Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Playing with LEGOs for Holy Purposes

BloombergBusiness offers a great "insiders" view of the LEGO company.  While many of us grew up with the product as a creativity starter, the modern LEGO brand crosses over several different streams of revenue.  For example, one Oscar nominated song this year was from the LEGO Movie, not something Hollywood insiders could have predicted.

To watch the 20 minute LEGO piece, you can stream it via Netflix or online via:  (Link accessed 3/25/15)

After watching the video, consider these questions (or feel free to discuss them with a group of colleagues or congregants):

1)      Before you watched this video, how would you have described what LEGO's business looked like?   Did you notice that the answers may have been formed by what generation the respondent comes from?  (Older persons will remember LEGO much differently than your young children, who have experienced LEGO as kits, video games, a popular film, etc.)

2)       LEGO found its way forward by addressing its operational assumptions.   What hindered them and helped them move ahead?    What are some similar issues for our congregation's way of operating?

3)       The LEGO company found opportunities to improve by listening to its enthusiasts.  Who could our congregation listen to more carefully and learn from?  Whose voices have we tended not to listen for?

(NOTE:  LEGO itself has experienced criticism from parents as well as children, including a 7 year old girl who wrote a letter to the company concerned that the way girls and women were portrayed in newer products.  See this article for more:  Happily, the company has modified some of its approach.

Enthusiasts building their own LEGO sets have also contributed their own projects, including this recent image making the rounds on social media.  It depicts a diorama of the four female justices who have served on the U.S. Supreme Court.  More on the article:

4)        What is LEGO?   The CEO found that he had to engage in careful research about his product to arrive at an understanding that begins with LEGO being described as "a material that is endlessly creative and extremely logical".

The definition sounds a bit dry at first, yet as you can tell from the video, sticking to a well grounded statement of purpose can elevate creativity well above "the same old, same old".     In turn, how do we need to strike the balance of defining the church as a place and a people with a past yet also with a future that moves in ways not completely merely repeating what was while missing out on what is needed now?

Monday, March 16, 2015

Greater Conversations Await: Links of Interest

While I find myself happily in the midst of the physical shelves of bookstores and the stacks of libraries, I also turn frequently to the online learning opportunities to develop ministry skills and keep up with conversations of interest.

This week's blog notes some recent online resources I found of interest in recent weeks.  I note these without great comment, other than the links themselves connect you with possible ideas, ways of perceiving the world around us and how the Christian faith moves through the seas of change:

An article on conflict management styles:

Recent trends in global religious intolerance and conflict is studied by the Pew Research Center for Religion and Public Life:

Want to avoid roadblocks to change?   Read this article from Leadership Education at Duke Divinity School:

What makes for a church's missional health where "creative destruction and disorienting missional engagement", according to George Bullard, long-time church consultant?  Read more via:

Is that you in the corner, losing your religion?

Dr. Marvin McMickle, President of Colgate Rochester Crozier Divinity School, shares a powerful word on the 50th anniversary of Selma:

Recent research on the values of Millennials (aka those young whippersnappers who have some generational differences we'd do well to pay close attention):

Friday, March 13, 2015

Remembering Fred Craddock

This past week, many preachers and seminarians paused in the hustle and bustle of ministry, saddened at the news as emails or other announcements came via social media with word of the death of Fred Craddock.

Craddock served as a small church minister, a seminary professor of New Testament and later Homiletics at two seminaries.  He was recognized by many polls and surveys of fellow clergy as an extraordinary preacher and accomplished teacher of preachers.  A worship service or ministry event featuring Craddock was sure to draw a crowd across denominational lines and especially with his beloved denomination, the Christian Church/Disciples of Christ (DOC).  To read his obituary, click

His 1971 book "As One Without Authority" is considered among the top 20th century works on Christian preaching, and in many minds, one of the most influential books shaping mainline Protestant preaching today.  Taking an inductive approach, Craddock introduced preachers to the power of story and narrative, away from the familiar tropes of "three points and a poem" (aka "expository preaching").     Often, in my days with Cokesbury, a table with Fred Craddock's books would be shared alongside titles by Frederick Buechner, Barbara Brown Taylor, Tom Long, Eugene Lowry, Richard Ward, David J. Schlafer and Mike Graves.

On the latter author Mike Graves, I studied homiletics at Central Seminary with Dr. Mike Graves, whose journey was shaped significantly by Craddock as an influence and later mentor and friend.   Dr. Graves shares a wonderful reflection about Craddock's life and ministry via his blog:

For pastors, I recommend Craddock's books  As One without Authority, Overhearing the Gospel, Preaching and Craddock on the Craft of Preaching (all published with Chalice Press).  His book Preaching (Abingdon Press) was recently republished for its 25th anniversary edition.  For all readers, I encourage you to read Craddock Stories (a collection drawn from Craddock's sermons co-edited by Graves and Ward with Chalice Press), Sermons from Cherry Log, and The Collected Sermons of Fred B. Craddock (both published by Westminster/John Knox Press)

After his retirement, Craddock and his wife moved to a rural area of Georgia, and he was asked to preach for a group of Disciples living in the area.  This led to Craddock and the congregants forming the Cherry Log Christian Church.  Also, Craddock developed a center working with poverty issues and helping improve the educational horizons of people, especially those who felt a call to preach but financial barriers may have precluded them otherwise having access to a classroom.

