Saturday, February 27, 2010

Pew Study on Religion and the " Millennial" Generation

The Pew Forum recently issued a report on religious attitudes among the so-called "Millennials" in the U.S. These are people born between 1980 and 1991. The report is part of series of reports by Pew about this generation. You can read the entire report here. In summary, this generation of people (currently aged 18-29) are no less likely to believe in God or an afterlife that previous generations. In fact, by some measures they are even more "spiritual" than the generation that preceded them (Gen-X). They even report praying with a frequency that closely tracks with how previous generations prayed when they were that age. The big difference is that Millennials have less affiliation with any particular faith group. In other words, they believe in God, but not the organized church (or synagogue, for that matter).

Welcome to the new, post-denominational world of Christianity. Young people believe in God and don't mind praying, but they don't necessarily want to belong to a group or be boxed into a particular tradition. This is a trend that I've heard a lot about, of course, and it's central to the Emerging Church/Fresh Expression movements. However, it's nice to see some real data to back it up.

Reading this report just re-confirms that COTM needs to develop some projects along these lines. The River, Sanctuary, The Bridge, and others ought to give us encouragement that we can gather a group of Christians together in downtown Toronto. "Aslan is on the move," as some of my churchy friends like to say, but are we moving with him?


Friday, February 26, 2010

President Obama and Religion...

This is so good I just had to repost in its entirety. Andrew Gerns posted this in the Episcopal Cafe blog:

A year ago, the big question was "where would the Obamas go to church?" From a human interest angle, it was right up there with what kind of dog they'd get and where the girls would go to school. Everyone had ideas about what church community they would join. A year later, the Obamas have not joined a church and have taken a private approach to their faith expression and formation, one that does not routinely include a faith community.

Ariel Sabar of the Boston Globe reports:
...since President Obama took office a year ago, his faith has largely receded from public view. He has attended church in the capital only four times, and worshiped half a dozen times at a secluded Camp David chapel. He prays privately, reads a “daily devotional’’ that aides send to his BlackBerry, and talks to pastors by phone, but seldom frames policies in spiritual terms.

The greater privacy reflects not a slackening of devotion, but a desire to shield his spirituality from the maw of politics and strike an inclusive tone at a time of competing national priorities and continuing partisan division, according to people close to the White House on faith issues.

“There are several ways that he is continuing to grow in his faith, all of them - or practically of all them - he’s trying to keep as private and personal as possible so they will not be politicized,’’ said Pastor Joel C. Hunter, who is part of an inner circle of pastors the president consults by phone for spiritual guidance.

The apparent lack of interest in a public religious life has been noticed by some religious leaders and political analysts, who say it opens Obama to questions of sincerity. Others point out that his support among religious voters his campaign attracted might be threatened as well.
“You can’t be using the church just to get elected and then push the church to the side,’’ said the Rev. Wilfredo De Jesus, a prominent Chicago pastor who had campaigned for Obama among Hispanic evangelicals, many of whom had voted in earlier elections for George W. Bush. “If the president says he’s Christian, then in his narrative, and in his speeches and in his life, that should be displayed.’’

Some say his administration has just had too much on the plate:
“We have a recession, we have the health care agenda - Obama has taken on so much, why add one more thing, especially one that you can’t legislate on?’’ said Professor Alan Wolfe, director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life at Boston College.

Of course, the president has concerns that very few Americans have to worry about. Security, for one thing, and the fact that someone has actually counted how many times and where he and his family have gone to church. He also has resources that most Americans do not have: aides who text him devotions, military chaplains who can come in and out of the White House or Camp David, and a circle of pastors who can advise him by phone.

The missing ingredient is community. In this respect, the church-shopping Obamas of a year ago and the private faith that uses personal resources is a position that is like many Americans, who can shop for a faith that suits their needs and tastes on-line, in stores and in the media. While institutional religion declines in trust and support, the idea of a community of faith often gets lost.

(source for all of the above)

Anglican Church of Canada Calendar Part II

A few days ago I posted a link to an online version of the the Anglican Church of Canada's Calendar. I decided to split the Calendar between Sundays/Principal Feasts in one Calendar and Holy Days/Memorials/Commemorations in the other. Why? Because the lesser feasts and fasts might be a little too much information for many people. So this way you can choose to have just the Sundays and Principal Feasts or the whole thing. So.... Here's the link to Holy Days, Memorials, and Commorations....

