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Some reflections on the National Day of Prayer

1) President Obama did not cancel it. In fact, here is his proclamation affirming it:

http://tinyurl.com/24q8lu5

2) There has always been tension between church and state. For 2,000 years. Not just in America. To kings, the idea that there is another King has been problematic. Always has been, always will be.

Church/state tension reached a high point, not in 2010, but in 1077 at Canossa, in Italy. You need to look it up and read about it:

3) There never has been a time when any national government and the true, faithful Christian Church were fully aligned.

4) Christian activity rises and falls in America. It goes in waves. Great Awakenings. The Pentecostal Azusa awakening in 1906. The big post WW2 churchgoing boom. The Jesus movement of the 60’s and 70’s. We are not in a post-Christian era. We are between booms.

5) Our Founding Fathers of the USA were neither the Focus on the Family Republicans the “right” makes them out to be, nor the “enlightenment Deists” that the “left” makes them out to be. Thomas Jefferson considered himself to be a devout follower of Jesus, but would hardly move to Colorado Springs to be with his peeps if he lived in our generation.

6) We cannot COERCE people to pray. Government should never coerce any faith practice. Jesus never coerced anyone. He let them walk away. But, on the other hand, the fact that some are OFFENDED by us “intentionally, publicly spiritual people,” does not obligate us to practice our faith only in private.

Any OFFENSE on the part of others, because of any of our faith practice, private or public, when we are not being coercive, is NOT another reason to push us out of the public practice of our faith (which is totally guaranteed in the Bill of Rights). That was a long, complicated sentence, but I don’t know how else to say it.

It seems like, lately, whenever what we do offends someone, some court makes us stop doing it. This is not constitutional. We are not properly distinguishing between coercion and offense. The former is wrong, the latter can’t be helped in a free society. The systematic elimination of all offense leads to a controlled, non-free society.

7) No government can cancel a national day of prayer. Any more than churches can legislate tax code.

8.) Over 90 percent of Americans pray regularly. Not just born-again Christians. Everyone prays before algebra exams. 🙂 Humans come hard-wired for prayer. Built in wi-fi.

9) As a free-market family-values conservative, I have the right to criticize our own movement. We have gotten way less attractive since Bush left office. We are more prone to conspiracy theories than ever before. A lot of us have just turned off our brains.

I just confronted a man who was looking for signatures using a poster of our president with a Hitler mustache in front of our post office. We are going to lose the next elections if we don’t work on our image. Middle America is not going to vote with what they see as crazy people.

Elections are won and lost with the moderates. We are alienating them. We come across as extremists (remember how may votes Goldwater got?) who love big guns, big business running our health care, closed borders and deportations, conspiracy theories, and people who hate gay people. Reagan (as opposed to Goldwater) got huge votes because of what he was FOR (free markets, strong America, positive-optimistic attitude).

10) We have another national day of prayer, instituted by Abraham Lincoln: Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is a transitive verb which requires an object. And that would be God.

11) For the record, I believe:

-in having “in God we Trust” on our money

-in school prayer

-that the Bible should be taught in public schools, at least as literature and history

-that intelligent design should be taught in public schools along with spontaneous non-designed evolution.

-that marriage is between one man and one woman.

-that faith conversation and prayer belongs in the marketplace, the public square, the government, the media, and our schools. It is a part of who we are and free societies are free to be who they are.

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I have been especially aware of patterns this week.

People all have a certain way of being in the world. A pattern.

There is a Muslim way of being in the world, a Mormon way, a Right-Wing-Fox-News way, a PC-liberal way, etc.

Some of these patterns are potent (Islam). Some are not so potent (mainline Presbyterianism). Some are on the rise (Hipster-ism), and some are on the decline (the “emerging” church).

I’ve done extensive live-in stints with:

Lutheranism

Action Sports World (surf/snowboard)

Theological Academia (22nd grade and a Fulbright Scholarship)

Pentecostalism (even wrote a book on it)

Each “-ism” has abundant self-serving circular reasoning and tribal litmus tests. They have buzzwords and enemy images. Perhaps they are even necessary–but none of them correspond perfectly to naked reality and truth.

It’s a trade off; you get security and you tolerate errors and inaccuracy when you “buy in” to any “-ism.”

I am about to be voted off the Lutheran island for good. Sad, because I have nothing against it, and, on better days, I consider myself one of its more intentionally constructive, original, and helpful thinkers. I appreciate the good in Lutheranism, my family of origin, but I don’t pretend that God depends on it, or that it is the highest possible way of being in the world.

I am increasingly troubled by the American liberal/conservative polarized political thinking. The left doesn’t understand the power and creativity of the free market and globalization, and the right doesn’t understand sustainable environmentalism, and the potency of collectivism for certain public endeavors (fire, utilities, roads, etc.). We are disintegrating into TV attack ads with stupid sound bites. We need an intellectual like Lincoln to come back, who sees deeper nuances.

