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Here I stand, bare feet on ancient stone. Looking down at the water…

How did I get here?

It’s 3am in Tsfat, Israel. Dark outside. Full moon over the 4,000 year-old graveyard behind me…

I was on the way home to California from a business trip in London.

As if by an unseen hand, I was led out of my well-worn hotel room and down the switchbacks to this holiest of places in this holiest of cities. Yitzak Luria‘s Mikveh.

I feel like Indiana Jones, except there is no khaki or wide-brimmed hat…I am as naked as the day I was born, no barrier, coram Deo. Even my watch and wedding ring have been taken off.

Just me. Just God. Just now.

My name, David, which never made much sense to me, seems oddly right for, perhaps, the first time ever. I have cultivated nicknames all my life. I think of the double delta of David’s monogram…

I think back over the last 48 hours here in Galilee.

Invited into the back rooms of synagogues…

Rabbis pointing through the texts of “secret books” in Hebrew and asking questions….

  • How did you learn Hebrew?
  • Your name is David, are you sure you aren’t Jewish? You look Russian…
  • Where do you sense the presence of God here in Tsfat? Where is that feeling the strongest?
  • What are you doing here?

I did not choose to stand here. I’m not even sure what a mikveh is…I was led here…

I need answers to three questions. Just two days ago, I wrote those questions on a tiny slip of paper, rolled it up, and placed it in the Western Wall of the temple mount in Jerusalem at sunrise. My forehead against the cool ancient stone, my palms up high, time collapsed…the better part of an hour evaporated like the morning fog…

It is dark outside. Not even the roosters have begun to crow…

I slide into the biting cold of the fresh spring water, holding the pole and stepping down the ancient steps. I breathe deeply and submerge….

The world disappears.

I pull my knees up against my chest, going fetal in this womb-tomb.

An avid surfer, I am used to being underwater and I gently roll backwards….

A glow emanates from nowhere and everywhere. I open my eyes underwater to confirm the experience and the light vanishes…

I come up for air twice and submerge again. The glow returns, and I feel enveloped in the Khesed-love of the Creator. Answers come to me faster than I can receive them.

I generate a will to receive.

Something shifts around me. The third time under turns into a dream. I feel as if I am breathing underwater. The glow gets warm.

All of my theological legalisms about baptism vanish and dissolve into an ocean of God’s presence.

As I climb out and dry off, my soul comes to total rest. I will walk for hours until the hilltop town awakens. Like an old snakeskin, I have shed something. A new season is starting…

Where is your “mikveh” where you take off everything in the presence of God?

When’s the last time you were there….?

The final copies of my first novel just arrived!

Have a look at the 90-second intro-to-the-novel video movie:

Please pass it on to others, thanks!

The book comes with a built-in study guide for groups, book clubs, and classes.

For…

  • purchase information (Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Book Depository, etc)
  • reviews (via Powell’s in Portland)
  • interview
  • study guide
  • more videos
  • synopsis
….check out: NOVEL WEBSITE

Yet another Harry Potter movie opens and stirs the imagination of a whole generation.

As usual with this series, I have a yellow light flashing in my spirit as I watch the news reports of people camping out overnight to see it.

Please hear me, I am not a prude. Not a monk. Not advocating a bunker-oriented faith that never engages the world. Not trying to rid my life of every shred of anything non-Christian. I read broadly. I don’t worry whether or not my cat is Christian enough.

But there is this check in my spirit with the Harry Potter stuff.

Granted, the author is gifted and skilled. As a fiction author myself, I would like to meet her. Seems like a prevailing person for whom high end academia led to low-paying jobs and poverty. Made it through the tough loss of a parent and clinical depression. On her second marriage and seems to be a faithful church goer in the Church of Scotland who struggles with her faith at times.

But I don’t celebrate her series of stories. And I am almost never a buzz-kill type.

Why?

Because the stories revolve around the cultivation, in an organized school, of witchcraft. The target readers are indentifying peers to the students in the Hogwarts school.