I'm basing this on McCausland's Ordo, incidentally. So if you need more detail, like what the readings are, I suggest you pick up a copy of the Ordo at the Anglican Book Centre. If there is a mistake in my data entry into the Ordo--please let me know and I'll correct it.

If you are using an electronic calendar programme like Outlook or iCal or a Blackberry, you can "subscribe" to this and other calendars. It's one of the best aspects of these kinds of calendar. For instance, when I look at my iPhone calendar I see my personal, confidential calendar as well as the schedule of liturgies and events at COTM, Canadian Civic Holidays, and now the church calendar. Cool.

So now all you Anglicans can see the liturgical calendar superimposed on whatever electronic appointment calendar you use. The rest of you can print out blank calendars with this information if that your desire (see the little print icon?).



Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Talk about "Iron Chef"

According to the NYTimes, robotics researchers around the world have been working on developing robots capable of cooking (or at least, serving) food. Check out the "Snackbot," for example.
Snackbot is a mobile robot, about the size of a very small human, that rolls around on wheels, and will be delivering snacks to students, faculty, and office workers at Carnegie Mellon University. A Snackbot research team of faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates from more than three departments at Carnegie Mellon created Snackbot as a platform for studying human-robot interaction in the real world.

Snackbot is meant as an ongoing platform for research. The Snackbot will support research into robust autonomous operation in office environments. Our efforts range from multi-sensor fusion algorithms for perception, reasoning about dynamic spaces,communicating with people through verbal and non-verbal mechanisms, and planning with incomplete information.

The research will allow the robot to navigate through congested areas in a socially acceptable fashion, detect individual people moving near the robot, recognize when someone that the robot knows approaches it, and autonomously learn to recognize new objects. Snackbot will support research in the fields of design and Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) on using sound, motion, and form for human-robot interaction. Snackbot will support behavioral science research on such topics as personalization and people’s relationships with interactive objects, and research on snack services drawn from behavioral economics. (source)

But Snackbot seems like a pizza-ordering bachelor compared to the AIC-AI Cooking Robot. It is "able, at the touch of a button, to fry, bake, boil and steam its way through thousands of Chinese delicacies from at least three culinary regions" (source). But this is just the beginning.
Last June, at the International Food Machinery and Technology Expo in Tokyo, a broad-shouldered Motoman SDA-10 robot with spatulas for arms made okonomiyaki (savory pancakes) for attendees; another robot grabbed sushi with an eerily realistic hand; and still another, the Dynamizer, sliced cucumbers at inhumanly fast speeds and occasionally complained about being tired and wanting to go home. (source)

A complaining chef bot? That's a nice touch, but check this out:
Then, a month later in Nagoya, Japan, the Famen restaurant opened, with two giant yellow robot arms preparing up to 800 bowls of ramen a day. When it’s slow, the robots act out a scripted comedy routine and spar with knives. (source)

I think I would go just to see the robots spar with knives. That would be worth it. A guy I know who works in robotics tells me that most of the Sushi served in Tokyo is actually made by robots in centralized Sushi Factories and then delivered by truck fresh each morning. Human attendants feed the machine fish and other ingredients cut to standard shapes and the robot does the rest.

But the real goal of this current generation of Iron Chefs is not simply to make food efficiently, that they can do. The new frontier is to interact with humans while doing it. One bar-bot named Cynthia made drinks in a London Bar until the bar was sold. "She whirls into action, pouring drinks to perfection, mixing them, recounting awful jokes and chuckling to herself while frightened customers feel grateful she’s not allowed out from behind the bar" (source). Does that sound like a drink you want to have?


Thursday, February 18, 2010

Chin-Up, Canada, You're Okay!

Timothy Egan writes in the New York Times today about the collective modesty of Canadians that prevents them from expressing their nationalism in the way that they deserve.

It seems like eons ago that the opening ceremony, a triumph complete with magical bears and sub-surface killer whales, prompted some Canadians to take a long overdue bow.

“It made me proud to be from here,” said Ian Brown, writing in The Globe and Mail, a Canadian national paper. But then he added, “I hesitate to say it. Such declarations are always unwise.”

No. Say it! Can you imagine an American being afraid to make such a simple declaration of national chauvinism? “Maybe for a while again,” Mr. Brown concluded, “we can feel alright about being Canadian.”

The prime minister, Stephen Harper, had to make a similar pitch last week in front of the British Columbia Parliament. He urged Canadians to show “an uncharacteristic outburst of patriotism and pride.”