In any case, these political “patterns” relieve everyone of the responsibility to think.

And the much of the world is just plain out-growing the need for religious patterns. Especially the overwhelming majority of non-fundamentalist global young people. If you don’t believe me, you’re not spending much time with them.

Let’s just have real conversations about who God really is. Let’s pray together. Let’s talk about Jesus and how his message is so different than that of the Buddha (see E Stanley Jones and his “Egg and the Bubble” analogy). Let’s talk about God’s preferred future, and include him in on the conversation, rather than argue about the merits and errors of competing eschatological “systems.”

Does God Almighty really care about the victory of Confessional Lutheranism or TULIP Calvinism? Is he secretly pulling for a return to a stricter Reformed theology? Is he really upset about the idea of married Catholic priests? Is he hoping we finally secure the Mexican border? Is he worried that Health Care Reform will ruin the world he created? Is Oprah his worst nightmare, wrecking his weekly Sabbath rest? Hardly.

Are we willing to set aside our patterns, even ones we love, to seek the truth? Look it right in the eye?

I have this crazy idea that God is real, and that he doesn’t report to a pattern.

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Please forward the link to this essay to the leaders of your congregation: http://wp.me/pGQxY-8T    Thanks!

Church activity levels in North America have always fluctuated.

This is not an essay on the global church, where exciting things have happened.

This is not an essay about Europe, which has its own dynamics vis-a-vis Christian activity.

North America’s ecclesial (church) vitality was always contrasted, in the past, with the “dead” church in Europe. It was also viewed as the “source” of the Global church.

American evangelical Christianity has always been seen as somewhat muscular, with the chiseled face of Billy Graham leading the parade.

It’s too early to tell, but there seems to be a shift in the weather, a change in the climate.

Church attendance appears to be experiencing the biggest drop in recent memory, and the financial climate of the country is contributing to a “perfect storm” which is putting the squeeze on a lot of congregations.

The Christian movement has also been strengthened (both economically and in terms of creativity), in the past, with a robust retail branch: books and music. The changes in technology have crippled these once mighty sectors of publishing, and you’ve certainly seen church bookstores close in your city.

Church leaders are in denial, and as is usually the case in such environments, point to the exceptions. There are big and growing churches all over the place. However, almost all of them are in areas of large population growth and suburban tract house cosnstruction.

National mainline church denominations, brought into being in the late 19th century by easy rail travel, are still holding voting conventions as if air travel and the internet had not yet been invented. Small wonder that the “votes” at these meetings get so much pushback from the grass roots. You can trace the decline curve of these archaic “railroad” organizations as an inverse line to that of air travel and video/TV/computer screens.

Roman Catholics have had their own problems, with the scandals and all. They have also lost huge numbers of young people, especially in the Northeast. Latinos will save the day, you might suggest. But half of the Latino Catholics who immigrate here ditch the RC boat and go Pentecostal or secular.

Evangelicals are the last of the three major groups to feel the pinch. A generation ago, if you had “contemporary worship” and small groups, your church would grow. If your theology was conservative, that helped too. Now, this “recipe” has reached diminishing returns. The church growth movement is over.

Here are some reasons I see. Please add your own to the comments. Let’s figure this out together.

  1. American Christians of the last generation did not have enough children. They fell in love with the pill. Half as many kids means…
  2. Many Asian immigrants (there are exceptions) are not Christian–this has diluted Christian cultural monopolies where they once existed.
  3. African American churches have virtually lost a whole generation of young men–totally unable to capture their imagination.
  4. Christian Conservatives are the least likely group to be able to dialog with a new generation raised in post-modernity.
  5. The evangelistic models of the past (e.g. the “bridge” illustration) no longer work in the current cultural climate.
  6. Contemporary Christian Music has failed, to some extent, to embrace both country and urban music. Most of it sounds very suburban.
  7. Parent/Child relationships are more strained than in the recent past, because there are less children and there is more “parenting per child.” You are perhaps familiar with the “helicopter parent” syndrome. Christian parents often equal non-Christian kids, for this reason.
  8. The first decade of the 21st century was hard on churches (and the country), economically.
  9. Churches have failed to embrace new media. Within a few months, I was able to establish more social media presence than all but a handful of the 20-30 thousand Lutheran pastors out there; with virtually no effort. Culture is being created out there and we are not present. See my essay on Pastors and New Media.
  10. Many churches are over-theological and resist open spiritual and supernatural practice. This new generation is drawn to the supernatural and we try to discourage it rather than channel it.

I don’t have a lot of answers, but this should set up a good discussion.

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