Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Facebook Question: Who Is God?

The Facebook question for August is: Who is God? Okay, that's a big question. But it might be fun to explore some of our understandings of God. Some directions that you might take this question could include: Who is God to you? What is your favorite image of God? What is your favorite name for God? How do think God is active in the world? How is God active in your life? Etc. The list of questions could go on and on. The Bible features many different descriptions of God - and so does our church - so feel free to respond to this question in the way that you feel most compelled. There are no right or wrong responces. This question is just meant to inspire conversation. So please click here and discuss: Who is God?

Summer Hymn Sing

Faith UCC Inaugural Summer Hymn Sing
Sunday August 1st @ 9:30 AM

Hymn (noun) a song or ode in praise or honor of God
Sing (verb) to perform a song or voice composition

This Sunday’s service will be an old-fashioned “Hymn Sing.” All parts of the service will be musical, i.e. will be celebrated by the singing of hymns both new and old.

We need voices and audience members to help us perform these songs in praise of God.

Come join us, you are always welcome at Faith!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Summer For Marriage Equality

Everyone is invited to One Iowa's Stand Proud, Vote Proud kick-off in Iowa City to rally support for marriage equality and civic engagement.

Summer For Marriage Equality
Thursday, August 5, 11 a.m.
Iowa City Public Library
123 South Linn Street, Iowa City

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Back To School 2010 (Update)

Dear Faith Friends,

Pastor Brian has posted Back to School information on our Faith blog, which has me in awe of the multiple methods of communication in our reach. Please forgive me for being relatively “old school”, but I had a little more information that I’d like to pass along and I’m still struggling to be a successful blogger.

As in past years, we are again sponsoring the Mark Twain school children, helping to provide their back to school supplies. I learned this summer that 80% of the Twain children qualify for free or reduced fee lunch. We are trying to organize enough book bags and supplies for 180 children out of the approximate 230 children who attend Twain. I met with the principal Mary Bontrager last night, and she said that 71 of the children who attended Twain last year left the school (moved or otherwise stopped attending) at some point in the school year. So their enrollment is ever changing and challenging, and with that their need for school supplies.

Some of the school supplies are being purchased again this year in bulk from the Consultation of Religious Communities (CoRC), but some are either under supplied or not supplied at all. The missions committee is carefully looking at the supplies needed, and how we can best use our resources to meet the needs of these children.

So we are once again asking for your help! If you like to shop for school supplies, we have a list of suggested items below that we need and would be very grateful to receive in what ever quantity you can supply. But we are also very grateful for monetary donations; we have been scouring local advertisements, swooping up supplies as they become available at seasonal sale prices. Here’s a list of items and local prices this week:

Hand Sanitizer: This week Office Depot has their 8 oz of Purell available for $4.59, but it is free with a mail-in rebate. There is a limit of 5 per household. So if you are willing to purchase 5 containers of the product for $26.70, all your money will be reimbursed in a check to you. It’s a lot of money, and of course it takes a while for your rebate check to come back to you. But the end result is free hand sanitizer. If you mention Mark Twain while at the check out, 5% of your purchase will go to Twain as a gift card from Office Depot. All in all, a pretty good deal. Per Ev and Carl’s suggestions, I’ve also looked for hand sanitizer at Dollar Tree. They have a 12 oz product available for $1 that seems to be of good quality and scent, so that is also an excellent option.

Scotch Tape: CVS has a “buy one get one” special currently. Target has “buy 3 rolls, get one free” for $2.50. Dollar Tree has a three pack of Scotch brand tape for $1; again an excellent option.

Pencils (# 2, no mechanical): K-Mart has a box of 10 for $.25, but there’s a limit of 4 (I asked management, and they allowed me to buy 40 boxes because it was a donation to Twain). Walmart has a box of 2 dozen for $.94.

Scissors (all pointed, no blunt): Target has 1 for $.50, HyVee has 1 for $.50, Walmart has 1 for $.74.

Please bring your items to Faith by this Sunday, July 25th. We know we are rushing you along, but we will need to count the items donated and shop for those still needed, and time keeps ticking away.

Thank you all for wading through this long letter. Mary Bontrager was simply in awe of the work being done here at Faith for the benefit of her school children. I keep thinking, “Only at Faith” is this kind of generosity and compassion possible. I’m sure there are other communities that can rally around a cause, but I’m grateful and blessed to be a member of Faith.

