Monday, December 20, 2010

The October 8s :: Blogs

The October 8s :: Blogs :: The most thought-provoking and world-opening blog posts I've stumbled on in the month of October

1. "Is Your Youth Group Accomplishing Anything?" (Dustin Nickerson, The Resurgence / October 1, 2010)
(These are not my favorite questions to asks . . . )
Look at the students in your chairs. If you were convinced that six out of ten were going to leave the church once they go to college, would you stick with what you’re doing? The point of all ministry is disciple-making. Ask yourself, Youth Pastor, does that happen on a Wednesday night through your games, skits, teen worship band, videos, and 20-minute message?
A little over a year ago, it became absolutely clear that I was leading a ministry that wasn’t focused on making disciples. My leaders had a heart to disciple, but how could they in 90 minutes that were filled with programming? Any disciple-making that I or my leaders were doing was extracurricular.
We had to get into the lives of our students.
Wednesday night groups were cancelled. As opposed to everyone coming together, we broke into community groups spread throughout our region and connected by gender and geography. Suddenly, our students’ “youth group” experience was 5-10 other teenagers meeting in a home with two adult leaders wrestling through the Scriptures, bearing burdens (Galatians 6:2), confessing sins and praying for each other (James 5:16), teaching and admonishing (Colossians 3:16), and rebuking one another (2 Timothy 3:16).
Suddenly, discipleship started happening—every week.
2. "How Do We Find Stability in a Changing World" (Christine Sine, Godspace / October 1, 2010)
Sine asks how in the midst of a complicated and rapidly changing world we can "maintain our stability and move our ability to move forward as God intends us to?" I find her answers helpful, and I hope you will too. Read her post for a robust explanation of each item.
1) Identify stability zones.
2) Move as infrequently as possible.
3) Surround yourself with items that give an 'at home' feeling.
4) Establish friendships that have the potential to be stable.
5) Identify 'enemy factors' and ways to deal with them.
6) Affirm the good.
7) Avoid surprises.
8) Cultivate meaningful leisure time.
9) Get adequate sleep.
10) Take time out regularly to evaluate your spiritual, emotional, and practical goals and priorities.
 3. "Living Off the Grid" (Jocelyn Perry, Jesus Radicals / October 7, 2010)
People of faith and justice have also coined the phrase to live without cell phones, TVs, cars, or other technologies that can be technological distractions. But the question is, “How do people of faith and justice stay connected without the power-lines of technology?” The answer to this challenge is community.
. . . In our ever-more-complex culture of technology and consumption, tuning in using such strategies as educational play, living in intentional community, the art of radical hospitality, the art of radical love, and meaningful non-violent communication free us to live happier and more creative lives.
4. "The Video Venue Farce: Why Video Venue is the Antithesis of Missional" (David Fitch, Reclaiming the Mission / September 29, 2010)
Fitch's post features a Gospel Coalition video of James McDonald & Mark Driscoll (pro video venue) and Mark Dever (anti video venue). These are not figures who often feature on my blog (due to a few ideological disagreements); however, their conversation highlights the absurdity of the video venue, multisite phenomenon. Fitch's commentary raises three congenital weaknesses of the video venue, multisite strategy:
1) Video venue decontextualizes preaching.
2) Video venues draw crowds to a celebrity, and this attraction works against (contra helps) the formation of church in mission.
3) Mission requires more than words. Video venues intensify the dependence on words.
5. "Small Change: Why the Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted" (Malcolm Gladwell, The New Yorker / October 4, 2010)
Activism that challenges the status quo—that attacks deeply rooted problems—is not for the faint of heart.
What makes people capable of this kind of activism? The Stanford sociologist Doug McAdam compared the Freedom Summer dropouts with the participants who stayed, and discovered that the key difference wasn’t, as might be expected, ideological fervor. “All of the applicants—participants and withdrawals alike—emerge as highly committed, articulate supporters of the goals and values of the summer program,” he concluded. What mattered more was an applicant’s degree of personal connection to the civil-rights movement. All the volunteers were required to provide a list of personal contacts—the people they wanted kept apprised of their activities—and participants were far more likely than dropouts to have close friends who were also going to Mississippi. High-risk activism, McAdam concluded, is a “strong-tie” phenomenon.
