Monday, May 28, 2007

So you think you're an Oregonian?

Sometime this week, I'm going to post a list of resources for people who are new to the state -- but first, a quiz for all you long-time residents out there. The answers are given in the "Comments" section of this post.

1. Name the man who donated these drinking fountains to the City of Portland. (See the photo just above.)

2. Name three movies that were filmed in Astoria.

3. What is Peacock Spit?

4. No sooner did the Portland Trailblazers win the NBA Championship in 1977 than CBS immediately cut away from covering the celebration so that we could watch what event?

5. Crater Lake marks the site of what used to be the tallest mountain in Oregon – name it.

6. Identify the following:
a. Packy.
b. Ramona Quimby
c. Oswald West
d. Ramblin’ Rod
e. Abigail Scott Duniway
f. The Great Pumpkin
g. Pre

7. Where was the Pixie Kitchen?

8. What are the words for the jingle that was always sung at the end of Franz Bread TV commercials? (Bonus point if you can sing it!)

9. What is the name of the shipwreck on the beach at Ft. Stevens State Park?

10. What made the Junior Building so popular with young boys at the Oregon Campmeeting?

Bonus Point: Have you ever spent a day picking strawberries?

Thursday, May 24, 2007

What's more, the I-5 Corridor will be re-named "the City of Seagene."

Here's the deal: right now, the Portland metro area has two million people.

By 2040 -- that's just 23 years away -- it will be home to somewhere between three and four million people.

That's the prediction of The Oregonian's Randy Gragg . . . and if you want to put that in perspective, just imagine a new town the size of Corvallis popping into existence every year for the next twenty years. That's a million people.

Want to make it two million? Make it a new town the size of Springfield. Every year. For the next twenty years.

So what is this going to mean for us? Right off the bat, not much; we're "only" talking about an annual growth-rate of 3% or so -- not enough to notice a dramatic increase in any given year. But maintain that rate of growth for twenty years, and you will see:
  • More congestion: this won't hurt church services -- who else is on the road Saturday mornings? -- but I suspect it's going to make life tough for PAA. (Try to imagine rush hour on I-205 with twice as many people.)
  • More sprawl: expect the present-day boom in places like Forest Grove, Woodburn, and Camas to go supernova.
  • A higher cost of living: if Los Angeles is any guide, this will make it even more difficult to recruit pastors and teachers into the area.
Finally, we'll need to do some serious thinking about where we're going to put all these people if we want them to attend an Adventist church.

Right now, the Oregon Conference has roughly one active member for every 250 Oregonians. (I know, I know -- we have one member for every 117 Oregonians, but I'm guessing that just over half of those "members" are inactive.)

Anyway, that means that doing nothing more than just maintaining the current ratio of Adventists to Oregonians means we'll need to attract and accomodate another 4,000 church members in the metro area. -- minimum.

That's if the metro area "only" adds a million people. Add two million and . . . well, you do the math.

To put that in perspective: 4,000 new members is the equivalent of planting a hundred-member church every six months for the next twenty years.

Of course, we could try to squeeze most of these people into existing congregations -- but you don't manage that kind of growth without seriously rethinking the way you do church. (Don't believe me? Talk to pastors in Idaho about what happened when Pacific Press moved there from California.)

In short, the key text for the next two decades is going to be Luke 10:2.

And our job will be figuring out how to make that verse come true.

I just hope they had an intelligent designer

Answers in Genesis believes God created the world in six literal days roughly 6,000 years ago -- and to promote this belief, they've opened a $27 million Creation Museum in Kentucky.

A reporter from the New York Times recently toured this museum; if you want to know what he thought of it, then click on the title of this post. And if you'd like to read The Christian Science Monitor's article (which includes lots of quotes by historian-of-science Ron Numbers), then click here.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The church is a family -- and you know what some families are like!

Just in time for this year's Nominating Committee report (not to mention all those calls that are undoubtedly coming your way), Leadership magazine offers "Church Politics" 101 -- five tips on how to survive life as a pastor with your honor intact.

One thing that's missing from this article: while it offers good advice on dealing with the politics of church members, it says nothing about dealing with the Conference office or other pastors. (Any suggestions, people?)

