Friday, January 26, 2007

We Are the Medium

I am reading The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture by Shane Hipps. Hipps is a pastor (and graduate of Fuller Sem - evidently Jim knows him) who before seminary worked in advertising. His advertising background gave him a handle on media theory, which he uses in this book. On the whole I was pleased to find a book from a Christian publishing house engaging with the meaning of media theory for the Christian church. As a Communication scholar I found Hipps’ explanations of McLuhan’s media theory a bit simplistic, but the choice makes sense given his audience. I found his explanation of the impact that modern/print culture has had on the church one of the more cogent I have read, and his explanation of changes brought by image culture also helpful. He ultimately suggests that we need to consider the ways this technology changes us through the eyes of our theology, and work within the maelstrom (in McLuhan’s terms) to celebrate the new possibilities but also not ignore what is made obsolete that might be valuable. He examines in particular the way these changes impact our understanding and experience of community, leadership, and worship. For example, he points to the good ways electronic media combat the individualistic impulse of print, but often lead to superficial community, and suggests ways to cultivate deeper relationships within contemporary culture. In general, I think he does good work.

I have a few minor quibbles with the way Hipps presents his case. His bias is clearly protestant evangelical, as is his audience, but he doesn’t seem to acknowledge this at all. As a result, he considers a renewed focus on eucharist instead of sermons a change in the church, without acknowledging that many Christians have worshipped this way since before the reformation. I also think the term “Hidden” in the title and elsewhere is deceptive. It is not as though the effect that media has on us is creeping in the corners of our lives, it is more like slight of hand – we are distracted by other things and don’t notice it. The implication that we are “uncovering” something that was “hidden” indicates Hipps own modern bias and suggests that the impact of electronic culture is necessarily negative and sneaky. And perhaps it is, but Hipps’ actual view is more measured than his title might lead us to believe. But I suppose it does make a provocative title.

Perhaps the most useful conceptual move that Hipps makes is by positioning the church as God’s chosen media for his message of redemption. He writes “the way we live and practice our faith together is evangelistic, missional activity that communicates our distinct identity. Our identity is the message” (85). The church as media, like the church as reading (an idea I got from Milbank) suggests that Christian practice is itself a powerful rhetoric for communicating the grace of God. An idea that is important for my thesis. He points out earlier the way media impact our preferred form of thinking – analytic or wholistic, for example – and applies this to Eastern Orthodox thinking compared to western protestant. He says we “become what we behold” and I wish he would, at this point, stretch this idea to sacrament. If we become what we behold, and we are constantly exposed to the sacrament – enacting God’s grace and our gratitude – perhaps then the logic of God’s grace can become our working mode of thought.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

slippery slopes etc.

A friend sent me this book review from Books and Culture, complimented my intelligence, and suggested I blog about it. For future reference, that’s always a good strategy to get people to do things. But I really decided to write about it because I found her argument so perplexing. Bauer, the writer, finds herself in the position Christianity Today is often in: too liberal for conservatives and too conservative for, well, me anyway. Bauer points to the extreme reactions she got for recommending a book called Finally Feminist on her blog, and raises the question: why do people hold so strongly to their views of gender?

She continues in a review of Stackhouse’s argument in the book which she calls (and I agree, from her summary) “extremely convincing to all those who are already egalitarians.” She defends the egalitarian view of gender, I’m quietly nodding along. She returns to the suggestion that the tight hold evangelicals have on their view of gender is curious:

“As a defense of the Bible, this is very peculiar. If allowing women to be ordained will destroy the authority of Scripture, why doesn't the slippery slope argument go, "Ordain women, and Christ's bodily resurrection will be the next thing to go," or, "Ordain women, and we may have to relinquish our belief in the communion of saints, the forgiveness of the sins, and the life everlasting"?”