Why the prodding? Why the lack of self-esteem? Canada — snap out of it! You’re gorgeous, baby, you’re sophisticated, you live well. No need for an apology. (source)

Yes, we do live well up here: low crime, beautiful cities, universal health care. We pay too much for phone and internet service, it's true, and I do find the characteristic modesty of Canadians gets in the way of entrepreneurial ministry. Yet among nations Canada has a LOT to be proud about, and the lack of a single national origin myth (read your John Rolston Saul) shouldn't prevent us from having a little pride in our country! The olympics are a good chance to show off!


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Yacht Rock

Jack (aka "Topper Dandy"), my roommate for two years at Hampden-Sydney, has a hilarious music project: Three Sheets to The Wind. They play Yacht Rock--think Steely Dan, Magnum PI, and Crosby, Stills, and Nash. Also think boat shoes, gin, and white chinos. Got it?

Back in college Jack and some other friends had a band called "Where the Sidewalk Ends." I was their "Spiritual Advisor" (I'm credited in the liner notes)--which also meant I was a kind of a Roadie. It was a blast. We went to a lot of parties. Drank a lot of free beer. Learned a lot about sound engineering, too.

Anyway, Jack is very skillful on the guitar and currently lives in Richmond, VA. It's been a few years since I've seen him, but a few days before I saw this clip I had a strange dream about him....

Good times; good times.


Anglican Church of Canada Calendar

Ok, those of you who use some kind of electronic calendar on your Blackberry or iPhone or with iCal (on a mac) or Outlook (on a PC) know about how you can "subscribe" to various calendars. For example, when I look at my calendar application either on my PC or on my smart phone I see not only my personal appointments and events, but I also see the church's events and services. Simple. My personal calendar is protected, naturally, but the church's calendar of services is publicly available. People can view it on-line or subscribe to it using their favourite calendar programme (like Outlook or iCal or whatever they have on their phone or PDA).

But there doesn't seem to be a public electronic calendar for the Anglican Church of Canada. You can subscribe to various Roman Catholic and Episcopal Calendars, but none for Anglicans of Canada! So.... I went ahead and created one for the next year based on McClauslands' Ordo. Right now it's just Sundays and Principal Feasts, but I'll make one for Holy Days and Memorials and Commemorations at some point in the future. In the mean time, you're welcome! Here's a preview and the link:

So now all you Anglicans can see the liturgical calendar superimposed on whatever electronic appointment calendar you use. The rest of you can print out blank calendars with this information if that your desire (see the little print icon?).



Saturday, February 13, 2010

NASA Scientists Announce Mission to Approach Girl

I came across this hilarious article in the Onion today:


The Trump Tower!

Hey, I know that guy! That's Chris, one of my closest friends here in Toronto. He's the Superintendent for Construction on the Trump Tower at the corner of Bay and Adelaide in downtown Toronto. This video has him talking some about the project.

The video doesn't say this, but Chris and his wife are from Seattle. He was brought to Toronto for this project because he has experience with a particular construction technique called pre-stressed concrete. If understand it correctly, if you put concrete under load laterally via cables running through the material, it can bear more weight for a given thickness than more traditional floor designs. I can safely say that Chris knows more about concrete than anybody I know (including my architect friends)!


Thursday, February 11, 2010

Sermon - Epiphany 5 2010

Here is my prophetic sermon from Super Bowl Sunday. I was using the big game to explore crisis, call, and response.



One of my sisters lives in Virginia, just outside D.C. A neighbour took this picture:

That helps put the slight dusting we got in Toronto last night in perspective!


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Sermon - Epiphany 4 2010

Brendan Caldwell, one of our parishioners, preached this sermon on Epiphany 4. In general I think we have far too few occasions for lay preaching in the church. I mean, if our people have nothing to preach about than how on earth are they going to spread the Gospel?

Brendan did a good job. Seems like quoting C.S. Lewis is going to be a kind of signature for him!


Super Bowl XLIV

On Sunday morning I preached what turned to be a prophetic sermon. I used the Super Bowl as a "hook" for my sermon and took a sharply pro-Saints stance. Yet I wasn't at all confident they could win the big game. The Colts are just so cold, clinical, and seemingly unstoppable! And for the first half of the game it did seem like the Colts were in control. Remember that the New Orleans Saints are known for having one of the worst franchine records in the NFL. They are famously futile in their efforts to win.

