Further Up, Further In Weblog

Chronicling the Journey of the Homeyers

The Half-Formed Prayers of Society February 29, 2008

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Here is a second interesting proposition of Rodney Stark in The Rise of Christianity.

It concerns those who become new converts to a faith.

He states, obviously enough, that most converts to any religion come from the religious middle.  That is, people who are religiously inactive and discontent, but open to faith. 

Very little conversion happens with those on the extremes, those who are atheists, agnostics, or have a firm stance against faith and/or religion or those who are actively faithful and religious.   

There was one determining factor in the conversion of those from the ranks of the religiously inactive and disconent which I found extremely interesting. 

Stark says that this group is more likely to “adopt a new religion to the extent that it retains cultural continuity with convenational religion with which they are already familiar.”

This says to us that receptivity to something wholly new is very low.  Which is why Mormons have been so effective, one does not have to reject the tenets of Judeo-christian faith, or even the Old and New Testament,  but essentially add a chapter to what came before. 

He goes on to say that all successful prophets articulated and gave form and substance to the dreams and half-articulated prayers and hopes of at least a large portion of their adherents.  

He inserts this quote:  “The orginality of a prophet lies commonly in his ability to fuse into a white heat combustible material which is there, to express and appear to meet the half-formed prayers of some at least of his contemporaries.”

For us today, the challenge is to learn the half-formed prayers of our contemporaries and figure out how to communicate the gospel in a white heat combusible way.

What are the hopes of our culture and society?  What is missing for the people in our communities and societies that they desperately seek? 

The miracle of the Gospel is that the grace of Christ is such that it holds the answer to whatever the need, hopes, and dreams may be.  Our job, as followers of Christ is to know the needs, hopes, dreams of our culture and community and to articulate the timeless gospel in such a way to address those needs, hopes, and dreams. 

This is the miracle of the Gospel.  Why would we present it the same way in all circumstances, in all places, and in all times?  The gospel is bigger than that, it is more living than that.  It IS more than that. 

What our goal as Followers of Christ in 2008 should be is not to bring a new message to a group familiar with Christianity, but if Stark’s proposition is right, our goal should be to articulate the gospel in the context of the needs, dreams, and hopes of the people of 2008, not 1958.  Instead of a white heat combustible gospel we are all to often articulating the fading embers of what was white hot and combustible several decades ago. 

So what are the half-spoken prayers, hopes, and dreams of our culture, society, and age? 

It may be the most pertinent questions our churches and family of believers can ask. 


The Power of Relationship February 28, 2008

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This weekend I began reading two new books which really have my world spinning this week.  

The first is Sermon Maker by Calvin Miller.  It is a book I read in Seminary and have brushed the dust off and re-opened it.  It is a fascinating book on the dynamic nature of preaching and gives hope and encouragement for a struggling homiletician. 

The second is The Rise of Christianity:  How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries by Rodney Stark.  Stark is a professor of Sociology and Comparitive Religion at the Univ of Washington who approaches the incredible explosion of Christianity upon the world scene from CE 30 – CE 350 or so from a sociological perspective.  So far it has been riveting and enlightening.  Because of the lack of verifiable statistics and data to study, much of his work is conjecture, but still it is compelling and enlightening. 

Over the next couple weeks as I work through these books, most of my blog postings will be insights for the people of God from these readings. 

Here are some observations from The Rise of Christianity.

The most fascinating part of the book so far has been Stark’s study of how and why people come to accept new faith.  He has studied the Moonies and Mormons primarily, as they have been relatively new movements of large percentage growth and have verifiable statistics.  He discusses at length the reasons why most people move from one religion to another or from religious apathy to religious devotion of one kind or another.

Here is one of his interesting propositions.  Another will follow tomorrow:

1)  When you ask people after they have converted to a religion why they have converted, inevitably their answers are about the compelling truth of doctrine or irresistability of this particular conception of God. 

