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Posts Tagged ‘clergy’

Needed: Good Volunteers

February 27, 2010 Leave a comment

I’m currently at the Wiccan church in which I am a 1st degree. The Archpriest  needs help with office work, and working on the dining hall, a large-scale construction our church attendees have needed for years. So with a happy heart and a cooler full of food, my sweetheart and I made the two-hour journey to church with no promise of ritual, simply for the sake of helping out (so that’s why the post has no pictures or links–spotty internet will do that! I’ll likely fix it when I get home).

I was thinking about a recent post I made about our clergy needing money, and I think I failed to mention that they also need help. Just regular help around the office, in the kitchen, answering mail, mowing the lawn. What our Pagan groups are in desperate need of is good volunteers.

Their are many advantages to volunteering:

  • Promote an organization or community you love. The great part is that the organization of community will love you back. There is nothing so satisfying as looking around some place you care about and be able to say “I did that. I made this place better.”
  • Volunteering is a tangible gift you can give that doesn’t involve money. So if you are feeling broke, you can give in a different way.
  • Volunteering allows you to not only do what you excel at, but to try your hand at things you would like to improve. For example, I excel at organizing information and answering questions, but suck at yardwork. I think I suck because I haven’t done much of it living in apartments and rentals the last few years. Yet I can volunteer to do yardwork, and know that someone is going to appreciate my effort, and won’t yell at me for taking all day.
  • It can be a fun, social activity. You want to be on the ‘in-crowd’? Spend time making friends at work parties and doing simple chores.
  • Volunteering is really really appreciated. Sure, it’s not out there for everyone to see, but someone will sincerely be grateful for your work. If nothing else, you’ve crossed something off their to-do list, or completed something they didn’t even know needed done. It is a humble gift. If nothing else, the Gods will see your good work.
  • Studies show that it feels good to volunteer, and can bring a sense of community, happiness, and calmness. Studies even show that it feels good to see someone else volunteer. So just being around do-gooders can up our feel-good hormones. Really, volunteering is in your own best interest. Remember the rule of Three applies here too!

The best way to volunteer is to call up the folks in charge and recommend your skills to them. Call ahead, unless the rules are “just show up”. If you have an idea for a project, propose it. Consider if there are any materials or information that you need. Folks who are caretakers will have the big picture in mind, so if they can’t use your services, or don’t readily agree to your project, it is likely there is some barrier that you don’t know about, so please don’t take it personally. Ask them what they need doing, and consider if can do the job. If you do certain work professionally, suggest yourself to the Powers that Be at your local organization. Who knows, you might have a skill that the group desperately needs. I know on our church building, we desperately need plumbers, electritions, framers, clean-up and landscape crew. Most groups could certainly use the skills of a good web designer. What do you have to offer?

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What it Means to be a Church

February 8, 2010 Leave a comment

I realize the word “chuch” in a Pagan context gives folks an almost knee-jerk nauseated reaction. The vast majority of Pagan and Wiccan practitioners are converts from monotheistic religions, mainly Christian denominations (I think I’ll leave the discussion of conversion for another day). When we trade in the previous religion for the Old Religion, we naturally expect to leave certain ideas behind, and are eager to embrace and try out the ideas that are new to us. Some people have experienced a kind of spiritual abuse from their former institution, and will require some healing as they make their spiritual escape.

But let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater! It is one thing to reject an idea because it doesn’t work for you, and another to shut down and never give the idea a chance.  The first time I heard of the ATC, a Wiccan church, I too had a knee-jerk reaction. As a newbie know-it-all, I’d never read about Wicca having churches, and wasn’t about to investigate a horrible institution like the ones my friends and I “escaped” from. I met a priest there, who I hit it off with, and we’ve had a wonderful friendship that began almost ten years ago. He told me about his experiences with the church, and what the church was about. I invited myself along to the next ritual, and the rest is history. I’m really glad I gave the idea of a church a chance.

The Parthenon was a Pagan church. Should we tear it down because Pagans don't go to church?

Typically, Wiccans practice in small covens, as solitary practitioners, or at public festivals and rituals. There are advantages and disadvantages to each. For many finding a coven is difficult, and finding one that you want to learn from and dedicate yourself to is even harder. As a solitary practitioner, you have the mobility to learn and practice whatever you please, yet you don’t get the opportunity to bounce ideas around and ones practice can get stale. Public festivals are big and fun, but they are also rather expensive, and the price of admission doesn’t guarantee the quality of the ritual experience, or that you’ll agree with the ideas presented, or that you can learn with 1,000 other people present. Networking is obviously a big concern for Pagans as demonstrated by the large amount of networking sites for different areas. I know whenever I go to a new place, I want to know what groups are there and what activities are going on!

