Broken

I created this video for one of my seminary classes on ministry in a media culture. It’s a collection of photographs, Scripture passages and quotes that I find meaningful; set to the song “Broken” by Lifehouse. As a whole, I think the message of the piece is powerfully simple…God enters into our brokenness and offers us grace, hope, healing and strength. I hope you find it inspiring, affirming, comforting, challenging, or whatever other words you’d use to explain how it moved you to feel or think. If you’d like to share your thoughts in reaction to the video, please leave a comment.

(3/11/08): Thanks for all the comments and emails about this video, it has been cool to hear how it has touched so many people. I never expected this to be anything but a project for class, but I’ve now been asked for permission by a church to use the video during one of their services for Holy Week and we plan to use it in worship at Journey in the coming months as well (if others are interested in using it in worship, please let me know). I made a few small changes, so this is now the second final version of the video (the two earlier versions are still on youtube).

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Journey worship (playlist, etc.)

Several of the people who visit anewdoxology each day get here by following a link on the Journey webpage. Journey is the worship service that I helped start last month at a church in Golden Valley, Minnesota (a suburb of Minneapolis). We worship on Sundays at 5:00pm and if any of you live in the Minneapolis area and would like to experience something different than what most churches offer on Sunday mornings, you should check it out. You can read what I wrote about Journey, or go to the Journey site for more information (including directions and a link to podcast sermons).

We have a lot of fun “doing church” a bit differently at Journey, including the music, messages and overall worship “style.” We realize that not everyone is immersed in the Christian sub-culture (music, media, books, etc.), and we also realize that when people come to worship — or a concert for that matter — their level of comfortability is often influenced by how familiar they are with the music. If they know the songs, they feel right at home; but if they’ve never heard the songs before, they might feel uncomfortable and out of place.

journey-imix.pngThe last thing we want to do at Journey is create an uncomfortable atmosphere where people don’t feel like they can connect in worship. So, as a small step to help people connect, I created a playlist on iTunes of all the songs we’ve used in worship at Journey (so far). These are not recordings of Ben and the worship band, but the original versions of the songs that we borrowed for worship. You can download the songs for $0.99 each and burn them onto a CD, put them on your iPod/mp3 player or just listen to them on your computer. The thought is that if we are more familiar with the music, we will feel more comfortable in worship and be able to sing together with confidence. Our hope is that these songs will become anthems for our community and a soundtrack for our lives.

Here’s a link to the Journey: fresh worship playlist on itunes-png-small.png.

Note: if you don’t have iTunes, click here to download it for free.

wedding sermon

In honor of it being Valentine’s Day, here’s part of a wedding sermon that one of my seminary professors shared in class today…

Marriage by Roland D. Martinson

The heart of marriage is a promise. On the face of it, it’s a crazy promise; two people who have only a partial understanding of one another stand up and make this bizarre statement that they’ve going to cherish and care for one another for a lifetime. They say, “I take this one and this one takes me as long as we both shall live,” not “as long as we both shall love.” To many persons this seems like a mad and risky thing to do. Yet I would suggest that the madness is the romance. Without risk there is no beauty or strength or goodness.

It’s not a very courageous thing for two people who have found themselves mutually delectable to say, “I will shack up with this one, and this one with me, as long as the delectability continues.” It has no gallantry. It’s just a mutual optimism. So that if people want to create all kinds of lovely music about what is simply one of the higher forms of self-satisfaction, I find nothing admirable about this at all. I find it completely understandable. I find it even momentarily delightful. But I don’t think it has much to do with marriage. Certainly nothing to do with a promise. I’m really only challenged toward fulfillment, or at least partial fulfillment, when I understand marriage as a mutual acceptance of crazy challenge to fulfill the seemingly impossible. Then there is something that is really worth the human effort.

Bach produced greatness within the strict musical limits of his time, and the severity of the limits engendered the greatness of the accomplishment. Just as Bach accepted limitations and discipline in musical composition, so marriage means limits. Without limitation there is not expansion. Without the risk of a promise there is really no joy. There is only a kind of serial, episodic history of partial joys with interchangeable parts.