Young people (and all of us, for that matter) identify with protagonists. They are role models. We dream about being like them.

Some basic thoughts, with which you are free to disagree:

1) People have trouble separating non-fiction from fiction. The line is not as clear as you think. Even in your own mind. People suspend disbelief during a good movie and the line fades away. Here in California, there IS NO LINE between fiction and non-fiction. Trust me :-). There is a Disneyfication of our world going on all around us. Imagination is a great thing, and it blurs everything. As does Faith (trusting in those things not seen). This trouble navigating the difference is ESPECIALLY true for children and teens, the very targets for the book.

2) People keep telling me it’s not a big deal. That I should focus on something else. But the minds of young people, very impressionable, simply are a big deal. I don’t hate Wiccans any more than God hates Wiccans. God loves Wiccans and everyone else. But I don’t believe that Wicca and Christianity are, at any level, compatible world views. Last I checked, the fragile beach-head of the Christian world view is tenuous, at best, with our young people. Even with the church kids. We don’t need to add something else to the other end of the balance.

3) People keep telling me “it’s just a story.” Stories are mega-potent. Certainly the word “just” doesn’t belong with a potent story.

4) In my mind, God forbids witchcraft in strident terms (Deuteronomy 18:9-14) because it’s bad for us, not because he’s a spoil-sport. The first commandment and monotheism are not good things on which for Christians, Jews, and Muslims to hang asterisks. Precognition (remember the nasty results of time travel for Marty McFly?) robs us of our very-present humanity. Communication with the dead creates a dog and pony show, painted on a compound spiritual canvas that takes our focus off of the very Source of everything.

5) Part of the fascination with the supernatural that is finding its way into Wiccan, vampire, and zombie channels is due to the fact that we have dropped the ball in teaching a whole generation the potency of Western Spirituality. The New Testament is full of magnificent signs and wonders. Jesus teaches that this activity is open to all of us (John 14:12) but we have changed the church into a head-born theological debating society with no spiritual punch. Many churches are some of the spiritually driest places in the towns where they are found. Small wonder that our kids have looked elsewhere.

6) People use false parallels (Wizard of Oz, CS Lewis, Shakespeare) to justify witchcraft in the HP series. None of these other works glorify witchcraft as a central theme of their works, or have all the identifying protagonists involved in the organized cultivation of it.

Not in favor of banning or burning anything or getting all strange. But are we entitled to any no-fly zones in our lives? Or do we have to celebrate a boundary-free culture? Good boundaries make for good health.

Do you have any non-negotiable no-fly zones?

There are certain words I never say. Certain things I never touch. Certain things I never watch. Not once, in my memory, have I taken something that isn’t mine. Hope you have the same kind of “lines” you don’t cross.

But are there, for Christians, also spiritual “no fly zones” or is dabbling in or getting fascinated with every spirituality, especially if the writers/characters are winsome, OK for Christians?

If you don’t agree with my boundaries, which is fine, do you have boundaries of your own? Or are there really no lines?

Orthodox Jews shouldn’t have to celebrate pork (a no-fly zone for them). As a matter of conscience, I shouldn’t have to celebrate the Harry Potter series.

I think that Wicca is a no-fly zone for Christian kids. Just sayin’.

Much as the music industry and the information/printing industry is changing, the church is going open-source.

How prepared is your church for this revolution? Please pass the link to this essay on to all the leaders, elders, pastors, etc. in your church. Discuss it together.

Christine Peterson coined the phrase “open source” in Palo Alto, California in 1998 during the Netscape Navigator discussions, but the principles go all the way back to Henry Ford, who succeeded in getting all the early US car makers to share patents which made parallel production of (very similar) automobiles possible.

In the broadest sense of the concept, Microsoft’s MS-DOS, not being wholly controlled by its host, IBM, launched a creativity revolution in software back in the 80’s. iTunes has changed the way music is bought and sold. Wikipedia has more or less replaced Britannica. The proliferation of free smart phone “apps” (a word no one used a president or two ago) is virtually infinite.

