. But, I mean, really, when was the last time you heard a sermon on Haggai? And if you have, please let me know so I can start visiting your church!

All that said, there is a great deal of understanding to be gleaned from the Prophets that is simply left aside by the Church. I understand the challenges of reading from the Prophets: 1) You have to talk alot about context, and some folks get bored to death by history, geography, and culture; 2) the Prophets have some really condeming language at times which doesn’t make for an uplifting Bible study; 3) the Prophets are poets and (for some reason) we think poetry is hard. (more…)

Subways and Totalitarianism

I used to work at the mall. A lot of my employees took the Baltimore City Subway out to the county to work there. Now, this Subway didn’t stop at the mall, it stopped about a half mile away. Those who took the subway waited for a bus to pick them up and transport them to the mall. But there was another way. The subway station backed up to the park-n-ride which in turn backed up to the movie theater which was next to the mall. And one could walk this course in ten minutes time.

At one point behind the movie theater there was a hill, relatively steep but not very tall. And it was here, on this small parcel of grass that I heard stories of people getting raped or mugged. I don’t know the truth behind any of that, I only heard the stories. Whenever possible, if I dropped an employee off at the station I see someone I knew who worked at the mall walking the course or waiting for a bus. I’d pick them up and give them a lift, even if I only knew their face.

(This will go somewhere useful, promise.) (more…)

Jesus for President Report

As I reported to ya’ll a while back, our Eastern Carolina District of MCUSA brought Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw to town in July for a Jesus for President campaign stop. Laura Graber Nickel from our church in Chapel Hill, N.C., wrote a news piece on the event that ran in The Mennonite this past week (look here). But the editors took out a lot of good stuff. So, with Laura’s permission, below is her full report on the event. Enjoy.

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On a July evening in Raleigh, NC, every one of 500 seats in the First Baptist Church auditorium was occupied. The 200 people without a chair leaned against the walls and sat on the floor. Next door at Barack Obama’s campaign headquarters, another crowd gathered to cheer their candidate for president. But back in the church auditorium, through storytelling, song and worship, Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw described an alternative political perspective: Jesus for President.

The pair is promoting their co-authored book, Jesus for President, nearing the end of a month-long nationwide tour that has attracted crowds of 500 to 1000 people at every stop. In Jesus for President, Claiborne and Haw ask Christians to think differently about their political and religious allegiance, re-evaluate the church’s role in the arena of American power and politics and examine the way they live their faith day to day. “We’re saying that we see in Jesus not a presentation of ideas,” said Claiborne, “but an invitation to join a movement that embodies the good news with the way that we live in this world.” Their message includes a strong emphasis on peace and puts a high value on communities of believers who reject the world’s ways and live their lives according to Jesus’ teachings; both familiar themes to Mennonites. (more…)

Review of The Dictionary of Old Testament Wisdom, Poetry & Writings

Tremper Longman III and Peter Enns, eds. Dictionary of Old Testament Wisdom, Poetry & Writings. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2008. Pp. 967. $35.00, US.

The Dictionary of Old Testament Wisdom, Poetry & Writings is the seventh offering in the IVP Academic Dictionaries series. Edited by Tremper Longman III (Professor of Biblical Studies at Westmont College) and Peter Enns (currently unaffiliated [more of this below]), the dictionary is 967 pages long and consists of about 150 articles from over ninety different contributors from around the world. To make this lengthy work more easily accessible the dictionary contains three different indices: scripture, subject, and article.

The types of articles found within the dictionary range from the literary (for instance, articles on Acrostic, Chiasm, Frame Narrative, and Wordplay), to topics such as Afterlife, God, and Women.

Perhaps the most significant contribution this volume makes is its lengthy treatments of the various biblical books considered to be OT Wisdom, Poetry and Writing. The biblical books included within the work are the following: Ecclesiastes, Esther, Job, Lamentations, Proverbs, Psalms, Ruth, and Song of Songs. What is to me one of the most interesting and helpful aspects of this dictionary is that the treatment of each book is divided into three main sections – a discussion of the book itself, a discussion of the book in relation to its Ancient Near Eastern background, and a discussion of the history of interpretation of the book. This feature alone makes the work worth the money and reflects a growing realization amongst evangelical biblical scholars that the books making up the Bible did not and do not exist in a vacuum. In particular, articles situating the book within its Ancient Near Eastern background help the user determine what sorts of interpretations would have been possible for early readers of these biblical books. From an Anabaptist standpoint this feature should be most welcome, for it will hopefully aid in the difficult task of rendering more and more faithful understandings of Scripture. On the other hand, the articles on the history of interpretation of biblical books show a deep awareness that our reading of Scripture is not done without a connection to how others have read it. This attention to the effective history (or for those who care about German – Wirkungsgeschichte) of biblical books throughout the life of Israel and the church reminds the reader that interpretation is never a solitary experience but must always be done within community – both our local community and the church down through the ages.