Craddock grew up in the South, steeped deeply in the folk traditions of his upbringing.  Surely melding the preacher with the storyteller would come easily, once he realized the deep connections and possibilities of narrative for sharing the Gospel.  He knew the challenges of living in poverty and shared of his own life and means freely, especially through his latter years in retirement through the Craddock Center.  On the week of his passing, the Christian Century published by happy providence a cover story about Craddock and his work. To read "The People's Preaching Class" article, click:   An article specifically about The Craddock Center is also available:

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Can We Still Look at One Another and Talk?

Most Sundays, I make my way to a local shop and pick up the Sunday edition of The New York Times. Admittedly, the Sunday Times is a paperweight in comparison to most newspapers. This past Sunday's edition was no different, providing a wealth of articles, commentary and other wordy delights that I am still reading bits and pieces of as the week goes on. (And woe befall any puppy in my household who tries to abscond with the Sunday Book Review section. Then again, it was on the floor and ripe for the taking. One chase around the house and the Sunday Book Review is safe, if not Ironic, huh?)

One article in the Arts & Leisure section caught my imagination as well as my eye. A young actress is featured in a brief interview about a TV show she is starring on VH1. (Yes, they are more than a music video channel and have been for some time!) Actress Sarah Goldberg performs as a character in the series "Hindsight" set back in the long ago era of the 1990s.

For some readers, they join me in groaning slightly at the thought of "Gen X" now being the subject of nostalgia. We grew up understanding the Korean War via the insanity (on many levels) of MASH in the 1970s and 1980s. We are the generation for whom "Roots", "The Day After" and other major dramatizations shaped our understandings of world issues and history. We're also the generation dazed and confused by our youngsters looking at us oddly when we tell them we didn't grow up with Elmo on Sesame Street. Instead, we can remember Mr. Hooper and when Snuffy was still thought to be an imaginary friend of Big Bird. (Yes, we're that old now….)

Grumping aside, I return to the interview with young Sarah Goldberg, herself born in the mid-1980s, so just playing along like she knew what coming into young adulthood during the mid-1990s felt like. She was asked by the reporter why she thought the 1990s were having "a cultural resurgence" now. She replied:

I feel like it’s easy to romanticize this time, pre-technology and pre-mobile phones, essentially. People had to really commit. If you made a plan to meet at a bar, there was no texting five minutes before saying, “I’m not showing up.” There’s something — to me, in hindsight — so sort of sexy and free about it [the ’90s], because you had to make a bolder gesture. You had to vote with your feet. You couldn’t just vote with your thumbs.

In the middle of Lent, these words strike a particular chord.  Since the 1990s, relationships have become a lot more at arm's length, provided you're actually in the room to reach out and can test that distance.   Sarah Goldberg sees a bit of a "lost world" growing up with the saturation of technology that can tell you where you're going via Google Maps, so you can choose whether or not to make or break that appointment and then send the impersonal text.

The time for reflecting and self-examination might get lost in the shuffle of our iPod shuffling a tailored playlist as we work or work out, drive to work or chill out at day's end.  We like noise, we like streaming old episodes of TV shows we've already seen a few times over (who among GenX did not feel tempted to binge watch Friends now that it's on Netflix?).  Spending time with ourselves and really looking at our lives just doesn't seem the priority most days, and I include myself in this observation.

Add in the implications of interacting with our families, neighborhoods, faith communities, social relationships, and you begin to see why we might be predisposed to being sociable only when we feel like we have the energy or interest.  Living in a "24/7" communication world where we can connect with people yet use it as a deterrent or deferral, we have choices to make about our ways of connecting.  Meant to enfranchise communication and make it more efficient, some technologies have become conduits for taking the misanthropic approach to the point that we prefer still to be "islands unto ourselves" or "ships passing in the night".

Congregations in times of anxiety tend to turn inward just like the humans comprising the membership of these churches.  I am an advocate for churches learning to use social media, for pastors to consider using texting and FB messaging to keep in touch with congregants, yet I would be remiss if I did not hope that all of the tech is in service to what furthers our depth of relationship and our sense of being together in Christ.  As much as I love my iPhone to keep in touch, I am much happier speaking one to another in real face to face interaction. 

Luddite?  No, I love technology.  Relic from the 1990s?  Guess so.

SOURCE: Sarah Goldberg's interview can be viewed via: