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HeWhoMustNotBeNamed speaks again. Apparently, I misread the gmail account.

And, apparently, HEWHOMUSTNOTBENAMED@gmail.com was already taken because the address is: <mustnotbenamedhewho@gmail.com>

My bad..

Here’s the latest anonymous message.

Nice try in outing me on your website.

However, no one will find my true identity due to the wrong contact information you have provided.  You should pay as much attention to details, as I do to destroying all your plans.
In the Peace of Christ,
HeWhoMustNotBeNamed

As some of you may know, HE WHO MUST NOT BE NAMED is the moniker I sometimes use in sermons to protect the anonymity of a certain short-red-faced-bushy-eyebrowed-falls- asleep- before -the- doxology-generous- with- his- money- and- his- criticisms- parishioner (bless his heart).

Hilariously, now, one of YOU has taken this mantle and taken to emailing me cryptic, quasi-threatening emails from- yup- hewhomustnotbenamed@gmail.com

Here is an example:

Rev. Micheli,

In the most recent posting on your “website” I have found issue with your claim regarding church signs.  First of all, if you truly do no like these signs STOP going past them so frequently.  Second, these signs are EXACTLY what the church needs.  We need to show the godless generation (those young adults you want us to reach out to) that the church has a sense of humor.  
We cannot rely on our pastors to provide the comic relief needed during a boring service to attract this crowd that YOU say we need to attract.  These signs serve a purpose.  Maybe Aldersgate needs to reexamine our sign humor.  Do we really need to advertise for the youth group on them or our children’s activities.  
If they want to come to those programs people will figure out when it is, and if they can’t do it without a sign then its not MY problem.
Be careful young man, you never know, we might just put one of these signs in our pastors front yards!
In the Peace of Christ,
HeWhoMustNotBeNamed

Every day, two freaking times a day, I have to drive by one of those church signs with the individual letters you can move around like magnet poetry to create- supposedly- witty, catchy, thought-provoking, chicken-soup-for-the-vanilla-soul kind of messages. And on swim practice days, its 4x/day.

You’ve seen the ones.

‘Christianity: Some Assembly Required’  

‘Life is fragile, handle with prayer.’ 

‘1 Cross + 3 Nails = 4Given’ 

 ‘America bless God’

 ‘One in the hand is worth two in the…just kidding. 

Call me cynical (if you haven’t already) but I hate these signs. I’m sure some of you love them and think I’m cold and callous, but I think they’re lame.

My problem isn’t that these don’t communicate.

My problem is that I fear they communicate very well.

They say to anyone who’s never wanted to go to church before: ‘Stay away. We’re exactly what you thought we were.’

They say:

We’re not going to challenge you.

Our religion is the sentimental kind that will have about zero application to your life.

You don’t need to be here because the paradoxical message of Christ can be summarized in this lame Christian koan.

And this isn’t just me being cranky. In the book, You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church, David Kinnaman notes that one of the most frequent reasons cited by young people is their impression that the Church is shallow.

So you see churches with lame signs only appeal to people inside churches not to the people who’ll be driving past your church come Sunday morning off to some other way to spend their time. Meanwhile, your sign conforms to all the impressions out there that Church isn’t a place of depth, unexpectedness or adventure.

Thus my plea…take down your lame sign.

And then there’s this sign, which has even more depressing suggestions of lameness (I mean…how did NO ONE in that church think that might be a double entendre).

As part of our God-Sized Vision sermon series, I’ve been pointing to the findings from the Pew Trust Survey’s data on religion and young people.

Here’s one 20-something’s (a friend) feedback on Church and Christianity. Write it off all you want. A handful of years and your church will be sending him/her mailings, promotions and wondering what you can do to get them interested in your church.

1. Church is decreasingly relevant to my life. Throughout my college career I have slowly become less involved (to not at all) and any thought that goes into faith is usually in discussion with others or in well meaning debate. I enjoy reading and talking about it, but don’t attend church regularly.

2. I associate the word ‘worship’ with very emotional-hands-in-the-air-bad-music-contemporary services, and general discomfort about being surrounded by that. I do like hymns….and bluegrass. The bluegrass worship on sunday morning blue ridge mountain radio is good. But generally followed by a fist-shaking, southern drawl infused, guilt trip. I think worship can be a positive, and have experienced that on mission trips.

3. My favorite part of worship has always been the sermon. I generally tune out to a lot of the other goings-on. I prefer digging in deep, and being critical in a constructive way. An hour of prayer concerns during a service does not make me feel more a part of the community – despite the small town sentiment I wish characterized the times I have had to listen to very gruesome descriptions of “my [insert distant family member]’s [insert personally revealing ailment]”

4. I think most people generally equate a lot of different ideas about christianity to stand true across the board. For example, if you are a Christian you don’t support gay marriage. Even though this is extremely ignorant, I don’t think it is uncommon. Also in college people tend to say that christians are very conservative, can’t have fun that isn’t team building etc. Formality and commitment seem to me to be big reasons why people I know are reluctant to become involved in a church setting. People are much more willing to consider issues/opinions/ideas around a table in the company of friends (with wine) than they are to have the same conversation in a church setting.
Don’t mean to sound so negative, but I figure a critical opinion will be good? Honest as well though. Hope this is sufficient.

Tony Jones has a post today reviewing the beginning of the Democratic National Convention and celebrating how the Democratic Party appears to have transitioned to full-throated support of homosexual relationships and marriage equality. It’s received little comment in the media- maybe because the media arrived at such support long ago?- but such support seemed unthinkable just a few cycles ago.

