Everything Must Change by Brian McLaren: Book Review

In Everything Must Change, Brian McLaren maps his journey with two questions that have shaped his life: What are the biggest problems in the world? and What does Jesus have to say about these?  With these framing questions, he signals to religious educators immediately the degree to which his approach is squarely within the liberation paradigm.  This book, is premised on the assumption that the concrete situations that face humankind are the site at which religious education must begin.

Action is, without a doubt, something McLaren believes is essential—and he writes to those that share his desire to translate faith into a “way of life that makes a positive difference in the world” (3).  Not content to merely goad or guilt readers into action, McLaren

Liberative Pedagogy: Educating for Social Transformation

I can still remember the sights and sounds of Kibera, Nairobi’s largest slum. I had made the trip to Kenya during the Christmas break of my junior year in college and I had been visiting the missionary families of two roommates. Jesse and his mom, who worked for an NGO, knew a family who lived in Kibera, and we were to be their guests. This experience was, on the surface, unremarkable. There were no moments of conflict or fear and no profound utterances on the lips of our hosts, and yet the simplicity of this event was no-less deeply educative. Merely to sit on the blanket-covered dirt floor of this corrugated metal home, to see the posters of Western pop-icons on the wall, to receive a meal and a Coke from those who scarcely had enough to eat themselves was, for me, a new experience of being with those on the underbelly of the world.

Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 30th Anniversary Edition
Paulo Friere, the patron saint of liberative pedagogy, gives voice to the central problem of humankind, that of “humanization”. For Friere and those who have followed in his wide wake, education is fundamentally about helping the oppressed to become more fully human. Friere’s language for this is frequently focused on empowering the oppressed to become Subjects, escaping the oppressive system in which they are mere objects or reflections of the oppressors. No longer must the oppressed be defined as the antithesis of the oppressors, but as “human in the process of achieving freedom” (49). Friere suggests that in order to “surmount the situation of oppression, people must first critically recognize its causes, so that through transforming action they can create a new situation, one that makes possible the pursuit of a fuller humanity” (47). The process of rising to critical reflection on reality as a human-made, and culture as pliable is known as conscientization.

Picasso's Dance of Youth: A Theological Encounter

     The immediate impression of this piece is one of vibrant simplicity. Its simplicity is conveyed through the plain white background and primary colors reminiscent of crayons and kindergarten. Simple, too, and childish, is the scribblish nature of the lines, lines themselves the simplest form of marking. The overall circular shape of the image also hints at simplicity. But the circle is far from sterile—it is bursting with energy. This energy and vitality is found in the energetic motion we imagine must have taken place to create the freehanded lines we see. The circling characters, too, seem to be in motion—dancing and laughing and singing as they hold hands. With knees up and an uncertain relationship to the ground, the circle of celebrants is so full of life and joy that their levity manifests as levitation.

Need a Simple Church Website? Consider Crossroads Premium WordPress Theme

A church I served not too long ago had quite a prolonged fiasco trying to upgrade their severely dated and impractical website.  Literally, years and thousands of dollars later, they settled for one that, in my opinion is barely par. While this waste of funds was unfortunate for this church, their size and budget meant that hardly anyone noticed.  But if you're leading in a small or medium-size congregation, this simply isn't an option. And yet, you know your website needs an upgrade. You're going to want to check this out.

Aristech Media has created a theme for the WordPress platform that is simple, attractive and effective--and ridiculously affordable at $32. Even better, if you're the first person to comment on this post I'll get you a free copy of the theme. You can check out a live demo here.

It has some nice features such as Google Maps integration, a built-in contact form, flexibility in layouts and a jquery-powered slideshow.

One of my favorite things about the theme is that it's loaded with slots for images, giving it a contemporary feel unlike some church websites that are drowning in text.  

Take a look for yourself at the Crossroads Premium Church Theme.

Evangelicals and Politics since 1980: A Documentary

Reagan was the first presidential candidate who the press credited Evangelicals for electing in 1980, the year I was born.  Find 50 minutes to watch this excellent PBS documentary (The final episode of an excellent six part series).

It looks at key figures including Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Robert Cizik, Rick Reed, Jim Wallis, George W. Bush and Barack Obama evenhandedly. 

Watch the full episode. See more FRONTLINE.

