Bono’s Christianity

U2’s singer talks about God:

Reli­gion can be the ene­my of God. It’s often what hap­pens when God, like Elvis, has left the build­ing. [laughs] A list of instruc­tions where there was once con­vic­tion; dog­ma where once peo­ple just did it; a con­gre­ga­tion led by a man where once they were led by the Holy Spir­it. Dis­ci­pline replac­ing dis­ci­ple­ship. Why are you chuck­ling?

More on Frank Viola’s blog

Outreach gets people to your meetinghouse / Hospitality keeps people returning.

Over on Twit­ter feed came a tweet (h/t revrevwine):

seo - Google SearchTo trans­late, SEO is “search engine opti­miza­tion,” the often-huckersterish art of trick­ing Google to dis­play your web­site high­er than your com­peti­tors in search results. “Usabil­i­ty” is the catch-all term for mak­ing your web­site easy to nav­i­gate and invit­ing to vis­i­tors. Com­pa­nies with deep pock­ets often want to spend a lot of mon­ey on SEO, when most of the time the most viable long-term solu­tion to rank­ing high with search engines is to pro­vide vis­i­tors with good rea­sons to vis­it your site. What if we applied these prin­ci­ples to our church­es and meet­ing­hous­es and swapped the terms?

Out­reach gets peo­ple to your meet­ing­house /
Hos­pi­tal­i­ty keeps peo­ple return­ing.

A lot of Quak­er meet­ing­hous­es have pret­ty good “nat­ur­al SEO.” Here in the U.S. East Coast, they’re often near a major road in the mid­dle of town. If they’re lucky there are a few his­tor­i­cal mark­ers of notable Quak­ers and if they are real­ly lucky there’s a highly-respected Friends school near­by. All these meet­ings real­ly have to do is put a nice sign out front and table a few town events every year. The rest is cov­ered. Although we do get the occa­sion­al “aren’t you all Amish?” com­ments, we have a much wider rep­u­ta­tion that our num­bers would nec­es­sar­i­ly war­rant. We rank pret­ty high.

But what are the lessons of hos­pi­tal­i­ty we could work on? Do we pro­vide places where spir­i­tu­al seek­ers can both grow per­son­al­ly and engage in the impor­tant ques­tions of the faith in the mod­ern world? Are we invi­ta­tion­al, bring­ing peo­ple into our homes and into our lives for shared meals and con­ver­sa­tions?

In my free­lance days when I was hired to work on SEO I ran through a series of sta­tis­ti­cal reports and redesigned some under­per­form­ing pages, but then turned my atten­tion to the client’s con­tent. It was in this realm that my great­est quan­tifi­able suc­cess­es occurred. At the heart of the con­tent work was ask­ing how could the site could more ful­ly engage with first-time vis­i­tors. The “usabil­i­ty con­sid­er­a­tions” on the Wikipedia page on usabil­i­ty could be eas­i­ly adapt­ed as queries:

Who are the users, what do they know, what can they learn? What do users want or need to do? What is the users’ gen­er­al back­ground? What is the users’ con­text for work­ing? What must be left to the machine? Can users eas­i­ly accom­plish intend­ed tasks at their desired speed? How much train­ing do users need? What doc­u­men­ta­tion or oth­er sup­port­ing mate­ri­als are avail­able to help the user?

I’d love to see Friends con­sid­er this more. FGC’s “New Meet­ings Tool­box” has a sec­tion on wel­com­ing new­com­ers. But I’d love to hear more sto­ries about how we’re work­ing on the “usabil­i­ty” of our spir­i­tu­al com­mu­ni­ties.

Religion in the mainstream press

They default to the same bor­ing tropes, says Amy Levin at TheRe­veal­er:

Reli­gious wars, reli­gious dress, reli­gious mon­ey – these are the real and yet superbly com­plex ele­ments of our cul­tur­al exis­tence. Scout any crack or cran­ny of pop­u­lar cul­ture and you find reli­gion cre­at­ing a glo­ri­ous maze of top­ics for writ­ers to dis­cov­er and sift and sing to the mass­es.

But late­ly, I find that a repul­sive plague of rep­e­ti­tion and banal­i­ty has swept over the dis­en­chant­ed cyber­sphere. Each day I begin my reli­gion news search with hope­ful eager­ness, sift­ing close­ly through main­stream and fringe out­lets, hun­gry for signs of a new trend, move­ment, argu­ment, study – any­thing oth­er than what I con­sumed the day before. But I search in vain, and my dol­drums have led me to take action.

(H/T to David Watt on Face­book)

Spiritual Biodiversity and Religious Inevitability

Emi­grants from the Irish pota­to famine, via Wikipedia

Peo­ple some­times get pret­ty worked up about con­vinc­ing each oth­er of an mat­ter of press­ing impor­tance. We think we have The Answer about The Issue and that if we just repeat our­selves loud enough and often enough the obvi­ous­ness of our posi­tion will win out. It becomes our duty, in fact, to repeat it loud and often. If we hap­pen to wear down the oppo­si­tion so much that they with­draw from our com­pan­ion­ship or fel­low­ship, all the bet­ter, as we’ve achieved a pati­na of uni­ty. Reli­gious lib­er­als are just as prone to this as the con­ser­v­a­tives.

These are not the val­ues we hold when talk­ing about the nat­ur­al world. There we talk about bio­di­ver­si­ty. We don’t cheer when a species mal­adapt­ed to the human-driven Anthro­pocene dis­ap­pears into extinc­tion. Just because a plant or ani­mal from the oth­er side of the world has no nat­ur­al preda­tors doesn’t mean our local species should be super­seded.