The world is going open source.

This has implications for the church:

1) All of your members have access to free Bible teaching and sermons from all over the world. It used to be that you, as a local pastor, had a monopoly on reaching and teaching them. Our church, Robinwood, reaches 100 times more people on its podcast than in person on Sunday mornings. Sample it at: http://tinyurl.com/ycgxvva

2) Open source is a challenge to monetize. Making money in an open source world is an uphill battle. Churches will need to look at creative income streams (we’ve done it before!) and church staff numbers will decrease vis-a-vis the size of the congregation. More and more pastors will be bi-vocational.

3) Christian denominations will not be able to maintain closed systems with solid lists of member churches and will not be able to control their clergy rosters. People in the open source world are getting used to an “opt in” mentality and can “friend” or “follow” you with a click. Peer relationships will matter more. Having your name on an official roster will matter less. The “name brand” denominations are currently raging against this revolution (even with record-company-like lawsuits!), but the ones who embrace it will survive. Their control over client congregations and pastors is evaporating. It will have to be replaced with attractive “opt in” branding and mentality. Denominations will have to earn and keep followings. And they won’t get to vote on this being the truth.

4) Seminaries will not be able to maintain monopolies on training new leaders. The ones that succeed are those that will go open source. Open source is cheaper, but it also attracts less money. Seminaries will have to become more trans-local and interactive. Those with an attractive branding and “opt in” vibe will thrive.

5) The monopolies on resources (remember that standard-issue icon: the official denominational hymnbook?) will disappear. Books will always be with us, but they will be produced POD (print on demand) and new media will proliferate.

6) Pastors who cannot attract large followings in social media will need to look for something else to do vocationally. They won’t have the chops to make it in the brave new world. If you can’t attract sheep, you’re probably not a shepherd.

7) Volunteers will become more important. Volunteers built Wikipedia. They are motivated, not by money, but by mastery and freedom. Click on the link for an amazing overview of this.

8  Your church’s media and branding will have to be integrated. One ping should activate and energize all of your media expressions. The good news: All of your social media and open source presence put together is cheaper than putting out a weekly church bulletin.

9) You will have to earn a following in a whole new way. But the human relational side will not go away. In fact, it will become more important.

Bless you. Follow me on Twitter @RobinwoodChurch

Nothing wrong with wearing red on Pentecost.

But if no one

-gets filled with the Spirit

-speaks in tongues

-accuses your members of being drunk at 9am in the morning

-gets converted (there were 3k on Pentecost)

…then we need Linus to get up on stage and read us the Bible story (which he does so well for Christmas) to remind us of what Pentecost is really all about.

As with much of the high-octane faith in the Bible, we have de-natured it for “polite” church use. Instead of calling down fire from heaven, we wear red sport shirts.

Veni Sancte Spiritus

Each Christian congregation has a “piety flavor.”

For those of you not super churchy, piety is one’s spiritual “vibe.”

Once this “sets,” it’s virtually impossible to change.

The piety match between pastor and congregation is perhaps the most crucial factor in ministry success.

As Christians, we can play “away games,” and even appreciate a road trip to the other pieties. But we can only have one true “home court” pity.

There may be other “sub-groups,” or even a piety I have not thought of.

But these are the four bouncing through my mind.

They are:

1) Athletic

2) Contemplative (Cool)

3) Warm

4) Hot

I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that aligning these flavors is actually more important in predicting success than denominational association or theological angle of the church.

For instance, a “warm” piety Lutheran will feel more at home in a a “warm” Anglican church than in an “athletic” Lutheran congregation.

Please pass this link on to others, especially the leaders in your congregation.

As in so many parts of human endeavor, the feelings “win.” The vibe of a human group is more important than we have realized.

Call it congregational “tribal vibe.”

There are many pastor/congregation mismatches. The worst ones occur when an athletic or contemplative pastor tries to transform a warm congregation into his/her image.