Tony concludes with this thought: This is just another sign that the tipping point has been reached. And it is yet again up to congregations and denominations and plain old Christians to decide whether they want to be on the right side or the wrong side of history

Now I know a lot of you have a lot of different feelings when it comes same-sex relationships. I realize how sincere Christians can arrive at two very divergent points of view on the question. Christians can debate the question from a variety of scriptural and theological perspectives; indeed, Christians have been doing just that (to the overall detriment of the Church) for decades. The issue threatens Church unity in my denomination (Methodism) and has torn several other denominations asunder.

Pushing the scriptural and theological concerns aside for just one moment, on one level Tony’s point is absolutely rock-solid: demographics.

No matter the supposed scriptural or theological ‘correctness’ of those who oppose same-sex relationships, long-term it’s a losing issue for the Church.

I’ll put it stronger, long-term the Church has an image problem when it comes to how we deal with the gay issue. 

Why? Because, like it or not, young people think Christians are homophobic and, overwhelmingly, young people do not share that phobia.

In his book, You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving the Church, David Kinnaman cites the perceived intolerance of Christians as one of the primary reasons those in their teens and twenties leave the faith.

It’s a generational difference. Kinnaman points out how in 1960 9 of 10 young adults identified themselves as Christian. Today it’s 60%. In 1960 only 1 of every 20 births was to an unwed mother. Today it’s nearly 50%.

Young people today have grown up with a diversity (religious, ethnic, relational) unthinkable 50 years ago. Diversity is an assumed norm in their lives and they bring it to bear on the topic of homosexuality. Young people favor egalitarianism in their relationships: fairness over rightness, inclusion over exclusion, relationships over opinions and, as a result, young people simply assume the participation of homosexuals in any meaningful cultural conversation.

And there’s the demographic rub. An institution that behaves as though it values the polar opposite, the Church, seems strange, antiquated and even mean-spirited to a majority of young people.

I’m not suggesting that churches should capitulate to the cultural mores of the empire. Neither am I suggesting churches should abandon teachings they sincerely believe are given by the Holy Spirit.

I am suggesting that the demographics make it even more imperative Christians engage this conversation gently and with compassion, as though all the eyes of young people are watching.

I am suggesting that the demographic realities force Christians to consider whether being ‘right’ on this issue is more important than persuading others to the love of Christ. Or, as Tony puts it again: This is just another sign that the tipping point has been reached. And it is yet again up to congregations and denominations and plain old Christians to decide whether they want to be on the right side or the wrong side of history.

My post yesterday on David Kinnaman’s book, You Lost Me: Why Young People Are Leaving the Church, generated several emails, one of which was a passionate note from a mother whose 20-something daughter simply has no interest in the church. The issue is real and, for those who care about the Church, urgent.

David Kinnaman’s research found six basic reasons young people cited for writing off the Church. Kinnaman labels the first of these ‘Overprotective.’ That is, just as our culture is rife with the phenomenon of ‘helicopter parenting’ so too do our churches vigilantly- excessively- manage their members (of all ages).

In the same way that helicopter parents intervene to insure that their children do not make mistakes, do not make messes, do not fail or fall on their face and do not miss an opportunity; helicopter churches minimize Christians’ creativity, self-expression and risk-taking in the fear that an innovation fail. ‘That’s the way we’ve always done it‘ in other words isn’t simply arbitrary stifling of anything new it’s the genuine desire to protect the church- and its members- from harm. Helicopter churches, as much as helicopter parents, are motivated by love. We love the church and so we don’t want someone’s new idea mess it up. We love our youth and so we don’t want their new idea to fail and hurt them.

Kinnaman wonders if this comes at a cost:

“Is it possible that our cultural fixation on safety and protectiveness has also had a profound effect on the church’s ability to disciple the next generation of Christians? Are we preparing them for a life of risk, adventure, and service to God- a God who asks that they lay down their lives for his kingdom? Or are we churning out safe, compliant Christian kids who are either chomping at the bit to get free or huddling in the basement playing World of Warcraft for hours on end, terrified to step outside?‘ 

Whatever good intentions might motivate such overprotectiveness, Kinnaman argues the research shows that it comes with risks.

By protecting our youth from the world (and isn’t this often what we want church and youth group to do-provide a safe alternative to the realities of teen life?) we inadvertently, yet quite logically, do a bad job of preparing them to live in it as Christians. We spend so much time shielding them from the world they have no idea how to practice their faith in the world once we can no longer, because of age, keep them from participating in the world. Is it any wonder, then, that young people drift away from the faith once they’re in the 20’s and 30’s. Our love of them and the church has produced a sort of Faith-Failure to Launch.

This plays itself out in a few ways, Kinnaman says.

  1. By presenting youth a risk-free form of Christianity, it’s only natural that youth would seek out risks from other, less healthy, outlets. We’re not giving them a Christianity that’s sufficiently interesting to compel them away from ‘bad’ risks.
  2. By shying away from asking youth to ‘make a decision’ (to give their life to Christ) we fail to equip them to make any other decisions of consequence.
  3. By protecting the church and youth from ‘mistakes’ we stifle creativity which has led to a loss, a near absence really, of Christian art. And, as any historian of Christianity can tell you, it was the Church’s ability to shape culture- not mimic it in pop form- that led to Christianity’s rapid rise in the ancient world.

The last two weeks I’ve preached sermons on Isaiah’s 3-year stint preaching nude and David’s 100 foreskin dowry. Some have suggested I’ve done this for juvenile and/or prurient interests. While I don’t deny my juvenile tendencies, I’ve actually chosen these scriptures for the very reasons Kinnaman highlights in his book. By blatantly choosing bible passages that might otherwise be off-limits and honestly wrestling with them, having fun with them and asking questions of them, I want to indirectly communicate to my listeners that we’re the kind of church where anything, if done in good faith, goes. I don’t, in other words, feel the need to protect people from anything, even scripture.