So why should the fine readers of YAR be interested in this dictionary? Good question. First, a number of the biblical works discussed in the articles are amongst the most difficult books to appropriate for Christian use. Does Ecclesiastes lead to anything better than nihilism? What comfort can we glean from the book of Job? How can we take Proverbs seriously when it suggests that the poor be given strong drink to forget their troubles (Prov 31.7)? Even more troubling for Anabaptists, how are we to understand Psalms like Psalm 137 that delight in the slaughtering of infants? The numerous articles in this dictionary provide a great entryway into thinking through these issues and point the interested reader to literature that might be of further help.

One final note: while not pertinent to a review of this book, it might be of interest to some readers that one of the editors, Peter Enns, was himself an attendee of a college with Anabaptist roots – Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania. His most recent book, Incarnation and Inspiration, has garnered considerable attention in the evangelical world and led to his dismissal (recently upgraded to a mutually agreed upon discontinuation of service) from Westminster Theological Seminary due to what was deemed an insufficient view of Scripture.

DNC Artistic Political Convergence

Hey all, long time no… something. Thought I’d let you know about this in case any of you were coming to Denver for the DNC. Cheers.

The LIDA Project, artistic curators of BINDERY | space in downtown Denver, will be opening it’s doors to artists and activists for an artistic political convergence during the week of Democratic National Convention and is issuing a call for entries. LIDA is seeking actors, writers, directors, performance artists, puppeteers, dancers, poets, musicians, seasoned troupes and emerging theater groups to perform their shows and participate at the DNC Convergence Center at BINDERY | space, an intersection of political activism and artistic insight. 


Virtually any type of performance is welcome to apply. Categories include: cabaret, comedy, dance, drama, improvisational, magic, multimedia, musical theater, performance art, puppetry, storytelling, variety, burlesque, sideshow, street theater, spoken word, and other creative madness. Performances with relevant political context will be given priority.

The Convergence dates are 22 August – 29 August, 2008. Visit www.lida.org for information. Please send a brief proposal of your project to lida at lida dot org. Include the title, a short description of what you intend to do, number of performers and technical staff, and any other technical requirements.

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BINDERY | space
Once a book bindery in function, this warehouse in the heart of downtown is a reincarnated new urban art space for performance of all kinds. BINDERY | space, curated by The LIDA Project, envisions a local home for national and local performing and multimedia artists on the edge. Fresh and experimental, BINDERY | space will foster artists and events that promise to challenge, incite, and inspire.


A Confession; Or Mixed Martial Artists and Hebrew Scholars

(x-posted at IndieFaith)
On occasion we run across blog entries that give us a glimpse of the all-too ordinary lives of the bloggers. The bloggers begin with some shame in their confession wondering if the few readers they have could possibly respect them after such a confession. Perhaps it is professor of sociology admitting they watch (and are addicted to) American’s Next Top Model or an admitted film snob confessing his guilty pleasures. Well anyway, with some hesitation here is my confession.
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Why aren’t more women commenting?

Urbanmenno and Lora have posted comments that address an issue I’ve been meaning to raise for months. We finished up a poll last month that made it clear that the site as a whole has a larger male readership then female (64% male and 36% female). But the ratio of women to men in comments seems to be much lower then that. I’m reproducing Urbanmennos and Lora’s comments here because I think they need more visibility then the tail end of an unrelated post:

Urbanmenno says:

Tim made a good comment on urbanmennonite.com in regards to the above Menno Roundup referencing this post’s discussion and in fairness to all involved, I’ll post it here as well

Tim’s comment:

I’m one of the men who was involved in the discussion you referenced on YAR. Initially I was chastened by your comment, but I’ve done some more thinking about it, and I think when it comes to anti-sexism work, women shouldn’t always have to be the ones defending equality. Sometimes men need to confront men about sexism and not expect women to do the work.

Maybe no one’s going to change anyone’s mind, but blatant sexism and oppression need to be challenged. Silence is not the solution.

Urbanmenno’s response:

I actually think there are a lot of men on YAR who do a great job of speaking up for women’s equality and I applaud them. And I don’t have a problem at all with the men defending the good fight. Particularly since it can be really hard as a female to keep having these kinds of conversations over and over again — soul-killing actually.

I drew attention to the post not to chastise any of the men involved. I saw the post and resulting comments more as another example of where women are talked about and not talked with. It would be interesting to take that particular post and ask the general YAR audience why didn’t women comment on it … (more…)

Being Consumed – A Review

(x-posted at IndieFaith)
Here is a review I wrote of what I think is a very significant book for the church. If you decide to read the whole thing keep in mind your own theology and practice of communion.

William T. Cavanaugh’s Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire is an excellent example of why the church needs theologians, good theologians. While Christian authors are turning increasingly to social and economic issues few are able to blend accessible language with substantial theological content. Many of the current authors addressing these issues articulate the demands of the Gospel in functional terms. Writers (and readers) look for practical ways to ‘apply’ the Gospel to our context. Most of us though with even a passing interest know what we should be doing to help our situation. We should buy fair trade products, support local economies and agriculture, plant a garden, compost, bike, buy twirlly bulbs, etc. And so much of the work of these authors is lost because their argument led entirely to doing and once we get there we realized we already knew that and so begin to feel frustrated or guilty.
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