More than a sermon

Scott Wells has started me thinking about what I’d like to do to introduce an online component to sermons. Here are some preliminary ideas:

  • On Thursday (the day I usually write a sermon), post a reading and a question for reflection on a sermon blog; the reading would be used during the service three days hence.
  • On Sunday morning, just before preaching, post the reading text of the sermon on the same sermon blog. The sermon would have embedded hyperlinks, and bibliographic references for further reading as relevant.
  • In addition to comments on the sermon blog, the order of service would give a hashtag for a Twitter conversation. The sermon would be streamed live online, so shut-ins and people who were traveling could hear the sermon, and participate through Twitter and online comments.
  • After the Sunday service, comments would remain open on the sermon blog, and I’d join in the online conversation when it made sense to do so.

This would fit into my normal weekly work flow: I have often posted a reading or reflection question a few days before I preach a sermon, and I already post a text of my sermons online before I preach them. At present, I don’t have comments enabled on my sermon blog (because I got too many comments by evangelical Christians and Hindus who wanted to argue without listening to anyone else), but it wouldn’t be a big deal to enable comments once again. The only thing listed above that I can’t do right now is stream the sermon live online (yes, I know I’m at a Silicon Valley church, but we don’t have the volunteers who could oversee the streaming, and our Internet connection is woefully slow). And for you diehard Facebook people, there could be a Facebook page with the sermon blog’s RSS feed.

The real question is: would anyone actually participate in a Twitter conversation, or read the sermon online and comment on it? Would you? Or is there some other online enrichment strategy that I’m missing?

Green burials

Carol has a post on her blog about green burial at a Bay area “green cemetery.” I’m in favor of green burial myself, but as a minister I can tell you that it can be pretty difficult to avoid the default burial method of our society: embalmed body in the most expensive sealed casket you can afford, placed in a sealed concrete grave liner in a conventional cemetery, with the most expensive stone marker you can afford. Death and burial has been consumerized like everything else in our society: embalming and caskets are big business; and the funeral home industry is dominated by big chains that put profit margins before family desires. And green burial, which should offer cost savings, sometimes becomes just another marketing ploy. So if you’re hoping for a green burial, it’s best to start planning well in advance. The Funeral Consumer’s Alliance (FCA) has a pretty good brochure on green burial and a short FAQ on green burials. FCA also links to the non-profit Green Burial Council (GBC); I have no personal experience with GBC so can’t recommend them myself.

And I’d love it if any of my readers who have had personal experience with arranging a green burial would tell us about it in the comments.

Universal musical genres

Musicologist Susan McClary writes about how the blues was adopted by white British middle class men in the early 1960s, e.g., by Eric Clapton, and turned into rock:

Thus the priorities of the genre [i.e., the genre of blues music] changed when it was adopted by British rockers — as they had, for that matter, when the blues had passed from Bessie Smith to Robert Johnson. That the principal interests of the British differed from those of the African American musicians they initially idolized became clear when musicians and critics alike announced that they were ready to leave their black mentors behind and move forward into art rock. As Motown historian Dave Morse complained in 1971: “Black musicians are now implicitly regarded as precursors who, having taught the white men all they know, must gradually recede into the distance” ….

When middle-class kids and British art students “universalized” blues by making it the vehicle for their own alienation, many black musicians chose to develop other modes of expression. For some of them, in any case, the blues had come to recall times of rural poverty and victimization — the genealogy sedimented into the blues had moved to the foreground for them, drowning out other registers of meaning. Thus it is no coincidence that rap musicians have worked to construct a different heritage, tracing their roots through sampling and quotation back not to the blues per se but to James Brown and soul — a genre of black music that emerged during the decade when white rockers arrogated the blues unto themselves. For African Americans the blues was always just one particular manifestation of a number of deeper elements that live on in other genres. It was never a fetish, but simply a vehicle for expression. When historical conditions changed, when it became reified, it could be left behind.

Conventional Wisdom: The Content of Musical Form, pp. 58-59.

I read this as a healthy reminder that the genre of rock is not somehow universal — and therefore rock can not become the be-all and end-all of liturgical music; indeed, no musical genre can serve as some kind of a universal liturgical expression.

In vain

Old Isaac Watts has a poor reputation among religious liberals. He’s old-fashioned. He writes those four-square hymns we love to hate. He’s rooted in the Bible and talks about God as male. Bad hymnodist!

Yet here’s an Isaac Watts hymn that would be a very nice addition to today’s liberal religious hymnody:

In vain the wealthy mortals toil,
And heap their shining dust in vain;
Look down and scorn the humble poor,
And boast their lofty hills of gain.

Their golden cordials cannot ease
Their pained hearts or aching heads,
Nor fright nor bribe approaching death
From glitt’ring roofs and downy beds.

Thence they are huddled to the grave,
Where kings and slaves have equal thrones;
Their bones without distinction lie
Amongst the heap of meaner bones.

“The Rich Sinner Dying,” Hymn 1:24 from Hymns and Spiritual Songs by Isaac Watts.

Poly Styrene: an appreciation

Various media sources are reporting that singer Marianne Elliot-Said has died of complications of breast cancer at age 53. Elliot-Said was better known under the stage name Poly Styrene, a name she used while singing with X-Ray Spex.

X-Ray Spex had a short career. In 1976, Elliot-Said was taking voice lessons, learning how to sing opera, and recording derivative reggae songs on the side, when she saw the Sex Pistols perform. This exposure to punk rock galvanized her, and she decided to form her own punk band, X-Ray Spex. The band performed together for about three years, recorded a handful of singles and one album, then disbanded in 1979.