A Wiccan or Pagan church is a place to do that networking. It provides a different kind of group experience. Psychologists generally define two types of group cohesion: intimacy and integrity.

Intimacy is more like what you would experience in a coven setting–the group bonds emotionally, and creates group-mind through a common feeling of belonging and friendship. Decisions are made democratically or, most often, through consensus. Groups that follow Dianic Wiccan and Fairy paths tend to prefer this kind of arrangement. It seems to me a very feminine form of leadership and group cohesion.

Integrity is what you are likely to experience if you come to the ATC–the group bonds over a common purpose. Who “belongs” is based on rank, with higher ranking members expected to contribute more time and energy to the group. Hierarchy is valued, and decisions are made by members of sufficient rank with the group’s best interest in mind. Gardnerian and Alexandrian derived traditions, as well as those with Masonic roots, arrange themselves this way. This group cohesion style suggests masculine virtues.

Academically, I don’t see how one could be better than the other, although individuals may place greater value on one style at certain parts of their life. Both are perfectly valid ways to run a community, and both have their downsides too: intimacy could violate confidentiality for a group member or never achieve anything because of personal problems, and integrity might be run by power-hungry dictators.

At the church I go to, both are present, but integrity is the most obvious to visitors. Rank is given to those who have demonstrated hard work and dedication, and who choose to become a part of the tradition. Intimacy comes only through time, and is based in personal relationships, which no amount of rank can force to blossom.

Why a Wiccan Church is Valuable

  • Rituals are open to anyone. No one has to vouch for you. You can show up as a complete stranger and be perfectly welcome.
  • You do not have to believe the same thing to attend ritual. Many who come faithfully practice other religions and are educating themselves about Wicca.
  • There is no commitment, unless you want to. Even tithing (another dirty word!) is of your own free will, although we do bless it for Threefold return, so tithing is in your best interest.
  • The church supports the community through programs, festivals, education, and counseling.
  • The church can be a political force, representing lots of people for a single cause, such as getting the Military to provide headstones for fallen Pagan soldiers.
  • The church is a place to meet like-minded people, network, and form intimate bonds. Many tradition members work with covens that are not affiliated with the church.
  • Donations are tax-deductible. If you’re going to give your money to a charity, give it to one that supports your people!
  • The church provides clergy, often ordained, who can offer spiritual counsel and perform ritual services for the community–in no way are they attempting to force dogma, but rather help individuals who ask.

A Pagan church isn’t about belief or dogma, it is about praxis (that is, what one does). We gather at church to support the same causes, to worship the Gods, to participate in self-changing magic, and to learn from each other. The church is a tool for those who are sincerely growing into better human beings, and offers a kind of community unique in the world of religion in general and Paganism in particular.

Pft! I had WAY more badges than this lady did!

While coven work is focused personal growth, a church is focused on service to the community, an element I believe is crucial to personal growth and often overlooked. Working on projects with others and holding positions of responsibility gives you a chance to grow into it in a safe place, where people will support you and encourage you to succeed. The rank system is a way of easily identifying those with certain skills, which is important in a big organization, and is a tangible visual for personal growth. If you want to know what it is like to display your personal growth, ask a Girl Scout to show you her badge sash–it is the same general principal.

I occasionally will hear snippy comments about the validity of churches in Paganism and Wicca, but I honestly recognize it as that newbie know-it-all knee-jerk–very different from constructive criticism, which has actually interacted with the ideas. As a new religious movement, we are in the process of creating our religion, so the discussion of what is and isn’t Paganism is not a closed subject, but one that is evolving as we explore different ideas.

Here are a few Pagan churches:

Help a Pagan Priest in Haiti!

January 26, 2010 Leave a comment

Letter to the Pagan Community from Alane Brown, on behalf of Peter Dybing

Looking for a way to help the Haiti earthquake victims? Want to support an emergency medical clinic in Port au Prince that’s run by a Pagan priest?