But all that is the past now after a glorious come-back from a 10 point deficit. What a game! The Saints knew that they would have to take some risks, so risk they did. Even though they didn't all payoff (remember that 4th and short at the Colt's goal line?), when it mattered they came up big. How about that Offside kick to start the second half? Or the interception on Payton Manning that all but sealed the game? Amazing.

I must say, I was a little nervous when I smoked my yearly Super Bowl Halftime Cigar on the back deck--but after the game I almost had another!

Yet the best moment, for me, was after the game when Drew Brees (The Saints' Quarterback) held his 1 year-old son Braylen in his arms. Drew was crying and whispering to his son, who wears earphone at games to protect his hearing. I could totally imagine how Drew felt. How proud he was to hold his son in his arms and share that triumph.

Yes, winning would have meant something to Payton Manning, but for Drew Brees, a Quarterback that was passed over in his career, it meant redemption. It meant that the commitment that he and his coach had made to New Orleans had worth it. What joy. What beauty!


Drum Circles...

On my mind... Drum Circles... I think that when (if) things calm down in my life and I catch up on some stuff, I would love to be a regular at a drum circle. A drum circle is simply a bunch of people gathering together and making music together--usually with hand-drums and other simple percussion instruments (though violins and flutes are not unwelcome). The point is to make music together--it's a performance in the sense that there isn't usually much of an audience, per se, just different levels of participation in the music making itself.

This an ancient practice, and is the common way that people learn to play the drum in aural cultures. You simply show up with your drum and listen to the rhythm and find a place in it. You watch, and eventually imitate, more skillful players.

Probably the best known Drum Circle in Toronto is Drummers in Exile. They meet every Tuesday night downtown, and are open to anyone who wants to attend. They have a pretty modest budget, and have a pay-what-you-want policy.

Here is an example of what they sound like (a track they called "sometimes"):

Here is another example entitled "Galley on Chug":

It looks like a lot of fun!


Saturday, February 6, 2010

A Good Day for Prayer

Today was a good day for prayer. It started off with the usual Saturday morning brunch date with Betsy. We went to a new place for us--Ezra's Pound. It's a coffee shop in our neighbourhood (on Dupont, next to the LCBO). Betsy strapped the BabyBjörn onto me--and then put Henry into it. I must admit, I've been slightly suspicious of the BabyBjörn, preferring the simplicity and closeness of the sling. But the nice thing about the BabyBjörn is that Henry can face outwards at the world. And these days he likes to see what's going on when he's awake. As we walked down the street I found that the BabyBjörn worked well. Comfortable for both father and son.

At Ezra's Pound I realized that I really like coffee shops and should spend more time at places like this. The coffee was excellent--far better than Starbucks. And I appreciated that all the food items were homemade. The strawberry jam was excellent, and so was the bread that came with it. The people that run that place choose to do a few things with excellence rather than fill the menu board with resold Aramark crap. I would recommend this place to any foodies out there! Looking around, I couldn't help thinking about what kind of ministry partnerships it might be possible to create.

After walking Henry and Betsy home, I went to the church for the usual Saturday block of services. I admit that I set up the Contemplative Eucharist feeling a little discouraged about it. I was thinking that I may need to cancel it if I don't start getting more people. I resolved to keep it going until Easter and then shut it down if I haven't attracted a regular congregation. Then I said some prayers that God might send me some new people to that service.

Wouldn't you know... two new people showed up! That made for four of us. I was pleased as punch. I know, some of my colleagues might scoff at a mere 2 new people. But for churches like mine that is precious fruit! We had a wonderful Eucharist and some interesting conversation afterwards. Sweet. The two new folks decided to stay for the Healing Prayer service, as well.

After that I did a session of pastoral counselling. We both decided we needed a little break from the depth work we've been doing, so we spent most of the session reading Psalm 119 together. I noticed as I was reading the odd number verses that each verse seemed to carry a lot of meaning for me. Sometimes the Psalms just resonate, you know? I found myself wishing that I was chanting them rather than just reading them. I thought about times that I've read through the entire psalter in one sitting as a devotional exercise. The last time was probably the all-night vigil I kept before my ordination. I should do that again, sometime.

After the Psalm we prayed together, and I found that it was easy today to be very present to the spirit of prayer. I'm often called on to pray for people and the degree to which I am "into it" can vary depending on many things. But today I was right into it. Saying the psalm and having the Contemplative Eucharist earlier in the day probably helped.

