Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Book I Wish I’d Read Three Years Ago

Back in 2005 I was spending a lot of time reading authors like Len Sweet and Rex Miller, trying to understand the changes I was seeing in the spiritual lives of both those I met in parishes and those I met in classrooms. I began to get a sense of postmodernism, the need for experiential worship and learning in congregations, and the ways in which the internet and other technologies of connectivity were changing our lives. But there still seemed to be something missing in the picture. Why were the changes in the 21st century so jarring compared to the major changes 100 or 200 years ago?

In the spring of 2007, I took a course on apocalypticism. I had a hard time getting a handle on the course, although we talked a lot about cataclysmic changes that occurred in history, focusing on world history, European history, and American history. I wasn’t exactly sure how it all added up, but most of the assigned books were enjoyable and the research paper for the course—looking at what the lynchpin events that shaped the congregation I was serving—was interesting to do.

In the time since I’d pieced together a blueprint for how the material I learned while doing my D.Min. and other research and experiences dealing with change were beginning to fit together. And then, last week, I ran across Phyllis Tickle’s The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why. What a book! How I wish it had been written and someone had given it to me back in 2005. It explains it all- the change (religious and secular) we’re undergoing in North America, the causes for it, how postmodernity fits in with what came before, and the way this “rummage sale” that we’re part of is similar to earlier transitions Christianity has undergone.

I’ve already been in touch with two of my professors at Drew to say “Assign it” and with my presbytery’s Vision MInistries to say “We have to read and talk about this.” But the book should be much more widely read than that. It needs to be discussed by not only clergy and scholars but by the average person (and not only the average religious person). It’s got important information for scientists and writers, business people and artists of all kinds. If I were choosing one non-fiction book that would be a ‘must read’ for 2009, The Great Emergence would be it.

Here’s Phyllis Tickle, explaining just a bit of what the book is about:

Watch it and then READ THE BOOK!!!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Serving Using a Social Network?

The BBC reported the following use of Facebook as part of a legal proceeding. If law has begun to use social networks as part of its litigation, can the other two wuperconservative institutions (education and religion) be far behind?

Legal papers served via Facebook

An Australian couple have been served with legal documents via the popular social networking site Facebook.

Mark McCormack, a lawyer in Canberra, persuaded a court to allow him to use the unusual method after other attempts to reach them failed.

The couple's home is being repossessed after they reportedly missed payments on a loan of over A$100,000 ($67,000; £44,000).

It is believed to be the first time Facebook has been used in this way.


Mr McCormack says he resorted to Facebook to trace the couple after unsuccessful attempts to contact them at their home address and via email, and they failed to attend a court appearance on 3 October.

He found the woman's page, and used details listed there such as her date of birth to argue in the Australian Capital Territory Supreme Court that she was the person in question. Her partner was listed as one of her "friends".

In granting permission to use the social networking site, the judge stipulated that the papers be sent via a private email so that other people visiting the page could not read their contents.

"It's somewhat novel, however we do see it as a valid method of bringing the matter to the attention of a defendant," Mr McCormack said.

Text message

He said he thought courts would continue to use Facebook, as long as they were sure it was reasonably likely to come to the attention of those concerned.

In the past, the Australian courts have granted permission for people to be served with legally binding papers via email or even text message.

But this is the first time they have allowed the use of Facebook, says the BBC's Nick Bryant in Sydney.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Defining Moment

Over the past three months, I’ve spent what little reading time I could grab making my way through Jonathan Alter’s The Defining Moment. I began the book just as the presidential debates got underway and have just finished it as president-elect Obama announced his planned public works program as part of his solution to the present economic crisis and have found the overlaps between Alter’s book and the current events intriguing.

Alter’s book purports to be a report of Franklin Roosevelt’s first hundred days in office, but the book is much more (and much less) than that. It’s more of a reflection on the ways in which FDR reinvented the presidency as well as how and why he did so. Wile the book does go back to look briefly at Roosevelt’s upbringing, it spends most of its discussion on the deepening Depression with its focus beginning early 1933, when stock values had decreased, exports were at their lowest in decades, and unemployment was rapidly rising. Alter seems to focus on the ways in which Roosevelt used his acting abilities to communicate confidence to other politicians, journalists, and the public at large. He marshals his case that it was this acting ability that made FDR’s Fireside chats and other speeches work and also allowed him –by the end of 100 days—to have key programs for economic recovery set to go.

I particularly enjoyed the insights that Alter provided into how FDR and Eleanor together –intentionally and unintentionally- reshaped the role of the First Lady and why they did so. Alter also tells many of the standard Roosevelt stories from this period of time and delves into some of the more debatable issues (e.g. how much of various speeches were written by FDR himself and how much by several other members of his staff). Every once in a while, though, Alter’s comments got to me. At one point he said that, because FDR put Frances Perkins as a member of his cabinet and had sympathy for women’s rights, he might be considered “the first woman president.” You’ve got to be kidding me! Despite a few comments like these, the book was well-worth the time, giving me now only some new information on FDR’s first 100 days of presidency, but also new insight on current decisions being made by congress and the newly elected president.

Monday, December 8, 2008


Friday evenings we went to see Ha-Sodot. It’s a film set in Safed, Israel, which Avi Nesher has used to give it lots of shots of beautiful scenery for the background to the story. The story itself focuses on a midrasha where the young Orthodox students live and study Talmud. while in many cases also searching for prospective husbands. We meet several of the students attending and learn a bit—though only a bit—about each of their reasons for making a choice to attend—be it to learn more about a newly rediscovered religion, to avoid a marriage not desired, to find a prospective husband, or to—if it ever became possible—become a woman rabbi. The story gets more complicated as two of the young women—an unlikely pair to begin with—are sent to help an older woman from the town who has become critically ill. What starts off as help with grocery shopping and house cleaning quickly begins to interweave with spiritual help. Kabbalistic rituals (or pseudoKabbalistic rituals, since many are concocted specifically for the situation that has presented itself) and pratices begin to take over the lives of the three and lead them to a series of secrets (thus the title).

The dialogues throughout the film switch back and forth between Hebrew and French. My French was up to what was being said, but I was appalled to find that my Hebrew has gotten so weak that I could only pick up the most simple exchanges without looking at the subtitles. And, because lots of the scenes are dialogue-laden, keeping up with the subtitles while watching some of the complicated visuals is asking a lot of American audiences.

While I found some of the scenes with Fanny Ardant, who plays the ill, older woman, weak, the movie as a whole was well-done and raised interesting issues and questions. How would, for example, women these days adapt the Kabbalah to their modern lives? How would well-educated modern Orthodox teens respond to personal relationships between women and between Jews and non-Jews? And, though I’m sure it wasn’t true for any of the other people in the movie theater that evening, the question that was most interesting was how many of these midrasha exist in modern Israel that are pushing for and training young women to be ordained as Rabbis?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Simpsons take on ‘Mapple’

While I'm not a huge Simpson fan, the parts of this episode at the beginning and the end that deal with Apple and its fans are wonderful!

The Simpsons take on ‘Mapple’

Just click on the link above to enjoy it!