Please consider donating money to Haiti Community Support. This NGO is not itself affiliated with any political or religious group. However, the man running the clinic, Peter Dybing, is a member of the Covenant of the Goddess and a longtime practitioner of the Craft. He was very active in the Albuquerque Pagan community before relocating to the Virgin Islands a few years ago. There he met Mathilde and Bruce, who run Haiti Community Support. Haiti Community Support is a NGO that has been helping Haiti since 2006 through programs in health, education and infrastructure building. Following the earthquake, Haiti Community Support shifted its emphasis to disaster relief. Peter (an EMT) and Mathilde traveled to Port au Prince on January 14th and set up an emergency clinic in a park. They recruited over 30 local Haitians and together they began caring for people who, despite severe injuries, just could not get into the overwhelmed hospitals.
They arranged for shipments of medical supplies through a grassroots overland supply route from the Dominican Republic. At first, their medical supplies did not meet demand. They would treat patients until they ran out of supplies, then had to close up and wait for more. But as more donations began to come in, they were able to purchase more supplies, and can now make it through each long and grueling day. They treat wounds that have become increasingly serious because of the delay in treatment. Peter treats unset broken bones, cleans maggots from infected wounds and treats dysentery and other disease spreading through populations living in horrible conditions.

On January 23rd, ten more volunteers joined the clinic. They came from an Oregon rescue unit and from St. Croix Rescue. Now the clinic has a doctor, PA, nurse and several EMTs and paramedics. Together with the Haitian support personnel, they have expanded the clinic. Later this week they plan to go mobile, bringing the clinic to areas of Port au Prince where unmet needs are greatest. As the HCS emergency team looks to the future, their goal is to transition to a clinic run by Haitians, that can continue sustainably into the future. Peter says that the thing that impresses him the most is the dignity with which his Haitian patients face their terrible losses.

The organization is all volunteer, so there is very little overhead. Funds sent to them are immediately converted into relief work — buying medical supplies, as well as covering the expenses of transporting them and running the street clinic.

I’ve been talking with Peter by cell phone several times a week. He has asked me to get the word out to the Pagan community about what he’s doing. Circle Sanctuary has posted a link on its website and announcements have been passed through Covenant of the Goddess lists. Please spread the word to your pagan contacts: by donating to http://www.haitisupport.org you can help those who are suffering, through the healing hands of a member of our spiritual community, Peter Dybing.

On a magical level, please take a moment to imagine Peter’s hands and send the power of healing into them, and thus on to those he touches in Haiti. And most of all, please donate now! Go to http://www.haitisupport.org — donations are tax deductible in the USA.

If you have questions, or want me to pass on a message of support to Peter, please contact me at alane@frontier.net Please feel free to pass on this message to other like-minded folk. I have donated $100 and I hope you will donate, too.

Alane Brown, elder priestess
Crow Women Circle and Goddess Choir
Durango, Colorado

Cherry Hill Seminary

January 10, 2010 3 comments

School is one of my biggest passions. I love it! Maybe it is because I’m dedicated to Athena, but I’ve been in school almost continuously since I was five. Education is important to me, but it also took me awhile to figure out what I was put on this earth for. I’m big on training and professionalism, which doesn’t bode well in Paganism, honestly. I dreamed of working in academia as someone who studied Paganism as a legitimate spiritual community and a source of knowledge. I wanted to professionalize our clergy so the community would have some real resources at their disposal, and could keep up with other religions. In particular, I wanted to see Pagan Chaplains in the military.

This all started about five years ago, when I began my graduate program in teaching. I was already dissatisfied with the program and wanted to do something else in my life besides be a glorified babysitter and secretary. I looked to being a military chaplain, which requires, typically, a Masters in Divinity, ordination, and “ecclesiastical approval” from a church body. Already there were a lot of challenges to that laundry list of requirements, the hardest being the MDiv degree.

Imagine spending 70-90 semester hours in a religion that is not yours! I spent 3 credits in a fundamentalist Christian MDiv program before I figured out I wasn’t going to fit in, be comfortable, or graduate with a good GPA. I desperately wanted one of our own.

The seminary I work with, Woolston-Steen, doesn’t have an interest in getting accredited by the people the military would require (which seems fair, it’s their school!). But it means that their advanced degrees don’t mean anything outside of the religious community. Now that would be fine if we had more infrastructure like Pagan hospitals and churches where you could be sure to recoup your education investment and have a career. But we don’t. We live in the mainstream culture.

Recently, Cherry Hill Seminary, an online theological school for Pagans run out of South Carolina has decided to live in the mainstream culture. They are seeking accreditation through the Association of Theological Schools, which would mean that a degree from there would be considered legitimate in “the real world”. Accreditation is a long process, and should take 2-3 years if they keep at it, and it seems like they are well underway. And if the ATS doesn’t like the concessions they’ve made, then they’ll have to face M. Macha Nightmare! Good luck to them! She’s fierce! And she’s the head of the board of directors.