But, if you follow people through the process of conversion, by and large the determining factor between those that accept and those that reject a new faith is relationship

The first Moonies in America were horribly unsuccessful in their preaching, and attempts at conversion on the street or at group rally’s.  But, They were incredibly successful in developing relationships in their families and social networks and converting those closest to them. 

The same is found in the Mormon faith.  Missionary statistics say that cold calls on houses (door to door visitation or evangelization) result in the conversion of about 1 in 1000 people.  But, When a member of a Mormon church refers a missionary to a friends house, the conversion rate is about 50%.  This fervor has resulted in the explosive growth of Mormonism around the world, a rate of 40% growth per decade steadily over the past century.  (Incidentially, this is the basic growth rate Stark proposes of Christianity in the 1st-3rd centuries.)

What does this tell us as Followers of Christ? 

I think it shouts to us that Our relationships are dymanic and incredibly powerful.  Our churches, worship, preaching, evangelism, and missional life should flow out of and revolve around relationship.  Birth into life in Christ is a birth into community, not a sole pursuit. 

How much time have we wasted in preaching, teaching, and evangelism by putting proof and defense of doctrine at the forefront?  There certainly is an importance to knowing sound doctrine and theology, but perhaps we can shift our focus toward people and relationships. 

Within us all lies this eternal craving for connection with those around us and with something beyond us.  The body of believers offers satiation of these universal and eternal cravings like no other source. 

We need to own this.  We are called to use this power of relationship.  Especially in our world today, people will often be drawn to us, as compelling witnesses of Christ, before they are attracted to Christ.  The image of Christ and God is distorted for many, but through relationship with us, as followers of Christ we can point to toward a clearer reality. 

How many of our relationships are drawing people closer to God?  How intentional are we in our relationships? 

The challenge for us, is to live in the awareness that we, in our person, in our actions, in our lives, are living mirrors that reflect Christ. 


Falling Slowly… February 26, 2008

In honor its Oscar win for Best Original Song, I thought I would repost my thoughts on “Falling Slowly” by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova from the movie, “Once.”   Enjoy.   

I put this video from the movie Once up on the blog a couple of weeks ago. 

This movie moved me deeply.  I’ve listened to the soundtrack a lot over the past couple of weeks, watched this clip probably a dozen times, discussed the movie, and then watched the movie again, and it still stirs my soul. 

I can’t quite put my finger on why.  Maybe it is the way the two main characters come together for a time and better each others lives.  The way they find hope and determination and motivation in one another and yet still the story is not tied in a neat little bow but ends realistically. (just a short aside:  I love realistic story lines.  Escapism through film and other media is great, I love it.  But it really has osmosed itself into the mindset of our culture.  Too much escapism is not a good thing.  The fantasy threatens to become reality which in essence makes us all crazy)

Maybe somehow through the story and through the songs of the film the makers of Once  stumble into capturing on some deep level the beauty inherent in the song and dance of human relationship. 

In this youtube clip of the film, the male protagonist is opening himself up and singing to the female protaganist a song he has written which reveals the deep hurt and yet the deep hope that remains from a recent heartbreak.  As he plays tentaively she begins to play along and harmonize.  Comforting…they grow in relationship with one another in that moment.  As she plays along he plays more boldly as does she and trust is developed.  They move from exclusion to embrace.  It is musical love-making.

It is a picture of what human relationship should be.  An intimate sharing of the deep things of life.  Heartbreak, great hopes, loves, disappointments, joys.  And as we share with those that are truly friends or lovers or brothers and sisters in Christ, those that we share with harmonize along with us.  They learn to compliment, deepen, beautify, and enhance the song of our life and we in turn learn the harmony of their melody as well. 

Can you imagine a world of such relationships?  Can you imagine the symphony that would rise up amongst the songs that so often go unheard or are out of tune with no one to harmonize with?

Thanks for letting me sing a bit of my melody for you.

 “Falling Slowly, Sing Your melody, I’ll sing along.” 