Prayer is mysterious like that. Sometimes it can come so easily and with such power and beauty. Other times it can seem dry. Today someone told me about how Thomas Keating said that scripture sometimes tastes "like straw." I knew what he meant immediately. It's like when a monk says he goes to the Offices "because the bell rings." There is an emptiness there in the discipline of spiritual practice which one encounters in the spiritually-engaged life. It's a good thing. It's the novice that prays or reads scripture because it is rewarding or edifying. It takes a real friend of God to show up when it ain't so fun!

Me, I'm happy to survive on occasional "consolations of the spirit" like today. I can survive just fine on the "memory of Divine Favour" (as St. Bernard puts it). Other people have a different spiritual temperament, naturally, I'm just speaking for myself.

This reminds me of my absolute favourite story from the Desert Fathers and Mothers:
Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and he said to him, "Abba, as far as I can, I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace and as far as I can I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?" Then the old man stood up and stretched his hands toward heaven; his fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, "If you will, you can become all flame."

Thinking on these things makes me miss Mary Gates. She was my therapist back in Connecticut. She was also a priest and had been a student of Thomas Keating once upon a time. Mary would sit on her rocking chair. I would lie down on the couch and stare out into her big garden through the plate glass window. Mary is a wise woman.

I think Mary would shrug if I told her about this. "What did you expect prayer to be like?" she might quip. Just so.


Thursday, February 4, 2010

Eucharist from Vital Church Planting Conference 2010

Liturgy wonks will appreciate this--the liturgy from the Vital Church Planting Conference Eucharist that Eric and I (and the rest of the committee) planned....

++CJ refers to Archbishop Johnson, of course. Everything was paperless, so only the leaders had these notes. The song titles are in all capitals and were led paperless by Eric, I refer to the page number for the ones found in the hymnal Music by Heart.

Thursday, Feb 4, 2010, 12:15 PM


++CJ: The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
and the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
be with you all.
All: And also with you.

++CJ: O God of unchangeable power and eternal light,
look favourably on your whole Church,
that wonderful and sacred mystery.
By the effectual working of your providence,
carry out in tranquillity the plan of salvation.
Let the whole world see and know
that things which were cast down are being raised up,
and things which had grown old are being made new,
and that all things are being brought to their perfection
by him through whom all things were made,
your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.
All: Amen.

Reading Hebrews 11:8-11, 17-19
Reader: By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. 9By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old—and Sarah herself was barren—because he considered him faithful who had promised. ...
17 By faith Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac. He who had received the promises was ready to offer up his only son, 18of whom he had been told, ‘It is through Isaac that descendants shall be named after you.’ 19He considered the fact that God is able even to raise someone from the dead—and figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.
The Word of the Lord.
People: Thanks be to God


Reading Mark 4:26-29
Reader: The Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according in Mark.
People: Glory to you, Lord Jesus Christ

Reader: Jesus also said, ‘The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.’
The Gospel of Christ
People: Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.

Sermon - John Bowen



Prayer of Thanksgiving over gifts
++CJ: God of abundance and blessing,
accept the offerings of your people,
especially the time spent apart to listen to your Spirit,
and grant that we may be empowered to proclaim your
Gospel afresh, through Jesus Christ Our Lord.
All: Amen.

Eucharistic Prayer D (from Common Worship 2000)
++CJ: The Lord be with you.
All: And also with you.
++CJ: Lift up your hearts
All: We lift them to the Lord
++CJ: Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
All: It is right to give our thanks and praise.

++CJ: Almighty God, good Father to us all,
your face is turned towards your world.
In love you gave us Jesus your Son
to rescue us from sin and death.
Your Word goes out to call us home
to the city where angels sing your praise.

++CJ: Father of all, we give you thanks
for every gift that comes from heaven.

++CJ: To the darkness Jesus came as your light.
With signs of faith and words of hope
he touched untouchables with love and
washed the guilty clean.

++CJ: The crowds came out to see your Son,
yet at the end they turned on him.
On the night he was betrayed
he came to table with his friends
to celebrate the freedom of your people.

++CJ: Jesus blessed you, Father, for the food;
he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and said:
This is my body, given for you all.

++CJ: Jesus then gave thanks for the wine;
he took the cup, gave it and said:
This is my blood, shed for you all
for the forgiveness of sins.
Do this in remembrance of me.