Accreditation by the ATS means

  • You can get a job in an academic institute of higher learning
  • You can work as a hospital chaplain
  • You can work as a military chaplain
  • …or a prison chaplain
  • You can put it on a professional resume or CV
  • You can start your own church (well, you could have done that before, but this makes it easier to get grants and stuff like that)
  • Who knows! Only the future graduates can show us what it means. I plan on opening a counseling practice catered to Pagans and doing academic research and book writing. A professional Pagan degree would help with all of that.

A few short years ago, the idea of a professional pagan ministry was unthinkable. Our elders have been working hard to serve the community, but often unnoticed beyond those that are close to them. As practitioners, we don’t always have people to turn to in times of crisis, and even those we turn to may not have the training to really help us. Yada yada, I’ve talked about this before.  But this is the exact goal of Cherry Hill–not to train more Witches (though there are some very good and very interesting schools out there) but to professionalize those who want to dedicate more of themselves to the service of others.

The faculty they have teaching are typically professionals with advanced MA or Doctorate degrees in their fields. They have spent their careers balancing the needs of Pagans with the demands of their professions. Judy Harrow is a professional counselor (and I absolutely admire her career), Brenden Meyers is a Ph.D and the author of A Pagan Testament (one of my new favorite books for research), and Michael York who is a professor of religion (you may remember his book). They have teachers who are Druids, Dianics, Solitary Practitioners, and Pagans from all walks of life. They have professors with backgrounds as diverse as law, education, pastoral counseling, comparative religion…just the stuff we need for a first generation of professional pagan clergy.

M. Macha Nightmare at the Conference for Current Pagan Studies.

Last year, at the Conference of Current Pagan Studies, I had the pleasure of reading two of my papers (which I don’t think I’ve posted here yet!). The best part of the conference was meeting Nightmare and her students from Cherry Hill. Two or three had papers to present, and I was incredibly pleased at the quality of the scholarship. It was a diverse group of topics and very well researched. (You can read my summary of the conference here and here). Now, with the addition of promised accreditation, and a track record of actually doing what they say they are going to do, I think I’ll put some of my money where my mouth is, and get that MDiv that I wanted all those years ago. The sky is the limit!

What Should Our Clergy Wear?

December 30, 2009 6 comments

I think as a religion we are making progress. We’re growing faster than we can manage. While every one of us is our own Priest or Priestess, there are times when we need more than just our own influence. Sometimes we need a little help, advice, guidance, yet not all of us have someone we can turn to. What if we are in a new place? In mixed religious company, like in the military? Or just want to acknowledge and recognize those that have more experience than we do.

I’m sure I’ve talked before about how we need clergy that our well trained in counseling and theology, but how do we recognize such a person when we see them?

A few folks I know who do inter-religious work and are ordained by our church use the common white tab collar to identify themselves as clergy. Turns out you can buy them on the internet–and it’s not like they check your religious ID! The idea of wearing the clergy collar with a black shirt fascinates me because it is such an obvious symbol for clergy, yet doesn’t imply a denomination. Seriously. Think about it. Which denomination wears it, hmm? Perhaps with a few modifications, we can make it our own. Perhaps we should wear green or purple instead of black.

The symbolism of the collar might not fit with our theology. If you think about its place on the body, the black of the shirt constricts the body, while the white part allows speech to pass through. In traditional Christian thought, the body is only a vehicle for the spirit, and its level of potential temptation from a righteous life varies by denomination. Current preachers are taught that they must move the listener away from the body by uplifting the mind with ideas and praise of God. This, of course, comes from the throat (“Preaching Principles and Practice” Holland, 1988).

But why should we only recognize this Christian symbol (albiet non-denominational) as the token of clergyhood? If we look towards other religions in other parts of the world, we see a variety of dress that spiritual people wear. We see that most ceremonial religious wear depicted is long, but varies in the amount of ornamentation. One of my favorites is the Tibetan monk robes. I love the colors and the dedication it shows to so clearly identify yourself as a holy person. Hindu and Indian attire can inspire us with the beautiful colored silks called sari.