Si Se Puede February 23, 2008

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Disclaimer:  The comments presented in this post do not constitute a political endorsement.  The comments presented in this post represent no vast expanse of political knowledge.  They are mere observations from a marginally politically invested 27 year old. 

 The rise of Barack Obama as the possibly-soon-to-be Democratic Presidential Candidate has been a fascinating thing to watch.  For a 27 year old, it has been an utterly unique political experience. 

Never in my voting life has there been a candidate that truly has had a charismatic, emotional appeal for any large group.  Some would argue this.  W might have had this appeal for the Religious Right, but I would argue that this appeal certainly wasn’t based on Charisma.  But who else would there by on the national stage?  Howard Dean and his yell in 2004? 

But an emotional fervor seems to surround Obama and his rise (would it be cliche to all it meteoric?  let’s wait for now) as Presidential nominee frontrunner. 

I stumbled onto a good article this week about the “cool factor” of Barack Obama and the almost Messianic status he is given b his followers.  At the rally in Austin last night, while a massive crowd waiting in the cold to hear Obama speak, a band played a song entitled, “Obama-lujah.”  High school students with their chest painted red and blue in support of Obama yelled, “Obama ’08, Get Fired Up!”  And these kids can’t even vote yet.  Where else in the political arena would you see such support? 

Being as I serve and live in central Texas in a fairly conservative area and Church, I have certainly heard the other side of Obamania. 

The most ridiculous I have heard is the oft repeated quote, “A vote for Obama is a vote for Osama.”  Equally far from the point of the matter are the emails that have been widely circulating  that a)  Obama’s Christian faith is an elaborate ruse designed to sneak a man who is actually a fundamentalist (read Militant) Muslim into the Presidency. b)  Obama swore his oath into the Senate with his hand on a Koran (now, this really has nothing to do with his ability to lead and govern, but as a lot of the Pro-Obama hype is meant to spin his supporters, this spins his detractors).  Then there are the more bland negative comments that he is a candidate of smooth words and little substance. 

One friend, who is a staunch Rebublican articulately expressed the “branding” of Obama, and how he has very successfully used his charisma and attraction to “brand” himself.  Coca-Cola, Crayola, Obama.  She discussed some of the ways in which his campaign has employed current advertising and marketing techniques to create appeal based upon emotion rather than quality of product.  She was very compelling.  To this point, Slate.com has created a widget where people can make up quotes using Obama’s name (Ex.  “Barackupied” – Unable to think about any other politician other than Barack) It is hard to imagine Barack’s success if his name were Tom Smith.  Perhaps this is unfair, but I think it’s accurate. 

 Regardless of what you think of Obama, his rise is fascinating.  For a 27 year old, it is incredibly hopeful.  I don’t know how to answer the question of How exactly he plans to change Washington, or what exactly I would hope for him to do differently if he were to be voted into office.  I am not certain if the dangers of a candidates appeal being based largely on charisma outweigh the positives. 

But it is hopeful, that a candidate can speak fluently the language of a generation raised under the polarization of our nation under Clinton and Bush.  It is hopeful to have a candidate whose appeal is larger than the sum total weight of his position on issues.  It is hopeful to see actual political races that are decided by actual voters which will hopefully ensure that more voices are heard by whomever wins. 

Obama was quoted in the Austin American Statesman as saying at a rally in Edinburg,

“what Chávez and King and every other freedom fighter has understood is that there’s a time, there’s a moment in the life of every generation, when that spirit of hope has to come through”

Perhaps this is our time.  Perhaps.


Those Darn Bears February 20, 2008

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After posting so much on my beloved Baylor Bears when they were world beaters, I feel obligated to post a bit of of my disappointment/frustration/anger/heartbreak now that they have reached new realms of creativity when it comes to losing close games. 

Check out this story and this if you want a quick update on basketball idiocy in the waning seconds of close games. 

The old me would have said, “Well, at least we are competitive.  At least we’re in the games at the end.”  But the new me is much more cynical.   He has had the briefest taste of winning college basketball and it was wonderful and merely competing isn’t going to cut it anymore. 