Most pastors going into a mismatched congregation see “vitalization” as changing the culture of their new congregation to their personal piety flavor.

Here are some brief thumbnail sketches:

Athletic

This piety is strident. There is a missionary vibe. “Discipleship” is the prevailing theme. The congregants, and especially the pastor, have serious looks on their faces most of the time.

They mean business.

These folks tend to have strong political left- or right-wing opinions. “Activism” of one kind or another (abortion, racism, hunger, the lost, you name it…) prevails as the reason for gathering in the first place.

Home schooling is common. They all vote.

This group is the one most likely to have highly developed enemy images, and they are invoked often. This creates group solidarity.

This is the home base of the “theologically serious.”

Contemplative (Cool)

Understated and elevated.

These people are consumers of 90% of the candles used in churches. And the most likely to wear tweed.

No plastic or synthetics in the room. Instead: Wood. Stone. Water. Natural fabric paraments and vestments. The organ has real pipes.

These churches are not afraid of silence.

The sermons are oblique, and often float into tertiary reflection (Outloud thinking about what someone else thinks about the Bible text). Listening can approximate being in a flotation tank.

There may be a Taize-style communion station with candles and kneelers in one of the corners.

These congregations have the best table manners at the Eucharist (only group which uses this word), which is fine dining complete with potent “spell casting” sound bites and real silverware.

Choral readings are key. Creeds. Lord’s prayer. Lots of formally-read Bible passages, but no one actually opens a Bible in the pews. The members (especially if they are audio learners) actually learn a lot of Bible over the years, because they hear so much of it every week.

The more committed of this stripe often hire spiritual directors, and aren’t afraid go on silent retreats.

$25 bottles of wine and European cheeses are available at their social gatherings.

The educational and NPR/PBS quotient is high, and the women wear less makeup than average.

Warm

Affection is the overriding theme here. If you aren’t drawn to physical touch and “stiffen up” when people hug you, then you won’t last long in this group.

The music chosen tends to be affective rather than theological. A relationship with God is eros, in a non-sexual way, if that makes any sense to you.

Small town churches of every stripe lean in this direction. Bible camp for grown-ups. There is a profound informality undergirding everything. No one would be shocked if you raised your hand and asked a question during the service.

A large minority of the attendees of these churches are socially and emotionally broken women; many of them divorced with kids. A good chunk of the men are in some kind of 12-step group.

Hands get raised during singing, and there is kleenex available all over the room.

The sermons are therapeutic and encouaging in tone. Favorite Bible texts are the Psalms and the Johannine canon.

There is always a group of folks in these congregations trying to get you to go on the next Cursillo/Emmaus weekend, where many of them were converted to warm piety in the first place.

Hot

Hot is not its own flavor, it is “warm” piety with the intensity turned up. This one can be downright scary to outsiders.

Generally speaking, this is the hard edge of the Pentecostal movement. It feels like just about anything could happen. This is the only flavor where shouting is a common form of communication.

This piety is often the norm in non-Anglo, non-Western Christianity.

Parishioners can fall out in trances and even writhe around on the floor.

Deliverance, and the here-and-now prophetic, are as common as doorknobs.

If you visit, sit in the back.

+++++++

Obviously, you can see why the pastor/congregation piety match is so pivotal.

The most pain comes from a pastor trying to “remake” the congregation in his/her piety image. Phrases like “they just don’t get it” are common.

One flavor is not better than another.

The skilled pastor will try to make the congregation into the best version of itself. And will do his/her life’s work in a church that matches where he/she would like to go to church in the first place.

Follow me on Twitter @RobinwoodChurch

From Perry Noble in South Carolina:

http://ping.fm/ft2uW

#1 – “What do you do to disciple people?”  (This question is usually asked by people who want to ‘microwave” spiritually, not understand that they themselves actually became mature in the “crock pot.”)

#2 – “Who is speaking this weekend?”  (They usually don’t care about the WHO…it’s the WHAT that matters to them.)

#3 – “Are you reformed in your theology?”  (Most of them have no idea what in the heck this means!)