Sci­en­tists tell us that bio­di­ver­si­ty is not just a kind of do-unto-others val­ue that sat­is­fies our sense of nos­tal­gia; hav­ing wide gene pools comes in handy when near-instant adap­ta­tion is need­ed in response to mas­sive habi­tat stress. Monocrops are good for the annu­al har­vest but leave us espe­cial­ly vul­ner­a­ble when phy­toph­tho­ra infes­tans comes ashore.

It’s a good thing for dif­fer­ent reli­gious groups to have dif­fer­ent val­ues, both from us us and from one anoth­er. There are pres­sures in today’s cul­ture to lev­el all of our dis­tinc­tives down so that we have no unique iden­ti­ty. Some cheer this monocrop­ping of spir­i­tu­al­i­ty, but I’m not sure it’s healthy for human race. If our reli­gious val­ues are some­how truer or more valu­able than those of oth­er peo­ple, then they will even­tu­al­ly spread them­selves – not by push­ing oth­er bod­ies to be like us, but by attract­ing the mem­bers of the oth­er bod­ies to join with us.

God may have pur­pose in fel­low­ships that act dif­fer­ent­ly that ours. Let us not get too smug about our own inevitabil­i­ty that we for­get to share our­selves with those with whom we dif­fer.

Bible Illiterate No More

One Year BibleA bit of a mile­stone – I fin­ished the One Year Bible read­ing plan last night! I man­aged to stretch it out to 27 months but that’s alright. I start­ed in Jan­u­ary 2009 and ini­tial­ly kept the dai­ly read­ings going till May of that year, when I feel hope­less­ly behind. I kept a men­tal note of the date and in May 2010 I start­ed where I had left off. I kept read­ing reg­u­lar­ly until the last week in Decem­ber, when I was under­stand­ably dis­tract­ed by the birth of our third son Gre­go­ry on 12/28. Know­ing I want­ed to keep the cycle going, I skipped that week and start­ed again on Jan­u­ary 1, 2011. It was only last night that I went back and fin­ished up that last week – fea­tur­ing Malachi and Rev­e­la­tions (which has the Lamb’s War metaphor so impor­tant to ear­ly Friends).

Thanks go to Gregg Kosela and AJ Schwanz for let­ting me know such a thing as one year Bible read­ing plans exist­ed. I had nev­er been able to stick to a reg­u­lar Bible-reading reg­i­men before. The grand­moth­er who fre­quent­ly declared me a Bible illit­er­ate would be so proud! (Actu­al­ly not, she’d find some­thing else to cri­tique, but her hangups around fam­i­ly and “Chris­t­ian” liv­ing are a much longer blog post!).

It’s been great hav­ing a reg­u­lar spir­i­tu­al prac­tice. I’m glad I can find my way around the Bible now and my under­stand­ing of Friends has deep­ened. The ear­ly Quak­er writ­ings are steeped in Bib­li­cal allu­sions and we miss a lot when we miss those ref­er­ences.

Places like St Mary’s

I’m writ­ing this from the back of St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, a small church built in the 1920s in the small cross­roads town of Mala­ga New Jer­sey. It was closed this past Novem­ber, sup­pos­ed­ly because of a bro­ken boil­er but real­ly because the Dio­cese of Cam­den is try­ing to sell off its small­er church­es – or any church with prime real estate along a high­way. It was reopened with­out per­mis­sion by parish­ioners in ear­ly Jan­u­ary, while we were still in the hos­pi­tal with baby num­ber three, a.k.a. Gre­go­ry.

We’ve spent a lot of time here since then. It’s a 24 hour vig­il and has been and will con­tin­ue to be. In Boston there are vig­ils that have been going sev­en years. I try to imag­ine Gre­go­ry as a sev­en year old, hav­ing spent his child­hood grow­ing up here in this lit­tle church. It’s not an impos­si­ble sce­nario.

I also spend a lot of time talk­ing with the faith­ful Catholics who have come here to pro­tect the church. It’s a cacoph­o­ny of voic­es right now – con­ver­sa­tions about the church, sure, but that’s only one of the many top­ics that come up. Peo­ple are shar­ing their lives – sto­ries about grow­ing up, about peo­ple that are know, about cur­rent events… It’s a real com­mu­ni­ty. We’ve been attend­ing this church for years but it’s now that I’m real­ly get­ting to know every­one.

I some­times pon­der how I, the self-dubbed “Quak­er Ranter,” got involved in all of this. Through my wife, of course – she grew up Catholic, became a Friend for eleven years and then “returned to the Church” a few years after our mar­riage. But there’s more than that, rea­sons why I spend my own time here. Part is my love of the small and quirky. St Mary’s parish­ioners are stand­ing up for the kind of church­es where peo­ple know each oth­er. In an era where menial tasks are hired out, the actu­al mem­bers of St. Marys tend the church’s rosary gar­den and clean its base­ment and toi­lets. They spend time in the church beyond the hour of mass, doing things like pray­ing the rosary or ado­ra­tion.

The powers-that-be that want St Mary’s closed so bad­ly want a large inper­son­al church with lots of pro­fes­sion­al­ized ser­vices and a least-common-denominator faith where peo­ple come, go and donate their mon­ey to a dio­cese that’s run like a busi­ness. But that’s not St. Mary’s. There’s his­to­ry here. This is a hub of a town, an ancient cross­roads, but the bish­op wants big church­es in the splurge of sub­ur­ban sprawl. Even we Friends need places like St Mary’s in the world.