Perhaps it would be better to stay out of contemporary culture, since the clergy collar is already taken. What if we look back in history to our roots? We are the Old Religion, are we not?  A look at Greco-Roman temple wear again shows the flowing fabric. Although, speaking from experience, the flowy robes of the Mediteranian are no good 93% of the year here in the Pacific Northwest! Would you recognize clergy in these robes?

If we look to our religious values that separate Wicca from other religions, one of the things that sticks out it the love and pleasure we get from our bodies. I was taught that a 3rd degree is a walking representative of the Gods, and is a Priest or Priestess all the time. I know a handful of women who have taken a page out of The Mists of Avalon and received the crescent moon tattoo on their foreheads. A friend of mine who wears one says that people recognize her as a Priestess, even if they do not know her and are not familiar with the book. This image intrigues me because it looks like the crown that the Goddess Diana wears in art. It seems to me to be an appropriate symbol for our female priesthood. What about men? Should they get some other kind of tattoo like this one? What would it be?

It’s not much to go on. The idea of inventing a new image of what clergy could or should be is hard because we like the idea of age, culture and tradition being represented in our priesthood. Yet how do we balance that with the fact that this is a new religious movement?

What do you think our clergy should wear?

Why Christianity Is Not Working 2

December 23, 2009 2 comments

Effects of Modernism and Postmodernism

One can see in the art and literature the trends of a culture, and I think the biggest challenge for Biblical preaching is modernism and postmodernism. Indeed one can hardly have one without the other. Rabbi David Lapin describes modernism correctly as the automatic rejection of “old” ideas, “Modernism is the odd notion that mankind should view revolutionary change as inherently good. It is the views that, almost by definition, modifying today’s society will produce a better tomorrow” (Lapin 1999). This bodes well for our economy, as old things are discarded to make room for new products and commodities, but it rejects the notion that anything could be learned from the past. Ironically modernism was perhaps at its height during the 50’s and 60’s (a time that many cultural critics hearken back to nostalgically), when schools and education were being reformed in the destructive ways mentioned earlier in this essay. When modernism becomes consumerism, it starves the soul. If ideas about spirituality are consumed in the process, nothing takes root. The focus is on quantity, not quality; on breadth, not depth. There is no space for reflection, let alone application. Listeners at a sermon might react with “I’ve heard it before! What’s next?”

Consumerism feeds the natural human desire for instant gratification. But while our ancestors worked long and hard to grow food, and sat down to enjoy the evening meal with the family; our culture has given us fast food. Lapin reflects on this: “The rapid growth of fast food, however, conditioned us to the notion that anytime and anywhere is suitable for a snack or meal….Or national personality was shifting. We became more self-indulgent and less disciplined; more attuned to immediate gratification than to what was best of the long-term” (1999). Technology may have made life easier, but our problems are more complex than ever because of it. We expect fast, easy solutions. We expect to sort through things to find what is relevant, we are taught to weed through data to find answers that apply to our lives. Our culture isn’t looking for truth, because the truth isn’t always easy.

Postmodernism, on the other hand, goes beyond that. Quoting the neoconservatism philosopher “Irving Kristol defines ‘postmodern art’ as a ‘politically charged art that is utterly contemptuous of the notion of educating the tastes and refining the aesthetic sensibilities of the citizenry. Its goal, instead, is deliberately to outrage those tastes and to trash the very idea of an aesthetic sensibility’” (Medved, 1992). This is, perhaps, where the anti-moral filth in Hollywood comes from. Its purpose is to offend and shock.

But there is more to postmodernism than that. It is a reaction to everything that has come before. Americans may not remember well their own history, and modernism may have us ripping down buildings that have not had a chance to become historic, but Americans remember atrocities. One need only look at World Wars I and II, and lament with T.S. Elliot in The Waste Land to illustrate this point. I work at a private school in Bellevue, with students from all walks of life, where I co-teach a class about art, culture, and contemporary society. These kids cannot understand what is so miraculous about a Jackson Pollack painting. They do not see the genius of the Sistine Chapel ceiling. They figure you could just take a picture of something if you wanted it to look real. They miss the art because they have seen just about everything. Only the most atrocious and abominable images get any reaction to it. They aren’t trained to see the subtlety of brushstrokes, or understand the religious symbolism, or understand the suffering by the artist to create beauty. And why should they, when Pollack has been highly copied, and you can get Michelangelo’s “Hand of God” printed on a t-shirt? They know that art is supposed to move them, but it takes a lot to do so.

