Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Stop Preaching! (Part Two)

(Scroll down to see my first post on this topic)

Deemphasizing preaching is not as radical idea as you might think. While the United Methodist Church (and indeed, almost every church) considers "Proclaiming the Word" and preaching synonymous, this has not always been the case. For instance, while there were itinerant preachers in the Middle Ages, they were not people's primary source of information about the Bible. Rather, they learned through visual images, such as stained glass, which, through a complex code, communicated not just a Biblical story, but interpreted it as well for the viewer.

Let me briefly suggest some ways to remedy the overemphasis on preaching.

I wonder then, what it would be like to "proclaim the word" to all people, paying equal attention to all intelligence types.

What it would look like if we proclaimed the wold in a way that appealed to intrapersonal intelligence? Maybe it would be lectio divina, where people "pray" the scriptures, listening to them several times, meditating on them and possibly sharing how God spoke to them afterwards.

What it would look like if we proclaimed the word in a way that appealed to bodily-kinesthetic intelligence? Maybe it would be a series of stations where people had the opportunity to create something (e.g. draw, paint, write, do a ritual) in response to a text.

What it would look like if we proclaimed the world in a way that appealed to interpersonal intelligence? Maybe, rather than delivering a sermon, you could lead a structured discussion on the text, preparing by having some key points, researching the text well, and providing relevant illustrations based on where the discussion goes.

Once we remove ourselves from the "preaching" box, the possibilities are endless.

Stop Preaching! (Part One)

We are a word-addicted church.

We open our worship with written words on a page, read litanies for special occasions, sing songs with complex lyrics from a hymnbook, articulate our doctrine and structure through 800 pages of, yes, words, and feel like we've accomplished something at Annual Conference when we pass a resolution in print.

This word-addiction is especially apparent when it comes to preaching, one of United Methodism's self-proclaimed hallmarks. We have licensed people as "local preachers", we talk proudly about the great "traveling preachers" in the early 1800's, we make all our seminarians take a class on preaching (though not necessarily on worship), and for most churches, "The Proclamation of the Word" (which is always the sermon) comprises the central part of the worship service.

This is a horrible, inexcusable tragedy.

Now before you run screaming to my local DCOM or BOOM (and if you don't know the words for these acronyms, then you can hardly be called United Methodist!), or earnestly inquire as to what they're teaching us at those crazy "liberal" seminaries, let me explain:

The study of multiple intelligences tells us that people understand the world and make connections to it in different ways. Some people acquire information best through hearing something (musical, linguistic), others through images (spatial), others through doing something, (bodily-kinesthetic) some through interactions with others (interpersonal), others through self reflection (intrapersonal), others through music, etc.

Consider for a moment then, how many types of intelligence a typical sermon reaches, delivered verbally from a pulpit on a Sunday morning (by the way, this exercise works equally well with learning styles.)

Can't come up with many?

Well, neither can I.

The typical sermon, the vaunted "proclamation of the Word", the very center and climax of a typical Protestant worship service, appeals almost exclusively to only one type of intelligence- linguistic intelligence. All other people are left in the dust, required to either adapt (or simply to tune out). (And yes, you may point out that we do have hymns that could appeal to musical intelligence, but remember, most are sung to 150 year old tunes with 150+ year old lyrics while being played on an instrument that went out of style nearly a century ago. I think traditional hymns have a lot to offer us, but our rabid, exclusive devotion to our ancient-white-people style of music doesn't always speak to today's worldview and culture.)

Needless to say, when the central part of your worship service primarily speaks to only a small group of people, you have a problem.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

YouTube Goodness

United Methodist History in Claymation (Watch this soon, it's being taken down!)

Scambaiters convincing would-be scammers (the type that e-mail you to share about their 100 million dollar bank accounts) to do the classic Monty Python "Dead Parrot" sketch

Monday, February 19, 2007

What I've Been Reading

Here's what I've been reading this past week:

1) A fantastic and very disturbing series of articles (Part 1, Part 2) in the Washington Post on how injured soldiers returning from Iraq are treated.

2) A post by a blogger on how to buy original art at reasonable prices.

3) A short article on how to improve air quality in your home.

Friday, February 16, 2007

The Great Methodist Rip Off: Part Two

How could a denomination offer materials in a way that is affordable for their members and fiscally responsible for them? A few ideas:

1) Don't overcharge for books. For instance, Cokesbury.com regularly prices its books a few dollars higher than their competitors. You lose sales and goodwill when your built-in customer base (e.g. UMC clergy and laity) have to go other places to find affordable materials.

2) Offer good free materials on the internet. You don't have to give away everything. Instead, pick and choose what resources to highlight. For instance, you could give away the worship planner (see previous post), chapters of recently published books, or a few top quality articles in .pdf format.