Hugs,

Pam

Back To School 2010

We'd like to invite you to help support efforts to provide Mark Twain Elementary with school supplies. A majority of their students live below the poverty line and are in need of basic supplies for the coming year. Helping to provide for their basic needs is a concrete way that we can embody the Gospel and enact God's vision for a better world. Here are five options for this week that have been compiled by Pam Zehr.

(1) Hand Sanitizer

Office Depot: 8oz bottles for FREE. They are $4.49 up front, but we get a mail-in rebate for the entire cost. Limit 5 per household.

(2) Scotch Tape

Target: 3 rolls + 1 free for $2.50.
CVS: Buy 1 get 1 free.

(3) Pencils

K-Mart: 10 for $.25.
WalMart: 24 for $.94.

(4) Scissors

Target: 1 for $.50.
Wal-Mart: 1 for $.74.

(5) Cash

We can obviously use cash to purchase any other needed supplies.

Thank you for your time, consideration, and ministry.

"Theology After Google" by Philip Clayton

A note upfront to the reader: Spencer Burke, Tony Jones, Tripp Fuller, I, and a bunch of others are embarked on a revolutionary project to get theology out of the classrooms (and pastors’ studies) and into the streets (living rooms, pubs, etc). In this short post I write about this project under the title “Theology After Google.”

Though I was trained as an academic theologian and have published a number of brainy books, I no longer believe in theory for theory’s sake. This short post is no exception. I want to stimulate your mind, but I also want to get you to do something. (Of course, it’s you who has to decide what you’re going to do.)

The network I’m involved with — Transforming Theology — is partnering with The Ooze to put on a first-of-its-kind event in southern California this March. It’s all about theology after Google: what it is and how to do it. We call it “leveraging new technologies and networks for transformative ministry.” I hope this post will influence your view of what the church and its theologies need to become. I also hope it will convince you to come to Claremont this March 10-12 — to listen, and to speak your mind in response.

Why is it that most Americans today don’t walk down to their neighborhood church on Sunday mornings for worship, Sunday School, and a church potluck?

Although some Christians seem to get it that “everything must change,” why is it that the vast majority don’t seem to recognize the enormous changes that are already upon us?

Do we really inhabit two different worlds: those who text, Twitter, blog, and get 80% of our information from the internet, and those who are “not comfortable” with the new social media and technologies?

Could we today be facing a change in how human society is organized that is as revolutionary in its implications as was the invention of the printing press by Gutenberg over 500 years ago? If we are, what does all this have to do with theology and the church?

This is not Kansas Anymore...

Let me not mince words: for better or worse, I’ve cast my lot with a rabbi named Jesus. That makes me one of his followers, whom individually people call “Christians,” and who as a group are known as the church. Church will still exist in AD 2100. But I’m not convinced that Church 2100 will look anything like Church today.

Of course, church has theological definitions, such as “the Body of Christ,” the community of the redeemed, the locus where the sacraments are celebrated, the place where Christians gather forworship, teaching, and community. But what church actually is has always been deeply affected by the world around it. When that world changes, so too does church. Everyone acknowledges that we are living in a time of revolutionary change. So tell me why we don’t think church is in for some radical changes?

Consider this comparison. On the eastern seaboard in the 17th and 18th centuries, and in the expansion of a young nation westward toward the Pacific Ocean, churches played very specific social functions. Not only were they the center of religious life, the place where one came to be baptized, married, and buried (“hatched, matched, and dispatched”)... and everything in between. They were also the heart and soul of the community — the center of social, communal, political, and even economic life. There was simply no other game in town. The church stood for the moral values of the community, “what made America great.” When you see the white steeples in a New England town, or when you drive through Midwest towns with a church on every corner, you realize how central a social institution the church once was.

But things have changed. It’s obvious that churches no longer play most of these social functions. We are now a massively pluralistic society living in an increasingly globalized world. Every major world religion is represented among United States citizens.