The problem with the temporary, ad hoc relationships which many people enter into today is that when there is a way out, the couple deprive themselves of the deepening effect of going all the way in. When there’s an exit, they can split. This is not to say that all marriage should survive. Sometimes the damage done in staying together is so great that the only answer is dissolution; we all know marriage like that.

It does not fit today’s popular mood, but we all need fidelity: the intention to do what we say, to accept discipline in order to solidify the good. Fidelity means more than not sleeping around the neighborhood. It means that we have made a promise, a commitment, and that we have accepted the limitations that are a part of that promise. There are great satisfactions in saying, ” I have done what I undertook to do.”

When the old guys emphasized “for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health,” they weren’t being sentimental; they meant it. A commitment like that takes guts.

The Last Semester

Today is my last first day of school EVER…probably. Let me clarify what I mean…today is the first day of spring semester at Luther Seminary, where I have been a student since 2006, and from where I will graduate and receive a master’s degree (in Theology & Pop-Culture) this coming Memorial Day weekend. I added the modifier “probably” at the end of the first sentence because I have made that statement once before in life — on my last first day of college — because I never thought I’d go back to school after getting my bachelor’s degree. But the saying goes, “never say never,” and I’d assume that whoever first said that also meant it to mean “never say ever,” since never and ever are often synonymous. I highly doubt I will go back to school again, either for another M.A. or the life-stealing Ph.D, but who knows. Never say (n)ever.

Looking back on my experiences as a seminary student so far, it’s been an interesting personal and educational adventure. Please don’t misunderstand that to mean it has been anything but a positive experience, but there’s been a lot of “stuff” involved beside just going to class and studying. For instance, it was a major life change going from working full-time at a church (and loving my job, for the most part), making decent money (relatively speaking for someone recently out of college and working at a church) and basically feeling comfortable in life (even being able to put money into savings every month) … to being a full-time student (after a three year break from school, a break I thought would last the rest of my life), making basically no money (except the small amount I made as a barista at Caribou–until I quit after only two months, and then the money I made donating plasma for a year–a job that caused my mom and many others to worry about/for me), yet still feeling relatively comfortable in my life (even though I have been stealing from myself by spending the money I put in savings to buy things like rent, gas, and of course macaroni and peanut butter & jelly).

So here I am, about to start my final semester of seminary. Four classes, an independent study and an optional audited course are all that stands between me and a piece of paper stating that I am more intelligent than I was before…supposedly. I have taken some great courses in my three semesters and two J-terms at seminary thus far, but looking at my schedule (and even reading the syllabuses, or is it syllabi? that’s a weird word, huh?) and the courses I’ll be taking over the next four months or so, I think I’m probably more excited about this semester than any of the others. The courses I’m taking sound really interesting, they’re being taught by excellent professors and if I’m able to learn even 53% of the stuff I’m hoping to, it’s going to be a great semester. I’m sure you can count on reading about some of the things I’m studying as the semester goes on, and I actually think that some of my assignments (papers, projects, videos) might end up on here. In fact, the major writing assignment for one of my classes is to create/write a blog in which I “reflect theologically on popular culture.” Done and done.

In case you’re interested, here’s a list of the courses I’m taking along with the things I’m most excited about each…