Right on! Why is the negative result from respecting women as equals also respecting homosexuals as equals? How did evangelicals become so dogmatic about their views about sexuality that even questioning them – questioning an issue related to them – is heresy? Bauer goes the other direction with this argument, however, suggesting that perhaps this is a slope that is not so slippery. Just because gay rights are closely linked with women’s rights in secular politics doesn’t mean it has to be in Christianity.

“To those who argue that, in some denominations, the ordination of women has led to the open acceptance of homosexuality, I would agree that this is indeed a real phenomenon. It has occurred because, in those denominations, the church has completely lost sight of the fact that it is supposed to be the gathered people of God, a counterculture which lives apart from the power-structures of the world.”

This baffles me. I don’t understand how her questioning of the protection of gender norms does not lead also to questioning of evangelical terror over “deviant” sexualities. Why doesn't the reading of the bible that leads to an egalitarian view of gender necessarily lead us to re-read the bible with an eye toward accepting those of other sexual orientations? The passages that reference that are even more difficult than those about women. Bauer also points out that “The theologians who insist that the commands restricting women are obvious and universal—and if you don't think so, that's your problem—have to do some fancy footwork if they're going to assert that the equally "clear" passages on slavery suddenly became no longer applicable sometime in the 19th century.” I find it curious that she is willing to take a step toward gender equality, based on this reasoning, and not continue this reasoning to include our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. Her earlier suggestion that questions why accepting gay and lesbian persons is such a horrible outcome, I believe, is a saner way.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

On Centrepointe

Centrepointe Church had their last service this month. I’m a little sad and reminiscy, even though I don’t go there anymore, as I live in Georgia now. Jim and I went there during Christmas break and I was greeted with a litany of hugs. And that was representative of that community – lots of hugging and love and appreciating each other. That was why I knew it was a good place for me when I first went there. Not that anyone hugged me then, that would be weird, but I sensed the way the people there cared about each other. After hanging at the edges for a while, I soon experienced that care myself.

I got involved with a college etc. bible study, I started playing in the praise band, I started going out for lunch with people after church most Sundays. By the time I graduated college, Centrepointe was a huge part of my life. I loved it because it was a place where I met some wonderful people, and was able to grow as a Christian and member of a community, and also use some of my gifts in leading worship.

The potlucks before communion services made the meaning of that sacrament so much richer and more embodied for me. It was the body of Christ hovering over fruit salad AND later saying to me “the blood of Christ, shed for you.” The whole event was communion.

Another thing about the people at Centrepointe is that they are so fun, interesting, and smart. Our bible study often featured complex discussions of theological and practical issues. It also included close readings of obscure texts (some of which were too bizarre for us to make much sense out of – see some of the minor prophets). The meeting I remember the most vividly is when we cancelled our plans and instead watched a thunderstorm come in through the storefront windows. It was beautiful and exciting and exactly the right thing to do.

I wish I could recount all the wonderful moments, great memories and inside jokes (those are never as funny when you weren’t there anyway, and some of these need to be sung). But Centrepointe was the first church I chose for myself, although I’m beginning to believe that churches choose us. It was where I learned to be a member of a community as something like an adult – to bring things to potlucks and join committees. I know this change was what needed to happen now, but I didn’t want to see it pass without remembering what that church body meant to me. It meant quite a bit – more than I can express in a blog post. Thanks be to God.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

obama announces

Pretty much I'm just going to make this post so we can all acknowledge how excited I am. Even though I have to change my paper.


Monday, January 15, 2007

performing worship

The church I lead worship in here is relatively performance-based worship. It’s in an old theatre, and the band has several professional musicians in it (and they let me play too, oddly…). This means that the band rocks, and enables us to have high-quality worship and do some cool things with a public-ish space, but it also means it’s hard for worship to not feel like a concert or performance. It’s one of the things I accepted when I started being involved here because no church will ever be perfect.