Take the question of authority. In the frontier town, the Southern city, or the New England village there was the authority of the law and the government. A lot of folks weren’t very educated, so they didn’t read much, and there was no radio or TV. The pastor of the church was not only the moral and spiritual authority — the representative of the only true religion and its obviously true scriptures — but also probably the most educated person in town. He (there were virtually no female pastors!) spoke with authority on a wide variety of issues that were important to the society of his day.

Contrast that with today’s situation. Rarely are pastors approached as figures of authority, except (sometimes!) within their own congregations. Radio, television, and the internet are our primary authorities for the information we need, with newspapers, advertisements, and movies coming in a close second. For many American Christians, Beliefnet.com (“Your Trusted Source for Free Daily Inspiration & Faith”) is a bigger authority on matters of Christian belief and practice than any pastor. We love self-help books, so we’re more likely to read Spirituality for Dummies than to go to a group Bible study. Forty years ago people were influenced in their judgments about religious matters not only by their pastor but also by the editorials in the Religion section of their local newspaper. Today the blogs one happens to read are more likely to
influence her beliefs.

Where’s the Revolution?

I’m almost embarrassed to list these differences, because they’re so obvious. But here’s the amazing fact: Denominations aren’t changing. In most cases they’re not planning for and investing in new forms of church for this brave new world. (There are some great exceptions.)

This is not a matter of blame. The assignment of the administrators who head up denominationsis to run the organization that they’ve been given. I once heard a major national leader say to a group of similar leaders something like, “We all know that the ship is in gravedanger, and it may go down. But we all seem to have the attitude, ‘Not on my watch!’”

Pastors have a bit more latitude. Individual pastors and churches are doing amazing things across the U.S. (and outside it); so are para-church and extra-church groups, organizations, and ministries. But in most cases, it’s the denominations that determine how pastors are educated, what kinds of ministries they can engage in, and what kinds of church assignments they get. A lot of young men and women lose their idealism in seminary. (That’s a damning fact that I, as a seminary teacher, take very, very seriously.) If they have the good fortune to depart seminary with their idealism intact, they’re generally assigned to a traditional church that has virtually no youth or younger families present, an average age of 60, and a major budget crisis on its hands. The orders are, “Keep this church alive!” The church members like the old hymns and liturgies; they don’t like tattoos, rock music, or electronics. They are about as likely to read and respond to blogs as I am to play in the Super Bowl. So the young pastor folds her idealism away in a closet and struggles to offer the traditional ministry that churches want.

In short: the majority of our resources continue to be flung at traditional church structures. Those doing the real revolutionary work, those trying to envision — and incarnate — the church of the future struggle on with the barest of resources. This is not smart. Let’s do something different. Let’s do it now.

Theology after Google

I used to think of theology as an academic discipline. Although about Christian beliefs, its primary goal was to meet the standards of the Academy. When I finally got the stars out of my eyes and began to look around more closely, I realized that the “trickle-down effect” — the idea that the brainy books in academic theology flow through pastors to help congregations and ordinary Christians — is no longer happening. If it ever did. By and large academic theologians are not addressing the questions that lay Christians are asking; or they’re answering them so incomprehensibly that only other academic theologians understand them.

Now when I use the term “theology” I mean the questions that all Christians ask and the kinds of answers that ordinary people give, no matter how hesitating and uncertain. This new definition has a wonderful implication: theology is tightly bound to whatever church is at a given time. Theology is about what the church is now and what it’s becoming. So “theology after Google” means: What must the church become in a Google-shaped world?

Here’s my answer in five theses. Whether you love them or hate them, I hope you’ll interact with them:

(1) Theology is not something you consume, but something you produce. In the Age of Gutenberg, you read theology in a book; you heard it preached in sermons; and you were taught it by Bible teachers. In the Age of Google, theology is what you do when you’re responding to blogs, contributing to a wiki doc or google doc, marking up a Word doc on your computer, participating in worship, inventing new forms of “ministry,” or talking about God with your friends in a pub.

I remember participating in 1991 in the birth of what would eventually become the worldwide web. (People now call it Web 1.0.) One used a protocol called “ftp” to access documents on someone else’s computer. No mouse and no pictures, but still: amazing — you could read someone else’s stuff without needing a floppy disk! What most of us now do is Web 2.0. We contribute to, mold, and play at the places we visit; we go there to do things. (If you’re unsure about this, watch a kid playing on the web. My seven-year-old twins will click on anything anywhere on any webpage to see what’ll happen and what it will do. The idea that the internet is about passive reading of content never occurred to them.)