For Biblical preachers, their duty becomes more difficult as people in our culture turn against the methods for the very same reason they turn against modern art. They see traditional things as threatening and cling to science for truth. The professional atheist Dawkins argues with religionists saying that “of course, dyed-in-the-wool faith-heads are immune to argument, their resistance built up over years of childhood indoctrination using methods that took centuries to mature (whether by evolution or design). Among the more effective immunological devices is a dire warning to avoid even opening a book like this [a book about atheism], which is surely a work of Satan” (2006). As a member of this culture, it is difficult to turn away from the many accomplished and important people who have publicly turned away from faith. The inventor of the new physics Einstein has said “I am a deeply religious nonbeliever. This is a somewhat new kind of religion…The idea of a personal God is quite alien to me and seems even naïve” (as quoted in Dawkins, 2006).

Kids These Days

One author declared that “If there is a moral movement in each generation, we need to know the direction and the velocity of the movement. This helps us understand what tomorrow might look like, and it helps us decide whether we welcome that particular vision of tomorrow for our children” (Lapin, 1999). I am here to tell you: the future for Biblical preaching ain’t pretty. Being receptive to Biblical preaching requires a certain thinking paradigm which does not mesh with our current culture.

For the high school students at the school I work for, these students come from non-religious families that celebrate secular holidays and mostly pay lip-service to Christianity. Of the twenty-five or so kids I work with on a regular basis, only one identifies herself as Christian, and could find her way around a Bible. Others claim to be “spiritual, but not religious” as if they are afraid of the very word. There is very little that moves them, except for intolerance. They are politically and socially moderate, only advocating change if it seems like it will work quickly, and won’t trample on anybody’s freedom of speech or expression. They are terrified of somebody telling them what to think, yet are generally obedient to authority. There is a general lethargy to their generation: they would rather play video games than work, they are barely able to imagine their own futures, and they absolutely do not believe they can have any impact on the world. It is hard to say how much we must explain this with simple adolescent development, and how much is due to the culture they are indoctrinated into.

As a teacher, I was taught to avoid religious topics whenever possible, unless I wanted to cover all religions equally, in an academic manner. Teachers are to avoid sharing their religion with their students, which means they are not permitted to be a role model in this area. While there is a general expectation that teachers will have Christian values, they are not allowed to share them, or talk to students about how morals are shaped. Apparently, in order to create a society that has certain freedoms, those liberties are not extended to the very people responsible for passing them on.

What is Needed

To be receptive to Biblical preaching, one must have a belief that some things are absolute and true. Christians find this truth in the Bible, which contains God’s truth, His plan, and His expectations of us. Indeed, true Christians believe that “the words of the Bible are inspired of God. Divine inspiration has rendered the Bible infallible….The inspired Book is inerrant” (Holland, 1998). But our culture of secularism has taught us to look to science for answers, and to look to our subjective experiences to reason out what is true for us as individuals. This goes against the idea that Biblical preaching is for everyone.

To be receptive to Biblical preaching, one must also have a fear of the unknown. The Bible contains answers to the unknown by offering salvation through Jesus Christ. But American culture is based so much on instant gratification, especially through information, that I doubt people worry much about what is unknown. They can read about what other cultures believe, and they can look to science for answers (the answers of which, to me, seems quite soul-less and depressing!). The information is so overwhelming, that it is easy to just assume that someone somewhere knows the answer, and to give up looking for one’s self. Or one might adopt an answer they have read because it “makes reasonable sense” to them at the time, without regard for any objective truth. Good Christians know that “Salvation, either present, or future, is dependent upon a knowledge of and obedience to the Word of God” (Holland, 1967).

Ultimately, “popular culture…is a man-made product, generated by a surprisingly small community of vulnerable and insecure human beings. That community has reconsidered its values and modified its priorities several times in the past, and future changes are not only possible, they are inevitable” (Medved, 1992). The question is, how can Biblical preachers contend with this? How can they—or should they—change to meet the needs of their congregation living under a new paradigm?

There is much to contend with! It is clear that these paradigms do not fit together. While that is not to say that Biblical preaching is irrelevant, preachers must be aware of what they are working against, and do what is in the scope of their power and experience to create change. To reach this generation, the preacher to be aware of their real problems and offer comfort and real answers, not fear, prejudice and damnation. Appealing to the emotions of  the congregation by scaring them into baptism is not going to work. Rather, the preacher must find the truth as he or she knows it, and make it relevant. They need to re-teach, and coax the starving soul back to health.

Bibliography

Bloom, A (1987). The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Dawkins, R (2006). The God Delusion. New York, New York: Bantam Press.