Having some experience as a worship leader, I know it is important to act as an example – to lead through the way you use your facial expression and body to show the congregation that it’s ok for them to participate too. I often make an effort to model the emotions present in the song we are singing, to reinforce the meaning for the congregation, and because it is more meaningful to me if I put that kind of thought into it. People have told me before that they appreciate this, which makes me feel good, of course. One person phrased it this way to me this Sunday “she is so spiritual. More spiritual than me.” I haven’t been able to stop thinking about that. Because the truth is, I’m probably NOT more spiritual. I’m sincere, and I’m reliable, and I’m gentle, but I don’t think of myself as spiritual. I forget to pray, I don’t listen very well, and sometimes when I’m leading worship I’m thinking about hitting the right note or when does the harmony come in. And I’m ok with that, but I don’t want other people to think that I am somehow superior to them. I’m a worship leader because I am talented and passionate, but not because I’m spiritually superior.

Perhaps this particularly bothered me this Sunday because I was performing more than I usually do. We sang “My Glorious” which any former WA knows* has some lyrical/theological problems. For one thing, it’s hard to pin down any kind of meaning to it. But I’m particularly bothered by “the world we’ll leave” because this kind of language makes it seem like the New Jerusalem is someplace else – this earth is temporary and evil. It leads to a flippant attitude toward the material trials of others and toward caring for the earth, and I find this deeply problematic. Anyway, I don’t like this song, one part I disagree with. So I faked it. Which was, I think, the right decision in the context. But now I wonder if my inauthenticity is problematic, because others see me as an example, and because they believe better than the truth about me.

I know that in many ways all of life we perform the person that we want to be – identity is constructed, so if you behave a certain way regularly you become that way. I believe in a sacramental view of worship that says participation in the prayers of the people matters no matter how you feel about it in that moment. But I also don’t want to deceive the people of God. I know there are other worship leaders and pastors who read this blog. Is this tension a problem for you? What do you do about it?

* as many of you know, I spent a year as a student worship apprentice at Calvin College. Problematic worship songs - and this one in particular - was one of the things we discussed in our training.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

because who doesn't like ramen?

The inventor of Ramen Noodles died yesterday. The news story reminded me of those college days hovering over an electric hotpot poking at a brick of ramen noodles as they boil, and sitting in the hallway at high school with a cup of noodles and a spork. Ramen Noodles (chicken flavor) tastes like nostalgia. And, given the years of grad school ahead of me, I doubt I've tasted my last oversalted cup.

Good job, Momofuku Ando. Good job inventing a food that has a very long shelf life and costs hardly any money. A service to college students everywhere.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Year in Review

Jim said I should make a year in review post, so here it is. Some things that happened in 2006:

I did about half of my MA.

I visited the following places: Holland, Grand Rapids, Brighton, Ann Arbor and Lansing MI; Atlanta GA and areas in and around Athens, Columbia and Charleston SC, Sioux Falls SD, San Antonio TX, Los Angeles CA

I started dating Jim. Generally considered a good decision.

I started to be involved in worship planning at my church. A fulfilling and exciting activity.

I had mono, and spent about a month teaching for an hour a day and watching videos.

I learned how to cook a lot of new things (thanks Jim)

Those are a few of the major events, anyway. I also met some great new people, deepened friendships with old ones. 2006 was the first entire year I spent in my own apartment and not living with my parents (I did visit them though). It also featured the most air travel of my entire life thus far. I turned 23, that was cool. I fell in love with Barak Obama, just like everyone else. I got excited that democrats regained the house. I read a lot of NYtimes, and sometimes I commented on this blog.

Some of my friends got engaged and some got married. One of my cousins got married.

All in all, 2006 was a good year. I only hope 2007 is equally good, as I look ahead to new challenges and joys. I’m writing this post from Jim’s apartment in LA, who knows where I will be a year from now. Hopefully working on my PhD somewhere.

I hope all of you, dear readers, also had a good and fulfilling 2006 and I wish you an even better 2007.