The Sociology of Catalyst Pt 5: Trying to Change the World

While all “religions create action orientations,” one of the most striking, and for some alarming, facts about Catalyst is its undeniable attention to impacting, engaging and changing the world.[38]  As Smith notes in Christian America?, evangelicals are the most “most intensely distinctive and most publically oriented subgroup of conservative Protestants.”[39]  Furthermore, as Smith documents repeatedly, the language used by some evangelicals has caused media and society generally to view them as organized and poised for a rather aggressive campaign to change the nation.

The Sociology of Catalyst Pt 4: Hipsters in the Kingdom

In contrast to the “coolness” of being “in the world,” Catalyst also nurtures the “hipness” of a distinct subculture, which it sees as equally important to its mission.  Smith, who argues that evangelicalism is “the strongest of the major Christian traditions in the United States today,” attributes this vitality to what he calls their “subcultural identity.”[33]  In the wake of secularization theory’s demise, Smith articulated a “subcultural identity” theory of religious vitality through eight propositions:
1) human needs for meaning are socially met,
2) group identity is necessarily in distinction,
3) religious adaption is not necessarily accommodation,
4) individual choice can strengthen religious identity,
5) reference groups, not society en mass, establish group and individual meaning,
6) modern pluralism promotes formation of strong subcultures,
7) intergroup conflict typically strengthens group identity and
8) modernity can intensify the felt needs that make religion appealing.[34]  
Through the lens of this theory, evangelicals are thriving because they, better than other Christian groups, “possess and employ the cultural tools needed to create both clear distinction from and significant engagement and tension with other relevant outgroups, short of becoming genuinely countercultural.”[35] 

The Sociology of Catalyst Pt 3: The Culture of Cool

Catalyst manifests the coolness-pursuit of being “in the world” in a myriad of ways.  First, the music used in the interims, rather than being your typical slate of Christian worship or even Christian rock, was rather a mix of popular secular hits.  Live bands in hallways, outside and from the mainstage played songs including: Jack Johnson’s “Waiting on the World to Change”; U2’s “City of Lights”; Maroon 5’s “All I Need”; Kanye West’s “Gold Digger”; Lenny Kravitz’s “Fly Away”; Boyz 2 Men’s “End of the Road”; Enimem’s “Not Afraid”; Michael Jackson’s “Beat it”; and B.o.b’s “Airplanes”.  Tweeter @jasongrant777 expressed a common sentiment: “Best Christian event ever. Yesterday an Eminem cover and today the band just covered Kanye West's gold digger now MJ's beat it #cat10 #fb”.   While I believe an in depth analysis of the lyrics and themes of these songs would yield profitable insights (for I am sure these songs were not thoughtlessly selected), this is, unfortunately, beyond the scope of this project.  Suffice it to say that Catalyst embraces popular music as a legitimate means of coolness.  
      Second, Catalyst, its exhibitors, and its attendees are sold out on popular technology.
The clearest evidence of this was the ubiquity of iphones.  I’d approximate based on my observation that half of all people present were carrying the devices.  There was enough iPhone use that I noted several comments, both on Twitter and on site, about the resultant slowing of AT&T’s 3G network.  For example, this one from @SiteOrganic: “Skinny jeans, plaid shirts, black glasses and iPads (with really slow wireless). Welcome to #cat10!” 

The Sociology of Catalyst Pt 2: Engaged Orthdoxy and Hipster Christianity

Christian Smith’s landmark American Evangelicalism: Embattled and Thriving labels the evangelical posture toward society as “engaged orthodoxy.”  Smith traces this to the founding of the American evangelical movement to the likes of Billy Graham, Harold Ockenga, Charles Fuller, and Carl Henry, beginning in the 1940s.  These reforming fundamentalists were “fully committed to maintaining and promoting confidently traditional, orthodox Protestant theology and belief, while at the same time becoming confidently and proactively engaged in the intellectual, cultural, social, and political life of the nation.”[16] 
            Almost 70 years later, “engaged orthodoxy” is alive and well with Catalyst as one of its freshest champions. 

The Sociology of Catalyst Conference Pt 1: Anonymous Evangelicalisms Hip New Hub

In October of 2010, 13,000 zealous Christian leaders gathered and talked about changing the world. This study applies some of the tools of the sociology of religion to an understanding of the organization behind this gathering, Catalyst. The research that informs this work includes participant observation at the annual Catalyst East Conference in Atlanta, Georgia on October 5-7, 2010, analysis of Catalyst’s presence on the internet, attention to participant comments via Twitter and relevant written sources. The primary questions pursued in this research center around the posture of Catalyst and those who affiliate with it toward the wider culture. In this respect, the work of Christian Smith and others on American evangelicals has proven immensely helpful.