  • Singleness, Marriage and Family — the focus of this class is to develop a biblical and theological understanding that will allow me to help individuals, couples and families deal with the realities (struggles, joys and everything in between) of life, with some attention given to scientific approaches of counseling.
  • The Spirit, the Church and the Triune God — the final installment of the three core systematic theology courses, the others being “Creation and the Triune God” and “Jesus the Savior and the Triune God” (both of which I’ve already taken). In this Trilogy, there is a course focused on each part of the Trinity, and each studies what theologians throughout history have written about the Father, Son and Spirit; but then the challenge becomes turning that new knowledge into understanding and then practice for ministry and life, which is my favorite part of the class.
  • Proactive Ministry in a Media Culture — this is the course where my blog will temporarily become “homework.” The class is going to focus on issues like media literacy, social networking, religion and violence in media, the shape of education in a media culture, and the question “what is ‘real’ anymore?” We are also going to create two short videos documenting faith stories/journeys as assignments for class. The only negative thing about this class is that it meets on Monday nights during the games for my basketball league.
  • Ministry for the Sake of the World — this course serves as my senior seminar for my degree program, so much of the work will draw on writings and learning from previous courses as I attempt to bring it all together into an explainable vision/mission strategy for transformational ministry with younger people (the MTV generation) in a world influenced by pop-culture. Reading through the syllabus for this course, I was drawn to a sentence stating that the objective of the course is to “utilize a theology of hope as a compass for moving [young adult] ministry out into the world to witness to the Gospel and care for all of God’s creation.” I really like that objective. I also like the writing assignment from this course to pick either a song or a scene from a movie or TV show that has led me to feel something deeply and then (in two pages) explore why I feel the way I do when listening to (or watching) it, and what questions does this song or scene seem to ask me?
  • The Meaning Project: faith & facebook (independent study) — I mentioned this study in a previous post about social networking (I also included a video of Demetri Martin from The Daily Show). Basically, the study is an examination of how things like social networking sites, reality television, music, movies and other “texts” of pop-culture influence the faith and values of college-aged young people (18-22 year olds). To help with the project, I spent two weeks this past summer at a Bible camp interviewing counselors and conducting surveys. There’s no excuse for why I am just now working to finish the study, I guess I’ve just been lazy, but I’m excited to finally focus some time to work on it and see how it turns out.
  • Ethics I (course audit) — I am probably going to attend this class, but most likely won’t do any of the work (which means I also won’t get credit for it, which pretty much defines what it means to “audit” a class). I don’t actually need this class to graduate, but I’ve wanted to take it for a while, and since I’m already taking four classes and doing an independent study, I thought it would be better/easier to just go to class to learn what I could from lectures (and not have the pressure of doing all the reading or writing the papers). About the course, according to the academic catalog, it’s “an overview of various ways that Christians make moral arguments and decisions. The focus is on methods and models important for moral discourse and the relationship of theological ethics and its biblical, historical, and confessional sources to insights from philosophy and other disciplines.”

Well, I should probably stop writing about my classes and actually drive to campus so I’m not late for class.

when faith gets boring

Being a “Christian” — or whatever name people of Jesus-style faith prefer to call themselves (e.g. “believers” or “followers”) — is not always easy or fun. It gets complicated, difficult and confusing to live “like Jesus,” and at times it just doesn’t seem worth the effort. I know this to be the case because I’ve been a Christian my entire life, and it’s been difficult the whole time. I get annoyed by preachers who teach about Jesus and preach about what it means to be one of his followers by making the Gospel into a rule book and Jesus is the ultimate example that we are supposed to imitate in every way, all the time. Call me a heretic, but I just don’t think that’s how it works, plus it’s not possible. Jesus was God. I believe that to be true. Jesus was a human. I also believe that to be true. Yet just because Jesus knew what it meant to be a human being doesn’t cancel out the fact that the dude was also the Almighty, and so even though he understood the tension we feel living between the temptations to do bad even though we knew we should do good, he was God incarnate, a perfect human who was without sin. Except of course, when he went to the cross to bear the punishment of all our sin (past, present and future); and all those sins were crucified with him–in him–so that we do not have to face the punishment (death) that we deserve.

This is the end of my sermon,

and the beginning of someone else’s.

Vince Antonucci is author of the book I Became a Christian and All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt (Baker, 2008). The book came out today, but Relevant Magazine ran an excerpt from it a few months ago under the title “When Faith Gets Boring.” I think it’s fantastic and I thought it’d be appropriate to run an excerpt of the excerpt here (an excerpt-squared, as it were). Please take note that any ellipses are my own, so whenever you see dot-dot-dot (or “…”) it means that I skipped over something to shorten what I’m sharing here. You can get a copy of Vince’s book on amazon or read the full excerpt on Relevant. Here’s a little sample…

Excerpt of an excerpt from I Became a Christian and All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt by Vince Antonucci (Baker, Relevant)

Walking through the front door of a church building [for the first time] was like passing through a portal to a different world. So much was unfamiliar. For the first time I heard about “propitiation,” “puppet ministry” and “potluck suppers.” I stood for “fellowship,” knelt for prayer and sat on a hard wooden bench (which they called a “pew”). I saw more polyester in one morning than I had my entire life. I experienced church snack time, which consisted of little pieces of cracker and small plastic shot glasses of grape juice. A man explained that we would be singing hymns 11, 52, 17 and 63. I almost yelled out, “Bingo!”