Goodreads, Inc, (2009). Quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Retrieved July 23, 2009, from Goodreads Web site: http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/show/38442

Holland, T (1998). Preaching: Principles and Practice. Brentwood, Tennessee: Penmann Books.

Holland, T. (1967). Sermon Design and Delivery. Shreveport, LA: Gussie Lambert Publications.

Lapin, D (1999). America’s Real War: An Orthodox Rabbi Insists that Judeo-Christian Values are Vital for our Nation’s Survival. Oregon: Multnomah Publishers, Inc..

Medved, M. (1992). Hollywod vs. America: Popular Culture and the War on Traditional Values. New York, New York: Harper Collins Publishers.

Why Christianity Is Not Working

December 23, 2009 Leave a comment

This is a paper I wrote for a class on Biblical Preaching. Why is a Wiccan in such a class? Well I had this fantasy that I was going to become an Army Chaplain, which requires a lot of religious classes. The professor was a fundamentalist, but claimed to be open to our spiritual values. As someone who doesn’t believe in Biblical preaching, it was a hard class to be in. But I thought it might interest you. Why do you think preaching doesn’t work in our society these days?

Cultural Trends and its Effect on Disillusionment with Preaching (part 1)

Every generation looks at their children and wonders where it all went so wrong. Parents worry about their kids listening to rock and roll, wearing torn and baggy clothes, and the language that comes out of their mouths. Kids these days seem so disrespectful! Adults tell themselves it certainly was not like that when they were young. Religion in particular has gone through some changes as the culture changes. It used to be that religion defined culture, and unified Americans as they set out on the great experiment called democracy. But times are changing. Our valued culture is slipping. Even some experts are starting to agree. Rabbi David Lapin declared,  “I believe America is in decline—not compared to five or ten years ago, but when compared to the years following World War II until the early sixties….Americans remain unaware of, or indifferent to America’s decline” (Lapin, 1999).

There is a battle going on between the left and right, old and young, Christian and other religions. The problem is the culture in America as a whole is challenging the relevance of preaching. One hundred years ago, the Bible was the standard classroom text, studied in rural and urban school houses all across the country. Now you can scarcely find a Bible in a school library. The focus is on secularism, and our culture has generally become anti-religious. The new generation of Americans “have come to feel that religious America poses the real threat to our continuity, so they instinctively migrate to the end of the rope opposite from religious conservatives. Although not committed to every nuance of secularism, they consider it the lesser of two evils and lend their not inconsiderable weight to the left of the rope” (Lapin, 1999).

Where do these ideas come from? They are imbedded in our own culture; the way we educate our children, the media and entertainment that permeates our society, in new religious movements and evolving concepts of what it means to be an American. Post-modernism and Consumerism has changed American culture forever, leaving religion behind. The effect the culture has had on our nation’s children is becoming more obvious as traditional values slip away. Paradigms shift, but the beliefs necessary to relate to Biblical preaching have not. The seeds of Christianity through sermonism fall on fallow ground.

The “New” Education

These ideas perhaps begin in the way we educate our children. Education now focuses heavily on awareness of multiculturalism. Instead of reading Milton and Augustine, they read Maya Angelou and Sherman Alexie. It may sound an atrocity to set aside the great literature of the past, but “the purpose of their education is not to make them scholars but to provide them with a moral virtue—openness” (Bloom, 1987). This “openness” is intended to create a society that welcomes all people, regardless of race or religion, but it also creates subjectivism. Each identity is voiced individually, but very little is shared. This type of education goes beyond the classroom: “People sup together, play together, travel together, but they do not think together. Hardly any homes have any intellectual life whatsoever, let alone one that informs the vital interests of life” (Bloom, 1987).

Instead, our schools promote a secular education, where religion of any kind, whether mainstream or not, is neither taught nor considered. Rather, the student learns to worship science and reason. Passion is removed. Students who prefer a Creationist, rather than Evolutionary, belief are ridiculed by teachers and peers alike. For the sake of openness, no religious ideas are taught or publicly tolerated in the classroom. One critic suggests that in education, “there is no enemy other than the man who is not open to everything. But when there are no shared goals or vision of the public good, is the social contract any longer possible” (Bloom, 1987)? The social contract of openness and tolerance for differences does not give students a sense of shared identity as Americans. With no shared values, how are we to get along?