Click on the title of this post for the article.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Handbook for Revolution

As John Carpenter writes in this month's Books & Culture:

A recently rediscovered religious text is making huge waves in the world today. With stunning power, it is driving the largest religious change in human history. This book is subversive, revolutionary, and transformative in its approach to good and evil; spirituality; politics; wealth and poverty; race, ethnicity, and social status; gender and sexuality; and health and healing. It also reveals long-hidden truths about Jesus of Nazareth. What is this book? Is it the Gospel of Thomas? No. How about The Da Vinci Code? Hardly.

It's the Bible.
With that, Carpenter goes on to review Philip Jenkin's new book, The New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South.

In his earlier book, The Next Christiandom: the Coming of Global Christianity, Jenkins had pointed out that the majority of Christians today live in Africa, Asia, and Latin America -- and in both theology and mores, they much more "orthodox" and "conservative" than the churches of North America and Europe.

Notice, however, the quotation marks around "orthodox" and "conservative." Far from being a copy of our own Fundamentalists, these Christians have been extremely creative in contextualizing the Gospel -- and its just this contextualization that Jenkins goes on to explore in The New Faces of Christianity.

As Jenkins points out, believers in Africa and Asia live in a world where the Bible makes sense -- and what's more, the Bible helps them make sense of their world. Poverty, idolatry, injustice, and spiritual warfare are not exotic concepts that must somehow be "translated" into modern life; they are the day-to-day reality of these believers.

Jenkin's The New Faces of Christianity is probably one of the ten most important books I've read in my ministry -- and I know for a fact that all the Conference presidents in the North Pacific Union Conference got together to read it and discuss it. But if Carpenter's review is any guide, this book is even better.

(Click on the title of this post for the link to the article.)

At least it still rains

When I was growing up, two of the things that defined Oregon were salmon and strawberries.

The salmon? Well, you know what's happening to them.

As for the strawberries, an article in The Portland Business Journal tells me they're disappearing too.

(Click on the title of this post for a link to the article.)

Monday, May 21, 2007

The new face of the Christian Right.

Good article in the New York Times on the "new breed" of Evangelical Christian leaders that are taking over from the likes of Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and James Dobson. They are:
  • more likely to be pastors than media evangelists -- and as such, they are more reluctant to do anything that might annoy large groups of people.
  • more interested in social issues such as climate change, Darfur, and AIDS.
  • but just as conservative as the "old guard" when it comes to abortion and gay rights.
(Click on the title of this post for the article.)

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Hope I die 'fore I get old.

Seeker-friendly. Purpose-driven. Emergent -- and now "post-emergent."

What do all these trends have in common?

According to a recent post in Out of Ur -- the Christianity Today blog for pastors -- they're all rooted in the youth ministries revolution that took place in the 1960s.

And reading through that post, you realize that, by and large, youth ministries in the Adventist Church pretty much missed out on that revolution, i.e. we still see youth ministries as a "stepping stone" to real ministry.

Click on the title of this post for the link.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

This wouldn't be a problem if we could just make sure we had respectable sinners in our church

Okay, so the President of the United States is a member of your church. You've reason to believe that his views on torture are not in line with those of your denomination (i.e. United Methodist) -- and so the question comes up of church discipline.

To put it bluntly: should you disfellowship the President of the United States?

That's the question they're kicking around at Theolog -- a blog for mainline Protestant pastors. As you might guess, it's quickly become a debate about the nature and purpose of the church, i.e. is it a hospital for sinners (viz. Augustine) or a school for saints (viz. the Anabaptists)?

And yes, even if the President of the United States is not a member of your church, you are guaranteed to have a discussion about church discipline at some point in your ministry -- so click on the title of this post for the link, and maybe we can learn something?

If Christopher Hitchens did not exist, would we have to invent him?

There's been a remarkable spate of books lately about atheism -- and all of them say pretty much the same thing.
  • We don't need religion.
  • Religious people behave badly.
  • And the world would be a much better place if people gve up their belief in God (or gods) and took up golf instead.
In all honesty, those first two points have proved remarkably popular; according to The New Yorker, atheism is now the fourth-largest "religion" in the world.

It's that third point -- the quest to come up with an alternative for religion -- that has been more problematic. Dawkins and Hawker have suggested that Science (with a capital "S") will someday come up with an answer; Hitchens seems to suggest that it's all just a matter of enjoying life, facing our fears, and invading Iraq.

For a remarkable fair-minded discussion in The New Yorker of recent books on this subject, click on the title of this post.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

"The lack of money is the root of all evil."