But it’s now 17 years later. I’ve gotten married. I have two kids. I’ve gained a few pounds. And I’ve gone from having never walked into a church to having 17 years’ worth of Sundays in church buildings. And with all that experience (not to mention the few extra pounds) under my belt, I can tell you that there is something very familiar about most of the Christians I’ve met. Unfortunately, it’s not that they remind me of the people who populate the pages of Scripture…

But when I look around at Christians today, I see people who just wear a T-shirt for an adventure they’ve missed out on. We’re missing the journey. We’re stuck in the same dull routine. We’re missing out on the joy and fear and laughter and doubt and mystery and confusion of following Jesus, of taking great risks for God, of praying dangerous prayers, even of being spiritually attacked…
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Focus Group Faith: Get paid $500 to go to church!!!

This may sound like a scam on craigslist, but it’s actually a real ad that The Drew Marshall Show ran last June in the Toronto Star (newspaper). Drew hosts a radio show in Canada and they were trying to recruit participants for what they called “The Five Churches Experiment” (The actual newspaper ad read: “We’ll pay you to go to church! $500 to visit 5 churches!”). What was the catch? In order to be chosen (and paid) to be part of the experiment, applicants had to be “pagan/new age/agnostic/ atheist/whatever… someone with no church background.” Two people were selected for the experiment (one male, one female – they agreed to split the money) and over this past summer, they attended various churches in the Toronto area and then shared their thoughts/reactions on-air (Drew’s radio show) and online (Drew’s blog). In addition to their written summaries of each church, they also evaluated the churches on some categories like the building, friendliness, tunes, preaching and institutional vibe (each category was given a score of 0 to 4, where 0 = Brutal, 1 = Whatever, 2 = Nice Try, 3 = Good On Ya, 4 = WOW!). Canadians are great, eh? To be honest, I haven’t read/listened to everything on this, but I think it’s a really interesting idea for a study. Of particular interest to me where the three reasons they gave for doing it,

  1. to model for the Christian community, healthy dialogue NOT debate.
  2. to provide accurate observations from a real live objective “outsider” to anyone from the Church who might actually be interested.
  3. to provoke discussion in a numb and desensitized culture, begging for authenticity!

If you’d like to read more about this unique experiment, follow these links.

Journey… worship “untucked”

journey-logo-bw.jpg

For the past few months I’ve been working at a church to help start a new worship service. The service is called Journey and it will meet Sundays at 5 pm starting this Sunday (January 20) at Calvary Lutheran Church of Golden Valley. The pastor for Journey is a friend of mine named Kevin Johnson who is a great speaker and author (look him up on Amazon to check out all the books he’s written), the worship leader is a talented young guy named Ben Hertle (who is also a driver for Simon Delivers) and I’ll be serving as the community director (while continuing my studies at Luther Seminary, until I graduate in May). I’m excited to be working with Kevin and Ben and I believe the three of us bring together a lot of valuable experiences that will enrich the overall ministry of Journey.

If you live in the Minneapolis area and are interested in checking out a refreshingly simple, engaging and authentic worship service, Journey might be a good fit for you and your friends. We’re calling it worship “untucked” because the three of us don’t usually tuck in our shirts, and we think there should be a church where other “untuckers” can come to worship as themselves…so feel free to wear your best jeans and t-shirt if that’s your style, or if you feel more comfortable dressing up for church, that’s fine too. Journey is not just for young adults — there are no age restrictions — although the style of music and messages will probably connect with people in their younger adult years. Journey is for people who are seeking relevant expressions of faith and real experiences with God in and through a worship community that is rooted in Jesus Christ.

If you’d like more information (including directions) you can go to the Journey webpage or just come check it out on Sundays at 5 pm starting January 20 (note: Journey will meet at 3 pm on Super Bowl Sunday, February 3).