Friday, February 29, 2008

Fasting or Starving?

The Associated Press has a story about a teenager from Maine who lost 60 pounds while being an exchange student in Egypt for a year. He was living with Coptic Christians, who, according to the story, fast for more than 200 days a year. The young man described the experience not as culture class, "Rather he said, it reflected mean and stingy treatment by his host family and a language barrier that made it difficult to communicate."

I find this disturbing on many levels, but perhaps most troublesome is that this fasting regimen is, I assume, connected to a strive for holiness. And yet it contributed to the teen's impression that they were mean and stingy.

Reading this durring the season of Lent causes me to reflect on our fasting practices. Of course, far from fasting 200 days a year, I think most of us in the US struggle to make it 40 days fasting only specific foods or occasional meals. But does fasting anything at all send a message that we are a stingy, strict, and maybe even an unhappy people? Maybe this is why in the Book of Matthew Jesus makes it clear that fasting should be done in such a way that no one knows that you are doing it.

How do you talk about fasting with youth who are surrounded by the lie that food is all about weight? I think the prevailing thought among teens is that ating food causes weight gain, and not eating it is dieting. Isn't there much more to our food practices than how much we weigh?

Monday, February 25, 2008

Fundraising in Churches (Save the Church!)

I do not know many churches that do not engage in "fundraisers." I am not talking about capital campaings, appeals for pledges from congragants, or discussions about money from the pulpit. Rather, calling our church members to faithful giving as a spiritual discipline is both our most promising source of income as well as a move towards faithful discipleship.

What I am concerned about are fairs, car washes, Christamas tree sales, raffles--games of chance, etc. These have often struck me as taking away from the church's message that God provides abundantly and is bringing salvation to the world through Christ in the Church.

I am struck in particular by notions that even secularists in a small town or urban setting might participate in raising funds to "save the church." Is not the role of the church to offer salvation to a broken world? What happens when a broken church turns to the world and worldly means looking for salvation?

Perhaps the first sign of a dying church is not when it starts declining in membership, or even when the youth stop attending. Maybe we can see the church on decline as soon as its membership ceases to be able to maintain and support a vibrant life-giving ministry without relying on funds raised thru the buying and selling of goods. This isn't to say rummage sales are all bad--but what does it say when part of the Church's financial foundation is based on the sale of someone's trash?

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Hanging out in the Closet

I recently experienced one of my greatest joys as a young father. My seventeen month old daughter has taken to sitting in her closet. She asks us to open the doors by pointing and saying please, then she goes in, shuts the doors and can sit in there for quite some time. This was something she only did by herself until a couple of days ago, when she opened the doors from inside her closet, stuck her head out, grabbed my finger and pulled me into the closet with her. She intructed me to sit down. We sat in the closet for several minutes, just the two of us. occassionally she would babble and tell me about a dancing, jumping baby, but for the most part, we just sat.

It reminded me of being a third grader who had just received my first bible. I read chapter after chapter that night. I started in Matthew (the beginning of the New Testament). Some unthinking soul must have given me the KJV, because I remember in the 6th chapter reading, "But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut the door, pray to thy Father which is in secret..." In accordance with the scriptures, I got out of bed, went to my closet, shut the door, and prayed, "Our Father which art in heaven..."

As I was reminded the other night, the closet can be an intimate place. I had forgoten just how special it can be to spend a few minutes with the Father in secret--in a closet.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Children Worship 2

Thanks for the comments on children's worship. One of my main concerns has been that there is no clear moment of transition when children, who are essentially non-worshipers in this setting, become worshipers. I am working with our education committee on the possibility of an education model that is worship based. The children would gather together regardless of age at the same time as our traditional service but in a different location. They would sing, participate in readings and prayers that are designed to be child friendly, and the youth would help lead the service. As the youth get older they would be encouraged to attend and lead the traditional service from time to time. In my mind this is not an ideal model because we are still segregated by age, but at least worship becomes central to everyone's sunday morning experience and there would be clearly communicated times when it is expected that you become full participants in the broader community. So far a number of people at church are excited about the possibilities. Do you have thoughts?

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Children in Worship

What does your church "do with children" during worship.  I currently serve in a setting where Sunday School meets at the same time as the worship services.  A few of our families stay for a few hours so kids may attend both SS and worship.  The vast majority are there for an hour. The Parents worship while kids go to SS.  This changes at Jr. High when SS begins meeting in between the services--an apparent indication that middle school kids are ready for worship.  However, even most of our Jr. and Sr. high kids end up serving as an aid in the sunday school and end up neither attending worship, nor (for some of them) attending a sunday school hour.  When should kids begin worshiping?  (I'll share my thoughts on a later post).

Friday, February 1, 2008

A Christian Role in Community Organizing

I have recently been approached about participating in a congregation based community organizing effort.  This is connected to the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF).  They conduct listening campaigns to find out what things a community would like to see changed, then organize the community to put the right kind of pressure on the powers that be to effect that change.  I participated in an IAF group in Durham, NC.  They were effective at holding elected officials accountable, and putting pressure on them to work towards things like safer parks, after-school programs, etc.  It is an interfaith model that encourages congregations of different faiths to unite in causes without addressing theological similarities or differences.

Two questions:  
1)  Is this something Christian churches should seek to participate in?  I think it may be.  
2) What kinds of community changes might a wealthy suburban bedroom community made up people who consider themselves to fairly powerful and well-off work towards?