The hulking members of the Power Team—veins budged, muscles swollen, eyes lit from radiant fire within—knew this. They’d come to this realization through years of practice, performing, and proselytizing. And so, in 1991, when they took the stage in front of a stadium of post-Perestroika’d Russians, the Americans didn’t waste time with preaching about the glory of Jesus. The translator could sit this part out. Instead, they broke through the language barrier with noodling guitar riffs, pyrotechnics, and incredible feats of strength.
With their bare hands, they broke handcuffs and tore phone books in half. They bent steel and smashed concrete with their skulls. They rammed flesh and bone against ice walls and burning timber, and the Lord let them pass through, relatively unscathed. And the Russians—all 70,000 or so of them—stood up, shouted, and accepted God into their hearts.
If reaching people is the goal of any ministry, the Power Team fulfilled it. They encircled the globe, Bible Belt missions interspersed with passport stamps from South Africa, New Zealand, and Israel. They hosted a weekly show on TBN, the world’s largest Christian television network, and they released VHSs and CDs. Nirvana’s Krist Novoselic wore their T-shirts during Bleach-era shows. Chuck Norris even put them in an episode of Walker, Texas Ranger. They were an $11 million a year industry.
The Power Team, at their height, were the Christian superstars of the 80s who would reportedly preach to over a million teenagers in a calendar year. And, in 2002, they filed for bankruptcy.
On December 22, 2014, Pope Francis delivered the traditional papal Christmas speech to the assembled ranks of the Roman Curia. This annual meeting with the staff of the church’s central administration offers popes the opportunity for a stock-taking “state of the union” address. In 2005, his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI had used the occasion to deliver a momentous analysis of the “hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture” that he believed had distorted understanding of the Second Vatican Council by presenting it as a revolutionary event, and to which he attributed many of the ills of the modern church. The phrase “hermeneutic of rupture” was eagerly seized on by those seeking a “reform of the reform,” and became a weapon in the struggle to roll back some of the most distinctive developments in the church following the Second Vatican Council of 1962–1965, which had been presided over first by John XXIII and then by Paul VI.
The scope of Pope Francis’s 2014 address, however, was far more local and specific. Having briefly thanked his hearers for their hard work during the previous year, the pope launched into an excruciating fifteen-point dissection of the spiritual ailments to which people in their position might be prone. It was a dismaying catalog of “curial diseases”—the spiritual “narcissism” that, as part of the “pathology of power,” encouraged some to behave like “lords and masters” (in Italian, padroni); the “Martha complex” of excessive activity, which squeezes out human sympathy and renders men incapable of “weeping with those who weep”; the “spiritual Alzheimer’s” that besets those “who build walls and routines around themselves” and forget the spirit of the Gospel.
Staunton, January 26 – The Russian Orthodox metropolitanate of Stavropol and Nevinnomyssk says that over the last 20 years, some 6,000 mosques have been built in that region for its six million Muslims while only 600 churches have been erected for its three million Russian speakers.
That means there is now one mosque for every 1000 Muslim residents but only one for every 5,000 Russian ones, an imbalance that is increasing as a result of Russian flight, the growth of the Muslim population, and both financial and personnel problems, and a trend that gives every sign of continuing and even increasing in the future.
Svetlana Bolotnikova of “Kavkazskaya politika” cites this report at the beginning of her report on relations between the two communities, pointedly noting that mosques are growing “like mushrooms” after a spring rain but that Orthodox churches are rising “only slowly like oaks” over many years.
In many places, there are no problems, but in others, there are and on both sides. Many Cossacks are unhappy with the fact that in places where before 1917, there were Orthodox churches for them, there are no such churches now, even though there are often mosques for each ethnic group; and neither Moscow nor republic officials have been prepared to help build them.
Despite Vladimir Putin’s very public invocation of religion and his tight embrace of Patriarch Kirill, the influence of the Russian Orthodox Church has fallen over the last year, the result of government policies which could be called “covert secularization” and the spread of the notion of “Orthodox atheism,” according to Boris Kolymagin.
In a commentary in Yezhednevny Zhurnal, Kolymagin argues that the Russian government has become increasingly involved in the affairs of the church, blocking the recovery of Russian Orthodoxy from Soviet oppression and reducing the church’s influence on many aspects of public policy.
And that in turn means, he continues, that “’Orthodox atheism,’” a term used by and associated with Alexander Lukashenko, “’the last dictator of Europe,’” has now crossed the Belarusian border and is “proudly marching through Putin’s Russia,” however much Moscow political technologists try to conceal that fact.
Friend of the blog Pascal Emmanuel-Gobry:
On a recent Sunday, my family and I only showed up 10 minutes early for Mass. That meant we had to sit in fold-out chairs in the spillover room, where the Mass is relayed on a large TV screen. During the service, my toddler had to go to the bathroom. To get there, we had to step over a dozen people sitting in hallways and corners. This is business as usual for my church in Paris, France.
I point this out because one of the most familiar tropes in social commentary today is the loss of Christian faith in Europe in general, and France in particular. The Wall Street Journal recently fretted about the sale of “Europe’s empty churches.”
Could it be, instead, that France is in the early stages of a Christian revival?
Yes, churches in the French countryside are desperately empty. There are no young people there. But then, there are no young people in the French countryside, period. France is a modern country with an advanced economy, and that means its countryside has emptied, and that means that churches built in an era when the country’s sociological makeup was quite different go empty. In the cities — which is where people are, and where cultural trends gain escape velocity — the story is quite different.
ARNHEM, Netherlands—Two dozen scruffy skateboarders launched perilous jumps in a soaring old church building here on a recent night, watched over by a mosaic likeness of Jesus and a solemn array of stone saints.
