Sunday, December 30, 2007

Looking backward, Going forward

As I vacation with my immediate and extended families in California, I am struck anew by the flurry of cultural, economic, technological, and media retrospectives on 2007. As yet I have not found an Anglican/Episcopal retrospective, but I'm sure someone in the blogosphere will put one together soon (if you know of one, feel free to leave it in the comments section of this post). I am also less than two months away from turning 40 years old, always an occasion for both looking back and looking forward. As the Anglican/Episcopal world convulses and raises questions of identity, structure, and purpose, I've also been thinking about my own identity as an Episcopal priest and my own values for ministry on which I hope to focus a bit more purposefully in 2008. Those values are:
1) The transformational power of faith in Jesus Christ.

Perhaps it is my own grounding in the evangelical flavor of Christianity, but my own belief is that if the church is not standing up and proclaiming that being a disciple of Jesus Christ is not just a nice thing to do, a trendy (or counter-trendy) lifestyle, or even something that changes your world-view but something that fundamentally transforms one's life in both real and mysterious ways, I'm not sure what exactly we're here for. If you want to serve, there are plenty of service clubs around. If you want to learn, there are many blogs, podcasts, video courses, and even classroom-based opportunities for learning. If you want to socialize, there are likewise plenty of social clubs (including social networking web sites) in which you can join. Heck, even worship of God is something that one can do alone with an iPod, at least to some extent!

I am at once frustrated with my own tendency to 'put God on hold' amidst the pressures and demands of life and ministry and frustrated with the tendency of the church to be so self-absorbed with similar demands that there is little time given for exploring our relationship with God in Christ. So little, in fact, that many people in the pews have no idea what I'm talking about when I mention such a relationship! For 2008, I want to 'go deeper with God' and invite members of the congregation I serve to go there as well.

2) Being grounded in traditional Christianity and yet drawn to fresh expressions of the church through the emerging church and missional movements.

I'm an anomoly--a Generation Xer who grew up in a very traditional, middle-of-the-road Episcopal church in Silicon Valley with parents that are still together to this day. I didn't suffer from a broken home, a broken faith, or a broken church. We had major players from Silicon Valley companies in our congregation, but no one would have dared suggest that we incorporate the least bit of technology into our services. At the same time, the rest of my life was saturated with cutting-edge technology as well as cutting-edge ideas. I married that very traditional liturgical church upbringing with an evangelical fervor caught in high school and fanned into flame during my college years at InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at Humboldt State University. Even so, I am drawn to fresh expressions of being a disciple of Jesus Christ. These are often expressed in the emerging church and missional church movements.

All that is to say that while I'm grounded in traditional expressions of Christianity, I'm searching for ways to live out my calling as an Episcopal priest in the very exciting world of the emerging church without losing that traditional base and evangelical fervor. I suspect that exploration will continue in 2008, primarily through the addition of a new evening 'alternative service' to the very traditional service currently at the church I serve.

3) Love of technology as a tool for ministry.

I'll admit it--I love technology with a passion. Raised in Silicon Valley and in high school at the beginning of the technology wave, I'm as fully plugged in as my time and money allow. I obviously blog regularly, check my e-mail constantly, monitor a variety of blogs, and essentially live on the Internet, with only one exception--my ordained ministry. Sure, I use the Internet to get ideas, illustrations, and examples for sermons, but the church I serve has no real value for technology as a tool for ministry. This is not limited to my current congregation. There have been plenty of folks over the years who wonder why I'm on the computer 'so much' and exactly what I'm doing there. I will readily admit that occasionally the lure of technology overwhelms my call to on-the-ground ministry.

So, in 2008 I'm resolving to explore ways to unite my love of the church with my love of technology, all under the umbrella of being a more faithful disciple of Jesus Christ and a more effective priest of the church. Viewing technology as a tool for ministry rather than simply a toy for entertainment means being more focused in my use of technology and my learning about how best to integrate it into my ministry. It also means making sure that I do not neglect face-to-face ministry in favor of 'screen-to-screen' ministry.
We'll see how all of this goes. I'm mindful that most people break New Year's resolutions before the end of January. Hopefully by my birthday at the end of February, I'll still be plugging along!

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