(2) No institutions, and very few persons, function as authorities for theology after Google. Ever since Jesus’ (often misunderstood) statement about Peter that “on this rock I will build my church” (Mt. 16), the church has had issues with authority. The point is too obvious to need examples. The pastor standing up in the pulpit in the early 1960s was still a major authority. Of course, pastors still stand up in pulpits today, and some still view themselves as indispensable purveyors of truth.

But the world is changing around us. Those of us who speak in pulpits are having to rethink our relationship with the audiences we address. Most people today shrug their shoulders at those who claim to be authorities in religious matters. (For many of us, scripture continues to be an authority, but the way in which it’s an authority has changed massively over the last 30 years. More on that topic the next time I write.) Theology today means what some number of us find plausible about our faith or are convinced of. Our leaders are people like Brian McLaren or Tony Jones or Spencer Burke — people who say things that ring true to us, so that we say, “Yeah, I think that guy’s got some important insights. I’m going to read his blog or find a way to talk with him, and I’m going to recommend to my friends that they do the same.”

(3) Theology after Google is not centralized and localized. Likewise, the church cannot be localized in a single building. We find church wherever we find Jesus-followers that we link up with who are doing cool things. This point is huge. Denominational officials and many pastors have not even begun to conceive and wrestle with what it means to work for a church without a clear geographical location.

(4) The new Christian leader is a host, not an authority who dispenses true teaching, wise words, and the sole path to salvation. I first really got the host idea in a conversation with Spencer, and it has turned my understanding of Christian leadership upside down. Today, the leaders who influence our faith and action are those who convene (or moderate or enable) the conversations that change our life — or the activities that transform our understanding of ourselves, our world, and our God. It could be an older Christian who convenes discussions at a church, a house, or a pub. It could be Shane Claiborne leading an activity at The Simple Way on Potter Street in Philadelphia, say a time of gardening in the communal garden that gives you a sense of community that you’ve rarely had but always longed for. It could be a website or a blogger that you frequently go to, where you read others’ responses and add your own thoughts. Christian leadership is about enabling significant community around the name of Jesus, wherever two or more are gathered in His name.

(5) Theology after Google does not divide up the world between the “sacred” and the “secular,” as past theologies so often did. All thought and experience bears on it, and all of one’s life manifests it. Thus the distinction between one’s “ministry” and one’s “ordinary life” is bogus. All of one’s life as a Christian is missional.. The great 15thcentury theologian and mystic Nicholas of Cusa imagined God as a circle whose radius is infinite and whose center is everywhere. It only takes a second to realize that Cusa’s picture wreaks havoc on all geometries of “inside” and “outside.”

Here’s the picture: I find myself a follower of Jesus; that part seems to stick and to deepen the longer I live. I’m not sure exactly how I got here; it’s almost like it happened to me. I call it grace. I find others around me who follow the same Teacher and who therefore struggle with many of the same questions and issues that I have. They help me understand myself and remain faithful to my Guide. I call them church.

But what exactly do I believe? What must I say, and what should I not say (and do)? This quest is more open-ended. It’s filled with uncertainties and indecisions, and it’s constantly evolving. That quest just is theology. It’s everything I think about and do. It’s reading the New York Times headlines online each morning when I awake. It’s the philosophy text that I teach in a classroom or the intriguing idea about christology that I talk about with friends over a beer. It’s our attempts to be involved in authentic forms of ministry and Christian community, and the questions we ask about whether those attempts are really faithful and how to make them better. It’s that recurring question, “What should I do with my life?”

In the book that Tripp Fuller and I just published, Transforming Christian Theology, we argue that theology is about attempting to answer the Seven Core Christian Questions. These questions have impressive-sounding names: theology proper, anthropology, soteriology, christology, pneumatology, ecclesiology, eschatology. But they are really just the simple, recurring questions that every Christian wonders about as he or she struggles to be a Jesus disciple: Who is God? What are human beings? How are we separated from God, and how can that separation be overcome? Who is Jesus Christ? What or Who is the Spirit? What is the church, and what should it be doing? And what is our hope for the final future of the cosmos and humanity?