This is the Arnhem Skate Hall, an uneasy reincarnation of the Church of St. Joseph, which once rang with the prayers of nearly 1,000 worshipers.
It is one of hundreds of churches, closed or threatened by plunging membership, that pose a question for communities, and even governments, across Western Europe: What to do with once-holy, now-empty buildings that increasingly mark the countryside from Britain to Denmark?
The Skate Hall may not last long. The once-stately church is streaked with water damage and badly needs repair; the city sends the skaters tax bills; and the Roman Catholic Church, which still owns the building, is trying to sell it at a price they can’t afford. …
Pack Smit, 21, a regular visitor, says the church ambience enhances the skating experience. “It creates a lot of atmosphere—it’s a bit of Middle Ages,” he says, between gulps from a large bottle of cola. “When I first saw it, I just stood there for five minutes staring.”
Another regular, Pella Klomp, 14, says visitors occasionally stop by to complain. “Especially the older people say, ‘It’s ridiculous, you’re dishonoring faith,’ ” he says. “And I can understand that. But they weren’t using it.”
When, as a boy, I read Luke’s description of the Apostle Paul’s journey on a “ship” (in Acts 20-21), I imagined him getting on board something like the MV Coho (above), which I rode several times a year from Port Angeles to Victoria and back again. When I got a little older and realized that Paul had been on a sailing ship, my mental imagery tended to be drawn from the ships of the Age of Discovery, because that was the kind of sailing ship I most frequently encountered in my non-Biblical reading.
This is a common source of ambiguity in language. When I projected my own experience with ships into the story, the result was not completely misleading. Certain root elements of the concept of “ship” were shared between the ship that Paul rode on in the book of Acts and the “ships” that I saw sailing past when was on the waterfront, or the ships that I rode on trips to Seattle or Victoria. But there was still a certain significant level of misunderstanding in my reading of the text (though I doubt that misunderstanding led to any erroneous theological conclusions).
I use this example only because I want to discuss a different, though related, question: when someone uses or hears the word “gay,” what set of experiences or dispositions is the word about for them? And I will argue that different life stories produce differences in the word’s content that are probably larger than the differences between my boyhood concept of a “ship” and the concept of a “ship” that Luke had in mind when he wrote the book of Acts. These differences, in turn, make it easy for two people, looking at the same text, to assign very different meanings to the word “gay,” with the result that some readers project meanings into the text that were not present for the author. Here, the differences in meaning are much more theologically significant, and so need much more careful discussion.
Liturgy forces you to bring together both systematic and biblical theology, not as abstract fields of knowledge, but embedded in rich and variegated traditions of practice, and relate them to the prevailing conditions of belief, identity, and community, discerning the ways in which texts and practices form us, instructing and guiding persons in their effective use, crafting new practices of our own, relating to truth of God to the life of the body, and constantly attending to the ways our theology is or isn’t validated in the lives and practice of the Church and its members. All the streams of theology converge at and flow from the font.
Dylan Mortimer enrolled at the Kansas City Art Institute in 1998. A pastor’s son from Ferguson, Missouri, he’d been drawing and painting since age 9, and much of his art was informed by the conservative, Christian environment in which he was raised.
“The church was really supportive of me doing art, so when I got to art school here in Kansas City, I started out doing a version of that same kind of stuff,” Mortimer said recently, sitting in a booth at McCoy’s Public House in Westport. “People hated it. My classmates hated it. My professors hated it. I realized, very quickly, I’d gone from a situation where everybody I knew was Christian to where nobody I knew was Christian.
“There was a lot of aggression toward Christianity in the school, of a kind you wouldn’t see directed toward other faiths. It was this very weird situation where you had permission to do anything there, anything at all — except be a Christian. But I still was one.”
Mortimer responded by shifting his focus toward art that challenged modern assumptions about Christianity, faith and the public sphere. Early on, he Photoshopped road signs to say things, such as “Prayer ALLOWED 40 yards,” and reworked yellow caution signs to warn passers-by that sermons may be occurring nearby. Later, he installed his “Public Prayer Booths” — a play on old-school blue-and-white phone booths, each outfitted with a kneeler — in public spaces across the country, including New York City, where in 2006 he received a master’s degree from the School of Visual Arts. In exhibitions — with titles such as Holla Back, God; Ble$$ed; and Amen, Bitch — he has fitted hip-hop culture within Christian imagery: Tupac in stained glass; a gun-shaped gold medallion with text that reads, “Love Your Gawd Damn Enemies.”
Brad Littlejohn put together a nice handout for an education hour thing he did for his church that he has now also shared on his website:
After giving a lecture on Peter Martyr Vermigli for Trinity Reformed Church in preparation for Reformation Day, I used the next Sunday’s slot to give a crash course in the long English Reformation. It occurred to me that this, which I used as a handout, might be of interest to others.
Henry VIII (1491-1547, r. 1509-1547): Tudor King of England who broke with Rome, initially in order to obtain a divorce from his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. Generally hostile to Protestant doctrine.
Thomas Cromwell (1485-1540): Lord Chamberlain to Henry VIII who masterminded the break with Rome; sympathetic to Lutheran reform. Fell out of favor with Henry and was executed, 1540.
Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556, bishop 1532-55): Archbishop of Canterbury under Henry VIII and Edward VI. A Lutheran sympathizer early on, he helped accomplish Henry’s break with Rome. Later, under Edward VI, adopted Reformed doctrine and established Reformed faith as the doctrine and practice of Church of England. Martyred 1556 by “Bloody” Mary.