Thursday, July 30, 2009

Adult Sunday School

I'm on a roll this week, aren't I?

I’ve been posting on our visits to different churches, and wanted to elaborate on a comment I made earlier this week. It’s a simple question, really. Why do adult Sunday School organizers assume that ‘same-gender, same-age’ groups make the most sense for adults? I can buy that for children, maybe, but adults?

I am a married 40-ish woman, without kids. I’m nerdy and intellectual. So I don’t necessarily have the same interests as other married 40-ish women. I am not a fan of Beth Moore Bible studies. I don’t really want to talk about “bringing God to your children.” I’d rather study some of the works by Augustine, or the Church fathers, or heck, even C.S. Lewis. If it’s a Bible Study I want something that gets to the meat of the texts, not just the poofy parts. But when you can actually FIND a class that offers those, it’s usually a men’s group. So I am decidedly un-inclined to go to any Sunday school class at all.

I’ve heard of ONE church (several states away) that has a great way to do Sunday School. Teachers pick the topic, then anyone who is interested in that topic can join. That’s the only restriction… you have to actually be INTERESTED in the TOPIC. This runs for three months. Then the groups disband, a new list of classes is announced, and off you go! Amazing. And you still meet folks and make friends. If you attend the classes that are typically nerdy and intellectual, then who else do you think will attend the class? Yup – other folks who are nerdy and intellectual! If you like Beth Moore, and you go to the classes that offer Beth Moore, you meet other women who like Beth Moore.


So for those of y’all out there who are Sunday school planners for your churches, think about it. Are you really helping by enforcing age and gender parameters on your adult classes?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The G. S. E.: Church B

So, last week we undertook Step Two of the Great Sociological Experiment and visited Church B. It was a large PCA church, well established with a nice website. (Heck, what did churches do before they had websites??) We arrived about 15 minutes before the service, and parked. I was exceptionally happy that no one met us with a golf cart, and I was also happy that the church campus had excellent signage so we found the main building quite easily. As we walked in a greeter asked if we were visitors, and showed us into the sanctuary. Organ on one side, grand piano on the other. Choir stall against the center wall in the front. Pulpit in the center. A large screen which indicated the upcoming use of powerpoint. (sigh) The choir director looked oddly familiar... yup. He was the chorale director at my high school. Have I mentioned how WIERD it is to live in my hometown again??

Announcements, and apparently they're in the search process for a new pastor. The layman gave a very good talk about the process, so it must be a recent thing. The choir.... ahhhhhhhh. Four-part harmony. Absolutely beautiful. And we sang out of the standard hymnal. Ah, creeds. I love the Apostle's Creed. The sermon was good, but as the philosopher mentioned later, very predestination-ist. (Is that a word?) And this pastor too also mentioned God challenging you in your complacency by taking you out of your comfort zone. (Is there a message here??!?)

Afterwards several folks stopped us and welcomed us and introduced themselves. It amuses me that the philosopher is uncomfortable admitting he's, well, a philosopher. He says it makes people uncomfortable when they hear the answer, like they don't quite know how to respond. So I told him that he should tell whoever asks, proudly, "I teach philosophy at the local university!" And if they are freaked out by that then it's their own fault for asking! ::heh::

But I liked this service much better. "Of course you did", you say, "it felt more like a liturgical service!" Yes, you are correct. It was familiar, and that has a very powerful draw. So this week, the philosopher gets to pick where we go to visit. He's mentioned a Roman Catholic parish, and another Baptist church as possibilities. So we'll see what happens next!

An Aside:
I've been noticing in my research that adult sunday school classes are almost always organized by AGE. I'm a middle-aged woman, but Beth Moore Bible studies are poofy and tedious to me. Yet that is often what the Middle-Aged Women Sunday School Classes use. Pfft. Why don't they organize classes by TOPIC, that way those of us who want to do an in-depth study of, say, the early church councils can do so, and those that like Beth Moore can do that somewhere else?

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Great Sociological Experiment

As you probably know, the philosopher and I are Anglican. Unfortunately for us, we live in an area of the country where there is a paucity of Anglican churches (at least of the kind we would be interested in joining). So we've come to the point where - if we want to worship weekly with a group of Christian believers - we need to find a different denomination. One of the things we both deeply desire is the opportunity for fellowship in small groups, an opportunity to meet folks and "make friends." It sounds a bit childish, perhaps, but when you're in a place where you have few face-to-face friends, you realize how much you long for that kind of friendship.

With that in mind, we decided, rather than go for a church which is "closest to our theology", we should look for a community that has Christ-centered teaching first, and lots of opportunity for fellowship second. The philosopher immediately dubbed this our "Great Sociological Experiment." We would be venturing out of our comfort zone of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, and into the world of Southern Baptists, PCA, Bible churches, Methodists, and goodness knows what else. And who knows, maybe we'll learn a little about ourselves too.

Our first visit was to Church A, which we identified as the "stealth Southern Baptist" variety. It's one of the largest churches in the area, with "Community" situated prominently in the name. Their website was filled with information... however, it wasn't until we went to the regional Southern Baptist website that we realized they were listed as a member of the regional Southern Baptist convention. (Thus the phrase "stealth-Baptist.") We showed up about 20 minutes before the service, and were met in the Visitors Parking Area by a nice gentleman in a golf cart, who toted us to the main doors. (How embarrassing!) We walked in and stopped at the information desk, situated between the two doors leading into the sanctuary. We were given a hearty welcome and a hefty packet of materials (including a DVD). The sanctuary? At first glance it looked like a concert hall with squishy chairs and a lobster tank. (OK, I discovered a bit later that the lobster tank was a baptismal font with one side glass so everyone can see the full immersion...) Full choir! Full orchestra! Repetitive praise music all the time! Electric instruments! Booming sound system! Video equipment for the weekly tv program! Powerpoint screens in three prominent locations! Immersion Baptism! Loud and exhortionary sermon ending in an altar call! SENSORY OVERLOAD. Whew.

Reactions? (Other than the ringing of the ears and the slight dizzy feeling?) The preaching was all about getting to heaven, so that was good. And the preacher did say one thing that stuck with me. He talked about God putting us in uncomfortable situations for a reason, so we can learn how to better serve Him. Yeah. I am So There. I also like praise music, probably more than the philosopher, and I enjoy singing with a guitar. But I prefer hymnody, and I deeply appreciate a choir in four-part harmony singing beautiful choral anthems. So I don't know that I could worship that was every week. There's just too much going on and not enough "down" time. They do have about 50 Sunday school and small groups, tho. That's a plus!

I plan to continue posting about each church we visit. So look soon for the next one!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

A Ferret and a Calculator

There's a new show on SyFy (what used to be the SciFi channel) called Warehouse 13. (No, I didn't link to the SyFy official website for the show because I find it amazing annoying!) I haven't been able to watch it yet, but merely from a *description* of *one scene* I'm already a fan. It's a cross between the X-Files and Sanctuary with a little Eureka thrown in for good measure, and features two secret service agents (a la Mulder and Scully temperaments) being assigned to work in a warehouse full of... unique... artifacts. The scene is this: a magical teapot that grants wishes. But if you wish for something impossible it gives you... wait for it... a ferret. ::SNORT:: I have it downloaded on the computer at home, and I plan to watch it this weekend. But just from that alone, I give it a thumbs up!

Of course, it helps to understand that I'm someone who loves this kind of random behavior from inanimate objects. I am also a huge fan of Douglas Adams, in particular his Dirk Gently books. There's one scene in Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency where Dirk buys a calculator, an "i ching" calculator. Let me quote:

The electronic I Ching calculator was badly made. It had probably been manufactured in whichever of the South-East Asian countries was busy tooling up to do to South Korea what South Korea was busy doing to Japan. Glue technology had obviously not progressed in that country to the point where things could be successfully held together with it. Already the back had half fallen off and needed to be stuck back on with Sellotape.

It was much like an ordinary pocket calculator, except that the LCD screen was a little larger than usual, in order to accommodate the abridged judgments of King Wen on each of the sixty-four hexagrams, and also the commentaries of his son, the Duke of Chou, on each of the lines of the hexagram. These were unusual texts to see marching across the display of a pocket calculator, particularly as they had been translated from the Chinese via the Japanese and seemed to have enjoyed many adventures on the way.

The device also functioned as an ordinary calculator, but only to a limited degree. It could handle any calculation which returned an answer of anything up to "4".

"1 + 1" it could manage ("2"), and "1 + 2" ("3") and "2 + 2" ("4") or "tan 74" ("3.4874145"), but anything above "4" it represented merely as "A Suffusion of Yellow". Dirk was not certain if this was a programming error or an insight beyond his ability to fathom, but he was crazy about it anyway, enough to hand over £20 of ready cash for the thing.

So hurrah for the strange and unexpected! (Like two posts from me in a single day!)

::Sigh:: What's wrong with the RSV?

I was in the Christian bookstore biz for quite a number of years. I saw all manner of kookiness cross the pages of some publishers' catalogs. I saw the advent of the "Bible Magazine" from Thomas Nelson (now in its 5th edition... ::shudder:: )

But now... there's a whole new generation of bizarro-Bibles meant to reach a particular audience. Are you a hip urban teen? Try THIS.

Most recently? Are you an environmentalist and keep careful track of your carbon footprint? Now there's a Bible just for YOU! The Green Bible (H/T Justin)

How far should publishers go to promote the Word of God (leaving aside for the moment the question of whether or not their goal is to spread the Gospel or make some profit) before they turn the Word of God into a laughingstock or a sad, sick joke? If I were an urban hipster, I would get a laugh out of that Bible, and not much more. Hmm - like the laugh folks gave Episcopal church when it published its hip-hop prayer book, with it's catchy 23rd Psalm "The Lord is all that, I need for nothing." (Oh, my eyes! My eyes!)

I admit the Bible can be difficult to read. And any translation suffers from the fact that it's... well... a TRANSLATION. But rather than trying to be hip and relevant to whatever audience you're trying to reach, doesn't it make more sense simply to preach the gospel? If you do that, honestly and earnestly, there shouldn't be any need for tricks or gimmicks.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A Visit to Middle Earth

We didn't actually intend to go to Middle Earth on our vacation this past weekend. However, we did go to West Virginia and visit our favorite biologist. And while in West Virginia we drove up to Fayetteville and visited the longest metal arch bridge in the Western Hemisphere. Which goes across the New River Gorge. Which is a national park. But I digress!

While hiking on the Canyon Rim Bridge Trail (which runs down from the top of the canyon about 2/3rds of the way down into the gorge, going under the bridge itself), I am fully convinced we crossed into Middle Earth.

We saw an Ent. Not Treebeard, but certainly one of his kin.

We walked along the Road from Hobbiton to Bree. (Alas, no elves!)

We climbed the Straight Stair towards the pass atop Cirith Ungol.
(We were lucky as no Shelob met us at the top.)

And finally under the bridge itself, as the cars drove by far overhead, we seemed to hear the wail of the Ringwraiths. The enormous bridge made us feel quite Hobbit-like, and as we trekked back up the steep trail we were happy to see the top of the canyon once again!