These do not have to be high-falutin’ debates sprinkled liberally with Greek and German technical terms. The most humble attempts to answer these questions, in word and action, are as authentically theology as are the rarified debates within the Ivy Tower — indeed, they may be more authentic than what academic theologians do. Call it the Theology of the Widow’s Mite.

All right, what can we do?

Theology after Google is about what you do, not about passively reading stuff. So here’s what I hope:

• I hope you’ll comment on this post. Take a minute to write a sentence or two of response. I am equally intrigued by disagreements as about agreements. Participate! That’s what counts. The rest is merely listening, a kind of theological voyeurism.

• Talk about these issues with friends. Blog and post on your own. If you go to a church, talk with church leaders about theology after Google. Set up a discussion group in your home or some other venue. Theology after Google (Church 2.0) is a network of networks. Every group and every network counts.

• Come to the Big Tent Christianity conference September 8-10 in Raleigh, NC. Interact with Brian McClaren, Keith Ward, Phyllis Tickle, Diana Butler Bass, Bill Leonard, Tony Jones, Harvey Cox, Tony Jones, Spencer Burke, Tripp Fuller, and other speakers. Participate in the workshops. Let your voice be heard, and thereby change what other people take home. Be transformed by what you hear, and then “go thou and do likewise”!

Philip Clayton is Professor of Theology at Claremont School of Theology and head of the Transforming Theology project. He made the journey from conservative evangelical to liberal before staking his tent with the emergent church. His most recent books are Adventures in the Spirit: God, World, Divine Action and Transforming Christian Theology. This article was originally published in the Winter/Spring edition of Creative Transformation.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Creative Transformation: Online Edition

The new edition of Creative Transformation is now out! It's an outstanding magazine in general, but the new one is especially good. It contains articles by theological rock stars such as Philip Clayton, Bruce Epperly, L Callid Keefe-Perry, Thomas Jay Oord, Joan Lucas, etc. The content includes: articles about the post-Google church, book reviews, comics, hymns, and other cool stuff from the perspective of process theology. It's a timely edition about timely topics, such as being an effective church in our quickly changing world. Check it out. Pass it along. And if you feel compelled, tell the editor, Jeanyne Slettom, how much you like the new online edition. Pastor Brian even makes an appearance in the Critics Corner, reviewing Feed The Fire and Four Seasons of Ministry. If you like progressive theology, this is a good magazine to explore. And you can't go wrong since it's free and online!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Heartland Transport

Heartland Transport is the documentary about the first Show Me Marriage Equality Bus trip from Saint Louis to Iowa City. Their next stop will be at here at Faith UCC! Check out the film. And then come to the church on August 13th to offer hospitality, bring goodies, help people navigate the church, be a supportive presence, etc. It should be a great event for everyone involved. Go marriage equality!

HEARTLAND TRANSPORT from http://vimeo.com/user3063971 on Vimeo.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Faith + Facebook: Discussion Invitation

Faith is going to explore some of the possibilities of Facebook. Since more and more people are using this social networking site, we’re going to tap into this resource. Each month there will be a new discussion question posted on the Faith UCC Facebook page. If you use Facebook, you're invited to join in on this experiment. The question for July is: “Why Faith?” Simple yet deep. And you can take the question in many different directions. What drew you here? What keeps you coming back? Why are you active? What is a favorite memory? The list could go on and on. If you would like to reply to the July question, please check out the discussion section on our Facebook page.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Faith in the News

Pastor Brian was interview by Josh O'Leary of the Iowa City Press Citizen on Friday. The article appeared on the front page of the Monday edition of the paper. Click here to read the article. Hopefully this helps to give the church some more exposure to the wider community. People will want to come once they hear more about us! :-)

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Marriage Equality Bus is coming to Faith

The Show Me Marriage Equality Bus has rolled! After the Iowa Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality, Ed Reggi and Scott Emanuel organized a bus trip to Iowa for LGBT from Saint Louis to get married in Iowa City. The trip took place on May 1st 2009 and it enabled 17 couples to get married. The couples were from all walks of life, yet they were united in their desire to have their relationships recognized in a legal way. The bus left Saint Louis at 5:00am, drove to Iowa City for the ceremonies, and then returned home late that same evening. It was a marathon trip. But it was well worth it. The couples were all joy-filled and excited about their new, legal marriages.