Holy Hanky Panky

Filed under: Uncategorized — furtherupfurtherin @ 4:03 pm

I came across this article this afternoon

It gives a new meaning to 40 days of Purpose, does it not? 

Man, I have so many comments on this one that simply aren’t appropriate.  If only I was a youth minister again…

I guess I won’t say anything.  Just enjoy the article and wish this guy was your pastor. 


Expectancy… February 19, 2008

 Do you ever live out one of those scenarios where you hear a word with fresh ears that you never really paid attention to, or maybe even learn a new word; and, suddenly that word is appearing everywhere around you.  On the radio, on the TV, in books, in advertisements, you can’t run from it no matter what you do. 

            I have encountered such a word over the past couple of months.  The word is expectancy.  I can’t get away from it.  Yesterday, in reading, The Shack, a book given to me by Will and Jenny Brust and a book I highly recommend to all of you (http://www.theshackbook.com/), I encountered the word yet again, but this time I feel I encountered the purpose behind this word being so much at the forefront of my consciousness.  

            The purpose lies in the difference between expectations and expectancy.  If you look at the definitions there is basically no difference between the two words.  They both mean, “to live in a state of expectation.”  But to my thinking there is a great difference between them. 

            Most of us live our entire lives with expectations all around us.  We have expectations for ourselves.  We have expectations for others.  Others have expectations of us.  We have expectations of our God and for our relationship with God. 

            I struggle with expectations.  I struggle under the weight of them.  I struggle to uphold them.  We are bred under the weight of expectation.  These may serve to motivate and drive us to some degree, but in the context of relationship expectations only serve to inhibit, constrict, and control that which is meant to be free and dynamic. 

            Expectations are set and specific in nature.  Expectations lend themselves to static systems that are easily managed and defined. 

            But relationships are non-linear and dynamic in nature.  They do not progress evenly along a given slope, but are living organisms that have life of their own and are not meant to be managed but lived.    

            This is where expectancy enters the equation.  Relationships are made for expectancy.  With expectancy there is freedom instead of law, there is fluidity instead of rigidity.  There is an expectancy that should exist within our relationships.  Whether we are together or apart, there is an expectancy of being together, of laughing, and talking and experiencing life with one another.  That expectancy has no concrete definition; it is alive and dynamic and everything that emerges from our being together is a unique gift shared by no one else. 

            If this expectancy is exchanged for expectations then legislation enters the relationship.  We feel the need to set certain times and amounts of meeting.  We are expected to perform a certain way within relationship.  Living relationship deteriorates into a static formality with rules and requirements. 

            My greatest hurt and disappointment in relationships (with humanity and with my God) have been a result of others not living up to my expectation for them and our relationship.  My greatest joys and my healthiest relationships are those lived in expectancy.  Expectancy allows those we are in relationship to be fully themselves and to love us and invest in us in the fullness of what they have to give and we have the same freedom toward them. 

            How different would our relationship with God be if we did not limit our relationship with our expectations?  How different would it be if we stopped living under the weight of what we believe to be God’s expectations of us?  What if we simply lived in a state of expectancy of God moving in our life and our responding as He leads?  Can you imagine how that would free you to respond and how it would free God to move beyond any of our small, limited, constricting expectations?  Such freedom, I fear, is rarely experience among believers. 

            How different would our relationships be different with one another if we dropped our expectations and instead lived with one another in a state of expectancy of how our relationships will develop and grow?  Living in relationship expectantly looking for the times of laughter, joy, comfort, peace, sadness, and tears that are the building blocks of all real relationships.  Intentionality, planning, and organization aren’t thrown out under the banner of expectancy, but are enhanced because now within our intentions, planning, and organization there exists a freedom for God’s movement among us that might not have existed because of the rigidity of our set expectations. 

            May we transform our relationships.  May we be a family who learns to live with great expectancy in relationship with each other and with our God.