Following the demise of X-Ray Spex, Elliot-Said joined the Hare Krishnas — more properly, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, a branch of Hinduism that worships Vishnu, and is devoted to bhakti yoga, or expressions of devotion to God. I had not known that Elliot-Said had joined the Hare Kishnas, but I was not entirely surprised. When she was singing with X-Ray Spex, her voice had a transcendent, joyful quality to it — even when she was singing about the horrors of genetic engineering, or screaming (in late 1970s punk vocal style) “Oh bondage! up yours!” Although the punk rock idiom of the late 1970s was fairly limited, as practiced by someone like Poly Styrene the vocal style could approach a raucous and ecstatic transcendence. There was often a hint of rapture in her voice, even a hint of a connection to something larger than herself.

Elliot-Said has been interpreted as an early exponent of what came to be called third-wave feminism; she had a clear influence on later feminist bands like The Slits, and it’s hard to imagine the riot-grrrl movement without her example. She allied herself with the anti-racist forces within punk rock and was bi-racial — a Somali father and an English mother — and perhaps she will be claimed as an early adopter of multiracial identity. She also had a preference for day-glo colors and wore braces on her teeth, though it’s harder to know what to make of those attributes.

But I prefer to remember her simply for her full-throated, no-holds-barred singing, a kind of punk bhakti devotion that invited us all to transform and transcend. The hell with the anemic pablum of praise bands — if you’re gonna make me have amplified music in a worship service, I won’t settle for anything less the raw full-throated raucous singing of someone like Poly Styrene.

Trivia

Before this year, the last time Easter fell on April 24 was in 1859.

If you want to plan ahead, the next time it will fall on April 24 will be in 2095. The latest possible date for Easter is April 25; Easter last fell on that date in 1943, and the next time it will fall on that date will be 2038. The next time Easter will fall on a date later than April 15 will be in 2017.

Sources: Michael P.; Frequency of the date of Easter1875 to 2124; Oremus Almanac.

No April fool from me

I thought about posting some kind of April fool post today. But how could I write anything that would be sillier than reality? How could I could invent anything as silly as the alleged discovery of two thousand year old lead codices with pictures of crosses and menorahs? How could I invent anything as silly as Muammar Gaddafi’s continued assertions that the Libyan people love him? For that matter, how could I invent anything as silly as liberal religion, which seems so proud of its liberal theology and so blind to its conservative methodology?

Canceling Sunday services for social justice?

Some acquaintances of Carol’s go to a nearby Christian church that is doing a really interesting social justice program. Next Sunday, they’re canceling worship services at both their campuses and doing a program they’re calling “Love Works.” They will be sending the whole congregation out to do good works in the community — “no strings attached.” Their Love Works programs will involve about a thousand people, and I’m quite impressed by the sophisticated organization of this project. For example, check out the Love Works online sign-up page, where work projects are sorted by categories, and you can look through the projects, pick one that suits you, and sign up online.

Note that there are opportunities for everyone to participate, including a virtual service project of spending an hour in prayer for those who are working that day, and providing refreshments at the closing celebration Sunday afternoon. And having a closing celebration is a nice touch, too.

If you have a moment, take a look at this and tell me what you think. Is it too good to be true? Is this something that liberal congregations should be doing (or maybe already are doing)? Would you participate in this, or would you just skip going to church that day?

What kind of online religion do you do?

I’ll be spending the coming week exploring Web-based religious participation, and I’m hoping that you, my readers, will be willing to help me out by answering one or more of the questions below.

(A) Which of the following do you consider yourself:

  1. Digital Native (you don’t remember a time before the Internet)
  2. Digital Immigrant (you feel fully at home in the Internet)
  3. Digital Alien (you have your green card, but you don’t feel fluent in the language and customs)
  4. Digital Tourist (the Internet is a place you visit, but you don’t live here)

(B) Aside from reading (this blog)(my Facebook feed), which of the following ways do you access religious content online online? (I also ask for specific examples of each kind of content, but if you don’t have the time to get specific, I’d still love to know which types of content, if any, you access.)

  1. Looking at a congregation’s Web site, or a denomination’s Web site (please list one or more)
  2. Reading sacred texts (Bible, Qu’ran, etc.) online (please specify which ones)
  3. Reading religious blogs online (please name some)
  4. Watching videos with religious content online (please describe one you remember)
  5. Listening to sermon podcasts online (please say who was preaching)
  6. Listening to religious music, broadly defined, online (please name some performers, composers, and/or songs/works)
  7. Taking classes in religion or religious topics online (please describe one or more)
  8. Looking at religious content online with your children (please specify)
  9. Other (please specify)

(C) Any general comments about online religious content?

If you’ve never commented before, I’d really love to hear your answers to one or more of the above questions. Even if you don’t access any other online religious content, I’d still love to know that. Thanks in advance for your assistance!

Stupid joke

There’s this small town, and everyone who lives there is a fundamentalist except one Unitarian Universalist guy. The Great Recession hit this Unitarian Universalist hard, his work dried up, now he’s got no money. One of the fundamentalists, the richest guy in town, hires the Unitarian Universalist to keep an eye out for Christ’s second coming. “You sit right here out in front of my house and holler when you see Christ,” says the rich guy. “What are you going to pay me?” “Two bucks a day.” The Unitarian Universalist takes the job, and sits down on the front steps to start work. Someone says to him, “What a lousy salary you got.” “Yeah,” says the Unitarian Universalist, “but great job security.”