3) Offer the majority of your resources online as a subscription. For a scaling annual fee, offer hundreds of articles, out of date books, worship resources, planners, etc. The denomination gain a constant revenue stream that would pay for offering the materials online and churches would have a genuinely affordable option when looking for resources.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Great Methodist Rip Off

I was thinking about the penny pinching, miserly nature of our connectional hierarchy as I learned today that the General Board of Discipleship (which, now that it's been renamed GBOD, must now be automatically relevant) has taken their weekly hymn resource off its website. This planner provided suggested music across all UMC music resources based on theme and scripture for each week. Apparently, (my fiancee had used it) it was quite well done and extremely useful when constructing a service every week.

When, in preparation for leading Sunday worship, she visited the site, she found that they had been taken down, and that instead of getting these resources for free, they were now only available in a $16 book.

Our blessed worship people made a passing effort to explain their decision, saying that they're responding to "customers requests" to have all the planner in one book, (what customer requests that you remove a free product and charge for it instead?) "flexibility of use" since the resources are now in one place, (why not add cross-searching abilities into the web site or simply publish it as a free .pdf for download?) , and, believe it or not, due to "price concerns", after all, since it's only thirty one cents a week, anyone can afford it. (How generous of them! Especially considering that churches were paying nothing for it before!)

I do give them credit for listing customer complaints at the bottom of the page. However, they never respond to those complaints specifically, instead simply assuring us that they thought seriously about it.

Quite frankly, if they're going to take away a free resource and make us pay money for it (and yes, for a poor seminary student like me, $16 is a lot of money for a resource!), then be honest with us and admit you're doing it to make a profit. Pretending that you removed the resources from the website to help out "customers" (by the way, customers? since when are the constituents of the churches who pay for your budget via apportionments mere customers?) is dishonest and condescending.

Rather than giving us the resources to equip us for our ministries, they're going for a cheap buck and hoping we don't notice. Unfortunately, this seems to happen across the board in United Methodism. It's the reason why "our United Methodist Publishing House" doesn't give away ANY resources,and charges prices that are significantly higher than places like Christan Book Distributors and Amazon.com. It's the reason why there are Wesleyan Foundations (UM college fellowships) that can't use the Methodist order of worship because they don't own a book of Worship and aren't an official United Methodist Church (Contrast this with the Episcopalians, whose entire Book of Common Prayer (which is far more central to their worshipping life than the Book of Worship is to the UMC) is open source, free to anyone to use).

When a denomination overcharges its members for the resources you need to do ministry effectively, then you know it's in serious trouble.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

More Contextless Links

While I'm sitting in front of the computer, cleaning out my bookmarks...

A Church for the Homeless

Surviving (and thriving) on $12,000 a year

Malcom Gladwell (writer of Blink and Tipping Point) on how to solve homelessness

Global Warming: A Fact, Not a Debate

This past Sunday morning, I learned yet another important lesson of pastoral leadership: set two alarm clocks on Sunday morning.

Whether it was a glitch or my body frantically beating the alarm clock into submission while I slept on peacefully, I’ll never know, but instead of getting up at 6:00AM, with plenty of time to pray, practice my sermon, eat breakfast, and get to church for the 8:15 service (I have a one hour commute, one way), I opened my eyes, thought it looked rather light out for that early in the morning, and checked my alarm clock to find out that, in fact, the time was 6:55.

I uttered an utterly unprintable (or rather, since this a blog, untypeable) phrase or two, got up, and, fueled by some incredible combination of panic, adrenaline, and blind fury, was out the door, dressed, packed, shaved, and showered in twelve minutes, and at the church by five minutes to eight, due to some speedy driving on the highway and the judicious running of one red light. (And, as an aside, to my mother, who is probably the only person reading this blog right now, I know that was really foolish (esp. running the red light) and I will never ever ever ever do it again, especially if I plan to blog about it afterwards!)

Needless to say, everything turned out okay. I even beat my pastor to the church (which, come to think of it, is not a great feat). However, I shudder to think that in an alternate universe somewhere, that I stretched, rolled over, and found out that it was 8:30AM. Thank God it wasn’t this one!

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Pray With Podcasts

If you're like me, prayer can often get lost in the press of life. One way to take time for God is to download daily prayer from the internet. There are several daily prayer podcasts that you can get manually on a website or subscribe to using a podcatcher like Juice.

Here are four that I've found:

Pray-as-you-go.org - This provides new podcasts for Monday-Friday of the week, sponsored by Jesuit Media Initiatives. They involve music, a scripture passage, and then a guided reflection or meditation on the passage. I've used this on a regular basis for several months and it's fantastic!

Order of Saint Luke Podcast - This is a weekly podcast for their daily office. (Inconveniently, they put the entire week's podcast on one .mp3, so you'll have to remember the time when each day starts and fast forward)

Orthodox Liturgy- This is a recording of Orthodox nuns doing the offices for all the major and minor hours of the day. I just discovered this site today, so I can't speak to its quality, but I'm excited to try it out! They also broadcast prayer at the appropriate times on their internet radio station.

Episcopal Offices- Morning prayer, noonday prayer, and Compline (evening prayer).