For all of you Oregon pastors who are figuring out your monthly worker's report this week -- you can be reimbursed for the trip to see Robert Folkenberg Jr. at a rate of 38-cents per mile, PLUS you can charge per diem. (It's $17 if you're charging for one meal, and $34 if it was two or more meals for the day).

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Actually, much of what we do in church doesn't make sense to us, either.

I live in Oregon -- the least-churched state in America.

That's why I was especially interested in The Christian Science Monitor's profile of Hemant Mehta -- a young atheist who was paid by a pastor to attend church and then report back on what he thought of it all.

The result?

Let's just say that "seeker sensitive services" seems to be more promise than reality in most of the churches Mehta attended. His most common response, as a matter of fact, was sheer confusion.

(Click on the title of this post for the article.)

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Time for foreign policy experts to "wake up and smell the incense."

John DiIulio has a new book out on the role of religion in foreign policy -- and for those of us who aren't up to reading all of his Godly Republic: A Centrist Blueprint for America's Faith-based Future, he's been kind enough to boil it down into an essay for The Weekly Standard, i.e. the magazine of record for all you neo-conservatives out there.

So what does he say?
  1. The world is not becoming more secular.
  2. Foreign policy mavens would do well to learn more about religion.
  3. The USA would do well to start throwing more money at religious organizations.
As obvious as that first point may appear, it runs directly counter to the received wisdom of just a few years ago. I can remember a famous missiologist telling a group of us theology majors, for isntance, that there were three things about the future of which we could be absolutely certain:
  • society would grow ever more secular,
  • socialism would grow ever more popular,
  • and the world would grow increasingly urban.
Okay, so one out of three ain't bad.

His second point may seem obvious as well; unfortunately, many of the people who direct American foreign policy are shockingly ignorant of even the most basic issues in religion. Jeff Stein, for instance, is the national security editor at the Congressional Quarterly; over the past few months, he's been asking high-ranking members of Congress if they could tell him the difference betweeen Sunni and Shiite Moslems.

The bad news? Most could not.

The really bad news? Neither could the brand-new director of the FBI's national security branch.

So give DiIulio two out of three: religion is important, and even the most secular of foreign policy experts should learn more about it.

It's DiIulio's third point that makes me queasy -- the idea that all this means our government should start funding faith-based social programs, both domestic and overseas.

Number one, I don't see how this follows from his first two points.

Number two, I don't think it's going to be all that helpful to American foreign policy.

And number three, I don't think it's going to be all that good for the churches.

To be sure, DiIulio's article may be nothing more than wishful thinking. The debacle in Iraq has cost neo-conservatives a lot of the influence they once had in Bush's White House; I doubt if too many people are going to be taking them seriously in the near future.

Then again, neo-conservatives are a resilient bunch. They re-cast their movement after the fall of the Soviety Union; they may yet do so again. And DiIulio's article may be the first, tentative steps towards a new agenda for this country . . .

As well as the church.

(Click on the title of this post for the article.)

Creation and Evolution

The Economist ran a great article about the Catholic church's view on evolution and creation; it also offers a quick synopsis of the recent setback for Intelligent Design in the USA, as well as the growing creationist movement in Turkey, Russia, and Brazil.

Click on the title of this post for the article.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

House churches

According to the Barna Group, nine-percent of American adults are involved in some kind of "house church," i.e. a religious group that meets in someone's home.

Nine-percent -- that's up from one-percent just a few years ago!

Now I suspect that most of those people are also part of a large, traditional church; it's not a case of "either/or" in other words, but "both/and." I'd also suspect that many of those "house churches" are really an extension of those larger churches and their ministries. (Think "Bible study group" or even "prayer meeting.")

Still, if Barna is right, we're witnessing an explosion of interest in small groups . . . and if this continues, we may need to rethink our role as pastors.

I mean, here we have something that costs nothing to set up (and if you've looked at the cost of building a new church on the West Coast, then you know that house churches have a major selling point right there!) Then too, house churches are big on authenticity and relationships -- two factors that have "post-modern" written all over them.

But you don't need a $75,000/year professional to run a house church (or even a whole bunch of house churches). So do we wish them well (and stay out of their way) -- or is there something constructive we can do here?

(And while I'm at it -- I've yet to hear a convincing explanation of just how children fit into the house church movement. Any first-hand testimonies out there, people?)

Click on the title of this post for the article in The Seattle Times.