With regards to Biblical preaching, this type of education has students looking broadly across many religions and cultures, rather than deeply into their own. Secular education teaches an avoidance of religion, and an avoidance of one source for truth, effectively negating the potential power of the Bible for these students. Students are more aware of other religions than ever before, and the church itself is so fractured in denominationism that youth are overloaded with outside information. The simple days of growing up in one church with the family your whole life—those days are long gone. People now, literally, shop for religion. Their education in subjectivism allows them to choose their religious beliefs, rather than being told what is true.

“Hollywood vs. America”

Another problems lies in the media and entertainment which permeates our culture. The value of openness has spread to the availability of information. Now juicy items such as scandals in the church quickly become public news for the whole world to judge and comment about, without proper context. The horror of war is splayed across the nightly news. The media talks about everything without thought to decency or relevancy, and every atrocity is beamed into the living room with no thought of the consequences. It also seems that the nature of the stories themselves is changing. Lapin points out that “as such alarming stories continue, we experience less discomfort. After the second and third well-publicized cases of babies found in Dumpsters [sic], we become anesthetized….Life continues, and very few of us stop to realize that these things simply were not happening fifty years ago” (Lapin, 1999).

The openness in education and information exchange is purported to be for the support of Democracy. Professor Bloom suggests that information about other people, secularism and political moderation erode our values:

…as Tocqueville put it, in a democracy tradition is nothing more than information. With the ‘information explosion,’ tradition has become superfluous. As soon as tradition has come to be recognized as tradition, it is dead, something to which lip service is paid in the vain home of edifying the kids. In the United States, practically speaking, the Bible was the only common culture, one that united simple and sophisticated, rich and poor, young and old… (Bloom, 1987)

In Hollywood too, the traditional values are ignored. Gone are the days of a dancing and laughing Ginger Rogers and the family musical. Films contain more sex, violence and pessimism than ever before, despite the criticism from the public. Film critic and radio show host Michael Medved points out that “Hollywood ignores the concerns of the overwhelming majority of the American people who worry over the destructive messages so frequently featured in today’s movies, television and popular music” (Medved, 1992). The rating system is a help to audiences in telling them what in a film might offend them, but when choices are limited, it is difficult to find a film the whole family can agree on. Medved claims that “the apologists for the entertainment industry seldom claim that Hollywood’s messages are beneficial; they argue, rather, that those messages don’t matter” (Medved, 1992) but many know that the opposite is true. On one hand the entertainment industry is making offensive films and calling it art, but on the other hand, people are still buying tickets to see them! One hand washes the other. Does art create culture or does art reflect culture?

In particular, I think of the movie The Passion of the Christ. While the movie plot was taken from the Gospels, the visual component was so violent, that I personally could not watch it. I am reminded of a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The religion of one age is the literary entertainment of the next” (Goodreads, inc., 2009), and I wonder if the Bible is going the same route as Greek and Roman mythology, where a beautiful religion dominant for thousands of years is reduced to a Disney movie.

The church, now, is on TV, partaking of a culture it claims to despise as self-proclaimed evangelists beam their messages into living rooms and ask for a donation for God. Some of these so-called men of God become almost objects of worship as cult-like believers flock around them. One questions if true Biblical preaching is being done, or if the charisma of the preacher himself is at the audience. Perhaps it is an attempt to modernize, and use this new forum to reach people who otherwise could not (or would not!) attend services. This sort of evangelicalism has become absorbed in the fabric of our American culture and, for better or worse, impacts the way many people understand Biblical preaching.

Indeed, the very definition of what it means to be an American has changed. We cling to our puritanical roots, yet uphold rationalism and secularism as a national value. Americans have struggled to balance religion and rationalism since the beginning. One atheist points out that “The whole point of religious faith, its strength and chief glory, is that it does not depend on rational justification. The rest of us are expected to defend our prejudices. But ask a religious person to justify their faith and you infringe ‘religious liberty’” and then turns around to apologetically say “I am not in favor of offending or hurting anyone just for the sake of it. But I am intrigued and mystified by the disproportionate privileging of religion in our otherwise secular societies” (Dawkins, 2006). For him and many others, the two beliefs cannot exist simultaneously, yet we know that the best of Biblical preaching comes out of a rational argument. Part of this struggle, I believe, is imbedded in our own history, particularly with slavery. Separation of church and state requires us to keep religion out of the classroom and out of politics. But in reality, if there were no moral compass, we would still have slavery and segregation. It was thanks to religious leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr that the Civil Rights laws were passed to allow human beings to be truly equal in this country.

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