Saturday Is For Sharing

My favorite blog post of the week: Tim Hughes on Pastoral Identity: Costume or Calling (at

Pastoral identity can be a great and mysterious calling, a flash of lighting and thunder on the Damascus Road. But sometimes being a pastor is no more complicated than showing up and marveling that God shows up too.

My favorite podcast of the week: “Why Is Mason Reece Crying? by Reply All

My favorite song this week: “Ohio,” by River City Extension

Stuff I made this week:

A podcast with Aric Clark:

a teaser video for this Sunday’s sermon:

A discussion guide for confirmation class about church membership:

Christianity After Religion: A New Vision–Believing (Or Why Brian, Landon, And Chad Are Always Right)

Finally, a useful proposal for confirmation in a progressive mainline church.

After four years of half-heartedly running 9th graders through a doctrinal gauntlet of the divine attributes, Christology, and the authority of Scripture, Diana Butler-Bass has given clear voice to the nagging sense I’ve had that trying to tell young people what Christians believe is a fool’s errand. It’s doesn’t help them. It can only leave them with a choice: do I also believe that Jesus miraculously healed people and that God is all powerful? The clear implication is that if they don’t, then they’re not Christians and shouldn’t say that they are.

While the “Belief” chapter in Butler-Bass’s new book Christianity After Religion: The End of The Church And The Beginning of A New Spiritual Awakening never addresses confirmation directly, the implications for it and for every expression of Christian formation are far-reaching.

Consider this summation of why focusing on “what” Christians ought to believe is problematic in the second decade of the 21st century:

As science, history, and psychology offered ever more sophisticated understandings of the universe and human experience, some Christians became increasingly hostile to secular knowledge, building museums to creationism, proclaiming that America is a Christian nation, and excommunicating those who would question the existence of hell. Put simply, as they reacted to unbelief, certain Christians asked for more belief about increasingly unbelievable things.

In order to redefine the religious question of “what do I believe?,” Butler-Bass proposes two “spiritual questions”: how do I believe? and who do I believe? This is going to be my new rubric for engaging confirmation, like, now.

Take the former:

How differs from what. “How do I get to your house?” “How would that move change my family’s life?” “How do I love?” How is the interrogator of direction, of doing, of curiosity, of process, of learning, of living.

In short, “how” is experiential.

“Who” is also experiential. “Who” is about my experience of a relationship with a person and of that person’s authenticity. “In the emerging spiritual culture, what matters much less than who is sharing the news, and the messenger has become the message.”

“Who” is about privileging relationships in faith formation.

Take my friends Brian, Chad, and Landon.

Brian is in charge of a church agency responsible for making recommendations about controversial matters related to denominational investments. For over 10 years, I’ve known Brian as a faithful, responsible, trustworthy friend. What I believe about his agency’s recommendations has as much to do with my friendship with Brian as it does  my objective reading of the issues themselves. Not because he’s my boy and I’ve got his back (as true as that is) but because I can’t believe that he would stake his faith and conviction to a recommendation that wasn’t worth those things. I know he wouldn’t.

Same thing with my friend Landon, a friend of nearly 20 years and a hopeless malcontent who’s always looking to upset someone’s apple cart. What I have experienced in my long friendship with Landon is a person who authentically engages matters that I and others leave alone. I’ve come to trust my sense that if Landon is stirred up about something, then perhaps I should be to. My relationship has taught me that he doesn’t get twitterpated about insignificant things.

Also Chad. Chad is typically my first call when I have disquieting questions, not simply because he’s a theological gangsta who quotes Moltmann in his sleep, but more importantly because he pays close attention to my questions and never answers what I’m not asking, whether I’m asking about the Reformed understanding of providence or the merits of a new Android smartphone. My relationship with him has taught me that Chad’s a reliable cat, and I’m tilted toward belief in everything he says.

What relationships shape how you believe? Are you totally comfortable privileging those relationships in parsing out the stuff of faith, or does that feel too subjective?

What does a theology grounded in relationships of trust and authenticity look like?

Previous posts on Christianity After Religion:

When Religion Fails

Questioning The Old Gods

The End of The Beginning

The Beginning

Confirmation as Collective: A New Culture of Learning, part 3

See the first two posts in this series here and here.

Also, here’s a good review of the book by education policy expert Charles Kerchner.

Now, confirmation and the collective . . .

What if a confirmation class was a collective of self-directed learners? What if, instead of giving confirmands a series of lessons on the doctrines and practices that constitute Christianity, we unearthed some things about faith and church that these students had a personal stake in exploring and then guided their exploration?

If we did confirmation in the New Culture of Learning envisioned by John Seely Brown and Douglas Thomas then we would marry their internal motivation with an unlimited information source.

I feel sort of handcuffed about finding that internal motivation.

The unlimited information source, though, we have that. Youth can explore the full text of Scripture, all of our confessional documents, and an unlimited variety of Christian faith practices with online technology.

A YouTube search for “lectio divina,” for example, produces these results.

Here’s the full text of the Book of Confessions in searchable pdf form.

Oremus and Bible Gateway are easy-to-use, easy-to-search online Bible platforms.

Here’s a downloadable daily prayer podcast in mp3 format.

We could do this. Our task in guiding students in this process would be to help them see where their particular questions and insights fit into the overall canopy of the Reformed understanding and expression of Christian faith. There are several books and video curricula we can use for this.

Who’s with me?

What does this approach overlook? What could be limited about it?

Needing Some Confirmation

I’ve wrestled with confirmation for two years now as an Associate Pastor. I never did it as a youth, and I’ve never spent any length of time in a church that did. So I’ve read and re-read, thought and re-thought the process we put 9th graders through more times than I’ll recount.

One thing I’ve changed this year is the statement of faith that confirmands are routinely asked to produce. Heavily influenced by this Martin Copenhaver essay in The Christian Century, I’m instead asking youth to compose a narrative instead of a statement. Copenhaver writes

Over the years I have come to realize that I am just not that interested in a 15-year-old’s reflection on eternal matters. In fact, I think we do youths a disservice by implying that they have anything important to say on such things at that point in their lives. Doing so may only create more adults who are overly infatuated with their own opinions.

I’ve asked our church’s 15 year-olds to write something that answers three questions:

  1. How has God been involved in your past?
  2. How is God involved in your present?
  3. How do you hope  God will be involved in your future?

I’ve given them lots of fodder questions for addressing each of those three. They have “about a page” to work with, and they know it will be shared with their fellow confirmands, with me, and with the church session (governing board).

Is this a better way?