++CJ: Therefore, Father, with this bread and this cup
we celebrate the cross
on which he died to set us free.
Defying death he rose again
and is alive with you to plead for us
and all the world.

++CJ: Send your Spirit on us now
that by these gifts we may feed on Christ
with opened eyes and hearts on fire.

++CJ: May we and all who share this food
offer ourselves to live for you
and be welcomed at your feast in heaven
where all creation worships you,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit:

++CJ: Blessing and honour and glory and power
be yours for ever and ever.

SONG: SANCTUS (St. Bride) - Eric

++CJ: The Gifts of God for the people of God
All: Thanks be to God.


Eric and Laura do a few paperless pieces

Post Communion

Episcopal Blessing
++CJ: We give you thanks, God of All,
for nourishing us with your Holy Sacraments
and with each other. We pray that as we go forth
from this place, your Spirit of the living Christ would
abide in us, that we may show his light to the world, we ask this
in his Name,
All: Amen.
++CJ: The Blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
sustain and embolden you,
to bring his Word the world.
All: Amen.


Even with an 18 minute the sermon and communicating about 130 people the whole service only took 55 minutes!


Church as Fight Club?!

How's this for a Fresh Expression of church--a church based on martial arts! From an article sent to me by Heather McCance:
The young man was a member of a fight team at Xtreme Ministries, a small church near Nashville that doubles as a mixed martial arts academy. Mr. Renken, who founded the church and academy, doubles as the team’s coach. The school’s motto is “Where Feet, Fist and Faith Collide.” (source)

Actually, this kind of thing has been around for a long time. I've certainly heard of Christian Karate Academies. And if you want to go back even further, you'd find the very foundations of the martial arts to be the spiritual arts. The oldest forms of codified fighting styles in Asian were developed in monasteries to both promote the health of monks and help them defend themselves from opportunistic criminals who might assume monks or nuns would be easy targets.
The goal, these pastors say, is to inject some machismo into their ministries — and into the image of Jesus — in the hope of making Christianity more appealing. “Compassion and love — we agree with all that stuff, too,” said Brandon Beals, 37, the lead pastor at Canyon Creek Church outside of Seattle. “But what led me to find Christ was that Jesus was a fighter.”

The outreach is part of a larger and more longstanding effort on the part of some ministers who fear that their churches have become too feminized, promoting kindness and compassion at the expense of strength and responsibility. (source)

One thinks of the boxing clubs in the inner city that helped many young men learn how to control their strength and discipline their lives. Cultures have been training young men to harness their aggression for millions of years with very productive results. This is pretty much the same thing, just "Christianized."

Some of the bigger (and more important questions) that come up from this have to do with the shifting cultural norms of masculine identity. Just as women's roles have been changing, men's have, as well. I think that even the more regressive-sounding conservative Christians that quote Paul's "Household Codes" to say that men should be the head of the family are still positing a very different vision of manhood than what our forefathers knew. Whether we think the Gospel calls us something very much in line with the feminist movement (Cf., "In Christ there is no longer male nor female"), or into something that looks more like enlightened patriarchy, it's still a change from what we grew up with.

The book and later movie Fight Club from a few years ago touched a nerve when it explored the issue of manliness and in our age. The movie is premised on the dissatisfaction many men feel with masculine identity in our culture. First they find relief by fighting each other in a relatively controlled, yet bloody, way. Later, this evolves into an anti-corporate campaign. This notion that masculine identity must be reclaimed from consumer-culture is, in my opinion, right on. I really wish our ideas about manhood came from somewhere other beer commercials.

Yet there is lots of room for critique of efforts to build up a kind of new way of being a man that are so linked with violence.
“What you attract people to Christ with is also what you need to get people to stay,” said Eugene Cho, 39, a pastor at Quest Church, an evangelical congregation in Seattle. “I don’t live for the Jesus who eats red meat, drinks beer and beats on other men.” (source)

Indeed, the ultimate aim of Christian discipleship goes quite a bit beyond being a good fighter or even a good man. In Christ we are called to live a life worthy of the kingdom of God.

In some ways, I suspect that the emergence of this movement to create fight-church is a reaction to the mainstream's efforts to make church amenable to women and children. There are a lot of young men who would find what we do at Messiah, for example, to be quite boring and irrelevant. I have to admire church planters willing go after those guys, but I honestly don't think my particular church is called to that ministry!


The Simpsons on Grad Students