. . . The kind of activism associated with social media isn’t like this at all. The platforms of social media are built around weak ties. Twitter is a way of following (or being followed by) people you may never have met. Facebook is a tool for efficiently managing your acquaintances, for keeping up with the people you would not otherwise be able to stay in touch with. That’s why you can have a thousand “friends” on Facebook, as you never could in real life.
This is in many ways a wonderful thing. There is strength in weak ties, as the sociologist Mark Granovetter has observed. Our acquaintances—not our friends—are our greatest source of new ideas and information. The Internet lets us exploit the power of these kinds of distant connections with marvellous efficiency. It’s terrific at the diffusion of innovation, interdisciplinary collaboration, seamlessly matching up buyers and sellers, and the logistical functions of the dating world. But weak ties seldom lead to high-risk activism.
. . . [Clay] Shirky considers this model of [Here Comes Everybody] activism an upgrade. But it is simply a form of organizing which favors the weak-tie connections that give us access to information over the strong-tie connections that help us persevere in the face of danger. It shifts our energies from organizations that promote strategic and disciplined activity and toward those which promote resilience and adaptability. It makes it easier for activists to express themselves, and harder for that expression to have any impact. The instruments of social media are well suited to making the existing social order more efficient. They are not a natural enemy of the status quo. If you are of the opinion that all the world needs is a little buffing around the edges, this should not trouble you. But if you think that there are still lunch counters out there that need integrating it ought to give you pause.
 6. "Deer Hunter :: Halcyon Digest" (S McDonald, Aquarium Drunkard / October 11, 2010)
I don’t usually post music reviews on this blog, but I find S McDonald’s review of Deer Hunter’s Halcyon Digest to resonate with a deep restiveness current in American culture. We’re looking for the kind of beauty, the kind of truth, the kind of solidity that McDonald attributes to Deer Hunter’s newest album.
Albums used to seem larger than life and the release dates extremely important whereas now there’s a disposable feel to everything — no matter how strong the rating. Personally, I feel caught in between both cycles and love electronic and traditionally crafted music equally, but I also feel that deep down every “wave” that’s been assigned to a track or full-length represents a glaring reminder of where our heads are at. Popular and influential music should be addressing our real-life issues (work, money, relationships, etc.), decisions and the state of the union, yet it continues to reflect the increasingly immobile position we are all stuck in; one giant sonic mush. New music everywhere, yet I feel further apart from it than ever before. 
. . .Deerhunter used to keep themselves warm and comfy with blankets of noise that both hid and unveiled the group’s melodicism. But there’s no hiding here, no gimmicks to be found. Halcyon Digest leaves me with the impression that the band is ready to embark on a new path, an honest and clear-headed one at that.
 7. “Poser Christianity: a Review of Brett McCracken’s Hipster Christianity” (James K. A. Smith, The Other Journal / October 4, 2010)
I must confess my own prejudice against anything labeled “hipster” (this probably stems in large part from some graffiti I saw while visiting some friends in Brooklyn). At the same time, my lifestyle scored high on the Hipster Christianity Quiz that went viral among the post-Christian university demographic a few months back. I felt simultaneously that McCracken’s Hipster Christianity indicted my lifestyle while justifying my prejudices. Enter Smith’s review. Smith names a third latent category in his critical review of McCracken’s book: poser. Smith hates posers but loves people whose following of Jesus shows up in their lifestyle.
Read the following three long excerpts for the flavor of Smith’s incisive review of McCracken’s Hipster Christianity.
But his analysis only works if, in fact, all hipsters are really just posers. That is, McCracken effectively reduces all hipsters to posers precisely because he can only imagine someone adopting such a lifestyle in order to be cool. 
