thoughts on showing up to all that is

Archive for November, 2012


So do you remember how you used to purchase a song?  Way back when you had to go to a place called a record store.  And then you had to buy an entire LP and pay for 12 songs you didn’t want to get the one you did want.  And today, to the extent we even buy music, you go on-line, and download the one song you want and make a customizable play list.  This is the trend of unbundling, and it’s effect is being felt everywhere.

I heard this provovative comment from David Wilkens, a Harvard Law Professor, speaking at an event at Hamline University.  His address was about global trends and its implications on the practice of law, but those same trends are affecting religion too.  This one of unbundling hit home with me.

Wilkens further explained that buyers today are way smarter and more sophisticated and have access to a whole lot more information.  That has changed the fundamental nature of competiion.  It used to be about reputation and experience.  Now it is about outputs.  What are you offering that is of value to me?  And those outputs are being measured by sophisticated metrics such as Craig’s List, Angie’s List, Rate My Professor.  It has changed the nature of production.  It is no longer about law firms but networks, with information, ideas and people being co-developed.  The good news he said is that the world is becoming more complex, and people are going to need help figuring out this complexity, but they are also going to push aside the idea that the only way to do that is to get a customized, built from the ground up solution.  They are not interested in a beautiful legal product but they want a solution to a problem that is repeatable and affordable and that reality is allowing different kinds of competitors to compete to solve these problems.  The traditional legal business is being hollowed out by these other competitors taking pieces of it.

So when was the last time your church has a monopoly on all the people who moved into your community seeking a Christian community or even one with your particualar brand?  It used to be that way.  There are folks who remember starting their church in the 1950’s and 60’s where they would put up the sign “new United Methodist Church” and all the United Methodists in that community would go there, and to think about starting a second United Methodist church in that community was unheard of.  Why would we give people a choice?  And when people came to us, we met them on our terms.  They got Jesus and spiritual community in the way we packaged it.  There was a onse size worship fits all, and it only happened at 10am on Sunday mornings.

So how is that working for us today?  The resource providers to religion and spiritual practices have mushroomed. I can go to a paid spiritual director.  I can read all sorts of books that I can download on Amazon and read in the comfort of my home.  I can go to a yoga class, or take a spiritual pilgrimmage with a travel group.  I can go on a mission trip with a variety of non-profit organizations.  I can buuld houses with Habitat and feed children with Feed My Starving Children, and I can have an Outward Bound experience in the summer to stretch myself emotionally, mentally and spiritually.  All good things, by the way.  And that is just to name a few that come to mind, let alone all the choices I have for worshipping communities.  The church is not the only place to meet my spiritual needs.  So how do we respond to this phenomonon?

One of David Wilkens parting shots to the law community was that they needed to innovate to meet this changing landscape.  He said, “whatever you think about billable hours, flat fee billing is not the iphone.”  I would say adding a contemporary worship, or screens in our sanctuary,  is our flat fee billing.  We think we are being innovate and creative (and it is a step) but an incremental one at best.  No matter how much we might wish it differently, the information revoution has changed everything.  People don’t need to come to us to learn about Jesus.  But they are still looking for someone to help them to make sense out of all the competing information out there and they are looking for help for the problems in their lives and hope for their future.  So how do we need to change our delivery system because they aren’t going to come to us for the LP anymore if that is all we have to give them?


The American Dream

I believe we can keep the promise of our founders, the idea that if you are willing to work hard, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from or what you look like or where you love.  It doesn’t matter whether you are black or white or Hispanic or Asian or young or old or rich or poor, able, disabled, gay or straight, you can make it here in America if you are willing to try.                        –Barak Obama 

I heard this snippet on President Barak Obama’s acceptance speech on MPR on my way into work this morning.  I was surprised to feel a tear welling up in the corner of my eye and how much emotion was stirring in me just in listening to these few words passionately spoken.  Yes, I am a little sleep deprived this momrning which always makes me more on edge emotionally, but this was something more.  It connected to me deeply.  This is what I believe.  This is what I want for all people.  And for me it is not just the American dream.  It is the God dream. 

This past weekend I was on a TEC (Teens Encounter Christ) weekend as a spiritual director.  My talk to the youth centered on John 3:16…that God loved the world…the whole world…not just the rich or not just the  poor, not just the successful or the educated, not just the whites or the blacks, but the whole world…and God love was given for one fundamental purpose…that we would live.  That we would ALL live.  I wanted them to know, no matter what, they were included, they were loved, they have a future with hope, and whatever  and however they feel like their situatuon or life has been shaped or defined up to this point, God was not done.  It could be more.

Isn’t that the basic hope of each person.  To know we matter.  To feel like we have a chance.  And to be able to make a life: a life where there is joy and meaning and purpose.  And for too many people there are too many barriers put in their way, too many judgments made about who they are and where they have come from.  It is not right.  It is not American.  And it is not Christian.  We are better than that. 

So today, I pray for our country.  I pray that we might be more than we have been.   I pray that I will do what I can today, tomorrow and the next day, to help create the kind of communiy and country where all people really do have the opportunity to make it if they are willing to try.  Today, I will once again stake my life in the proclamation of John 3:16, that yes, I am loved, and so is every other person on this earth, and therefore, my life is inextricably bound with theirs.

Some pundits say that in this election millions of dollars was spent and nothing was fundamentally changed.  We will have four more years of gridlock.  Perhpas.  But something got changed in me this morning.  And Imaybe, just maybe, that is the change that matters most  It is where the American dream will rise or fall: in each of us, in what we choose to believe to be true and how we commit to act on those beliefs.  ..