#4 – “Is your church spirit filled?”

#5 – “What version of the Bible do you use?”  (Many unchurched people don’t even really know there are different versions!)

#6 – “What denomination are you affiliated with?”

#7 – “How many different activities can I sign my family up for in order to add to the insane schedule that we already have?”

#8 – “Does your pastor teach exegetically through the Scriptures?”

#9 – “Are there lots of crosses and pictures of Jesus in your church?”

#10 – “Are you guys pre trib, mid trib, post trib or partial trib?”

A lot of us fail to connect with the spirituality and faith of others.

Often we get into conflict with those who don’t pracitce their “piety” as we do.

The word “piety” is a Latin term. It was a highly prized and nuanced virtue, meaning “devotion” or “Spirituality.”

We think that our faith differs from others because of content, theology, politics, or philosophy. And we tend to avoid and mistrust those with a different faith temperament.

The truth is, piety temperament divides us more from others than anything else. We get into arguments with people which stay on the intellecual plane and we don’t deal with the real issues that divide us.

First, it helps to define the three different flavors. They cross all “religious system” barriers.

1) Athletic Piety. These folks use words like discipleship, discipline, and mission all the time. They are evangelistic and zealous. We don’t want to be cornered by them. Left wing or right wing, they tend to be activists and have a cause. Those with Athletic Piety (AP) like books like My Utmost for His Highest. Their preachers love phrases like: if you only knew what was at stake! One more conference! One more book to read! Theology can be an excercise in combat; and many of them gravitate, over time, to Calvin as a guide. Those of you with “AP” will get frustrated with this essay and write a critical comment. Their churches have clear windows. APers contribute a great deal, because without them, who would feed the hungry and transform the world? Their public leaders wear power suits and ties.

2) Cool (or “Deep”) Piety. These are the sophisticates. They prefer Henri Nouwen books and Taize music. If they start to struggle–candles always help; aesthetics in their shadowy churches and shrines are everything. Pipe organs resonate with their very souls. Reflection, contemplation. Ideally, their faith expression would be a succession of Haiku quotes. The sermons in their churches are complex, nuanced, and “oblique,” often with great depth. The first thing they visit in a European capital is the cathedral; and they love stained glass. Their public leaders wear embroidered robes.

3) Warm Piety. This is me, so I’m biased. Please forgive that. There is a lot of human touch (WPers can’t pray for someone without touching him or her) in these faith groups, and a lot of humor in the messages. Their love for the Bible is affectionate rather than theologically rigorous. Rules are just suggestions. People raise their hands when they sing together and talk a lot about a relationship with God; WPers expect God to touch them in one way or another. Testimonies are more important than detailed instruction by the teacher. They love Cursillo weekends and Bible Camp, and they know songs with hand motions. They have the best youth groups. Their mental background music is made up of inspirational, positive quotes. Their leaders wear non-trendy jeans and hooded sweatshirts. They love hugs.

A spiritual community with one “flavor” contracting the services of a leader of another flavor is a recipe for trouble.

We can also be a blend. I can float in the other two flavors without too much distress.

One of the keys to getting along with people is learning to appreciate the value of the other groups:

-Effectivenes (AP)

-Depth (CP)

-Love (WP)

This is all more or less true in most all faith systems. A warm piety Christian may get along better with a WP Hindu than with an AP Christian who drives her nuts. An AP Protestant has immediate resonance with an AP Roman Catholic.

We often feel that we are in a faith community that doesn’t “match” because we were sent there by God as missionaries to “change it.” Not a good idea. It’s malpractice to try to turn a WP church into an AP church. Help your faith community be the best at its own temperament that it can be.

What about “balance?” Also not a good idea; like putting mustard on waffles. Better to stick with one basic flavor in a church or faith community.

++++++++++++++++

Follow me on Twitter @RobinwoodChurch

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Check out my book on Warm Piety

Please browse through my other posts and comment on them. Dialogue is better than monologue!

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