The good news doesn’t stop there. Many Iowa City businesses provided them with free or reduced-price services and food. Due to the graciousness of these organizations, this trip included an affordable assortment of food, cakes, decorations, etc. It’s evident that many people in Iowa were willing and excited to be able to support marriage equality in this very real and practical way. This trip, and the many people it takes to make it happen, are a true sign of hope and change in our world. Justice is flowing like a mighty stream from the Midwest!

The Show Me Marriage Equality Bus attracted a lot of media attention. It was featured in newspapers, magazines, and TV news in Iowa, Missouri, and around the nation. Plus, a documentary about the first trip, Heartland Transport, was recently made and released about the trip. Cody Stokes, the director of the documentary, said this about the film: "This film was something that came very unexpectedly to me. I consider myself mainly a narrative filmmaker, and, although I've always had a great interest in documentary film, I was quite intimidated by it. So, when I learned of the planned trip from St. Louis to Iowa City only two days before the buses left, I wasn't sure if it was something I could really pull off. I knew that, for history's sake alone, this was a film that needed to be made, and as soon as I spoke with Ed Reggi I knew it was something that I personally wanted to be involved in. After going on the trip and seeing people partaking in a civil right so many of them thought they'd never see, I was no longer worried about how I was going to make the film - the story fashioned itself. It has been such a great feeling to be let into these people's lives in such an intimate way. I'm very proud of the film. We now have to work to get the film out there and seen, something I look forward to doing."

After making five trips to Iowa City, the Show Me Marriage Equality bus is going to make its first stop at Faith United Church of Christ. They will be using our congregation for their wedding ceremonies on Friday, August 13th. All friends and members of the Faith community are welcome to come to the church to offer welcome, hospitality, and help. This will be an exciting event in the life of the church, an important event in the lives of the couples, and an important witness for greater equality in the Midwest. More details about this event will emerge in the coming weeks.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

July Letter

Warm greetings to all members and friends (it’s 95 and humid as I write this!),

We’re into our second month together. And so far so good. This is an outstanding congregation for many reasons. Its openness is inspiring. Its commitment to social justice is powerful. Its friendly, relaxed atmosphere is welcoming. The list could go on and on. As I am getting to know this congregation, I see many strengths and important ministries. It’s my goal to learn from and plug myself into the wonderful traditions and strengths of this place.

It’s also my goal to help facilitate growth and development. This means building upon the strengths and traditions that are already thriving. In order to foster growth amidst the gifts of this congregation, I am asking for your help. What do you envision for Faith UCC? What are your dreams? As your pastor, I truly value your insights and envisioning. In a variety of ways, over the next few months, I will be asking for your perspectives, opinions, dreamings, etc. So let’s do some dreaming.

One example of this dreaming will happen with interest surveys. The first survey is about adult education/exploration. Many experts are saying that adult education/exploration is an important way to help a congregation grow. It often helps churches grow numerically, theologically, spiritually, and socially. Plus, it can be a lot of fun. So, I’d like to know what kind of adult education/exploration would interest you. Would you like to explore a book of the Bible, such as Acts or Psalms? Would you like to explore a book like The Gospel According to RAGBRAI by Bob Molsberry? Would you like to explore special topics such as spiritual practices, social justice, forgiveness, etc.? Would you like to engage in a creative activity like faith-through-art or prayer shawl ministry? The questions are many. We’ll start big and then narrow things down to something exciting.

Another example of our dreaming will happen on Facebook. More and more people are using this social networking site. So, we’re going to tap into this resource. Each month there will be a new discussion question posted on the Faith UCC organization group. If you use Facebook, I invite you to join in on this Facebook experiment. The question for July is: “Why Faith?” Simple yet deep. What drew you here? What keeps you coming back? Why are you active? What is a favorite memory? Why Faith UCC? If you would like to reply to the July question, please check out the discussion section on the Faith UCC Facebook page.

Together we’ll do some dreaming, exploring, and some dream-realizing. Part of our shared ministry together is the exciting process of creating and living out our dreams. So, let’s dream together as we walk boldly into our future. God is still speaking...and leading us onward.

Peace,

Pastor Brian