. . . But let me be very clear now: Relevant-magazine hipsters are really just posers. Like all the posers hanging around the half-pipes of my youth, these are people looking for cool by association, with a slight thrill of rebellion as a side-effect. And while McCracken’s analysis perhaps pertains to a bunch of suburban kids who have adopted hipster as a style—just as they might have adopted “urban” as a style—his analysis doesn’t even touch those students I know who, from Christian convictions, have intentionally pursued a lifestyle that rejects the bourgeois consumerism of mass, commercialized culture. They shop at Goodwill and Salvation Army because they have concerns about the injustice of the mass-market clothing industry, because they believe recycling is good stewardship of God’s creation, and frankly, because they’re relatively poor. They’re relatively poor because they’re pursuing work that is meaningful and just and creative and won’t eat them alive, and such work, although not lucrative, gives them time to spend on the things that really matter: community, friendship, service, and creative collaboration. And despite McCracken’s misguided claims about autonomy and independence (192-193), the Christian hipsters I know are actually willing to sacrifice the American sacred cow of privacy and independence, living in intentional communities as families and singles, working through all the difficulties and blessings of “life together” as Bonhoeffer describes it. In short, the lives of the Christian hipsters I know are a gazillion miles away from being worried about image or trendiness; they live the way they do because they are pursuing the good life characterized by well-ordered culture-making that is just and conducive to flourishing—and this requires resisting the mass-produced, mass-marketed, and mass-consumed banalities of the corporate ladder, the suburban veneer of so-called success, as well as the irresponsibility of perpetual adolescence that characterizes so many twentysomethings who imagine life as one big frat house. 
. . . To be blunt (because I’m not sure how else to put this), the Christian bohemians I’m describing are educated evangelicals. So when McCracken lists (not so tongue in cheek) “ten signs that a Christian college senior has officially become a Democrat” (159), I’m sorry but the list just looks like characteristics of an educated, thoughtful Christian (and believe me, I’m no Democrat). Or when McCracken, in a remarkably cynical flourish in the vein of “Stuff White People Like,” catalogs the authors that Christian hipsters like (Stanley Hauerwas, Ron Sider, Jim Wallis, Flannery O’Connor, Walker Percy, Wendell Berry, N. T. Wright, G. K. Chesterton, and others; 97), he does so as if people could only “like” such authors because it’s “cool” to do so. But perhaps they’re just good. McCracken seems unable to really accept what Paste magazine editor Josh Jackson emphasizes: “It’s not about what’s cool. It’s about what good” (92). And if that’s true, then it should be no surprise that Christian colleges and universities are shapers of Christian hipster culture: if McCracken is lamenting the fact that Christian colleges are producing alumni that are smart and discerning with good taste and deep passions about justice, then we’re happy to live with his ire. The fact that young evangelicals, when immersed in a thoughtful liberal arts education, turn out to value what really matters and look critically on the way of life that has been extolled to them in both mass media and mass Christian media—well, we’ll wear that as a badge of honor.
 8. “Gods Behaving Badly: Celebrity as a “Kind of” Religion” (Pete Ward, The Other Journal / October 22, 2010)
Pete Ward's analysis of celebrity cultures sits alongside Smith’s review of Hipster Christianity as part of The Other Journal’s issue examining celebrity. The entire issue is well worth reading.
The perplexing thing is that while commentators and the media talk about celebrity worship as a kind of religion, interviews with fans and indeed mourners generally reveal that most have no sense that what they are engaging in is “religious” and that they would reject entirely the idea that the figure they are celebrating is a god. So celebrity worship is ambiguous; it is a kind of religion. 
. . . Celebrities and celebrity culture, I want to argue, operate in a similar way to Twitchell’s understanding of Adcult. They portray a kind of theology. In this sense, celebrities are akin to the Greek gods or the saints. They exist in a mythic world of stories and tales. They’re godlike, not in the Christian Trinitarian way, but in a mythic sense. Celebrity stories are kind of like tales from Mount Olympus. When we read about celebrities, they are like us and yet not like us. They live in a sort of parallel world, which is real and yet unreal. Like Greek mythology and the stories of the saints, celebrity stories are peopled with the incredibly beautiful and the hopelessly flawed, with angels and demons, saints and sinners, the venerable and the venal. Celebrity stories are in many ways like morality tales. They portray possible ways of being good or bad, faithful or unfaithful, ideal or not ideal.

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