Thursday, August 21, 2008

Faith Works 8-23-08
Jeff Gill

Phoning In My Religion

Not to delve too deeply into politics, but last Saturday night was a televised presidential candidates’ forum at Orange County, CA’s nationally known Saddleback Church, moderated by Pastor Rick Warren. Rick is author of “The Purpose Driven Life” which has sold 25 million copies, so he’s got a wee bit of media attention in the past.

Some have said that they weren’t comfortable with a church as the setting for the first almost head-to-head meeting of the two major parties’ candidates for president, and I suppose there’s a case to be made for that concern, but the candidates were simply invited by Pastor Warren, who has come to know them both, and either or both could have said “nope.” If they’re fine with it, I’m interested.

And quite frankly, Warren was a better moderator than about nine of the last ten debate facilitators I’ve had to listen to in the last year, so good on him. Anyhow, they each took an hour on stage, shook hands in the middle, and were not quite debating, but offered many illuminating moments about their personal and political journeys from the perspective of faith.

But there was a moment that was quite unintentionally illuminating, and it wasn’t from Obama or McCain, coming after the event had formally ended.

One well-known national political reporter said in the course of post-forum analysis “they did a really interesting thing setting up for this here: they had two large screens on either side of the platform, where you could watch them as they were talking from wherever you sat in the room.”

I turned to the Lovely Wife, jaw slowly swinging open. The reporter, who in my experience is credible and quite intelligent, just told me something. Does she know what she actually just told me? That analyst just revealed that she has almost no experience with large or megachurch worship settings whatsoever, in person or on TV or tape.

Full disclosure: I preach most weekends, and am as likely to preach for 25 as 250, and never before 2,000. But I’ve been in and around enough large churches, in multiple states, let alone seen the footage of others, to know that no megachurch worth its salt is without two large screens on either side of the platform. None. You’re more likely to find two large screens permanently built into the architecture of the front of the worship space than you are a cross (that’s a discussion for another day).

Later on, I saw this comment at the New York Times political campaign blog, “The Caucus”: “The church itself rises in the desert and is surrounded by palm trees and dusty mountains, but it’s hard to tell it’s a church. In fact, inside, it looks more like a giant warehouse, than traditional religious sanctuaries. The hosts treated the forum as a major live television event. A woman who was introduced as tonight’s “stage manager,” told the audience to be sure to give Mr. Warren a hearty round of applause when he appears, and to save their bathroom visits for commercial breaks.”

Wow. Y’know, the warehouse comment (I found three more like that just with GoogleNews), might have been pertinent twenty years ago, maybe ten. But most Americans are familiar with the look of large church campuses by now, and calling them “giant warehouses” just tells me they’re looking around for the stained glass or felt banners, and on not finding them, going “Whoa, this is not what I expected.”

No, I guess it isn’t. Do you get out much? I mean, other than around the world?

Later on, “The Caucus” noted that “The event reflects the importance of religion in American life and, increasingly, in politics. It also marks the coming of age of a broader brand of evangelicalism that is more socially minded and more diverse than the orthodox religious movement of the Christian right.”

Thanks for noticing, folks, but here’s a news flash – Evangelicals have been diverse and complex since, oh, always. Socially minded? That’s where we started, and we’re not done. And if by diverse, you mean “ah, maybe now they’re ready to vote for a pro-abortion candidate if we paint them green enough,” well, keep hoping.

They really, really should get out more. I’ll bet there’s a warehouse-like, screen-toting, jeans wearing preacher church just down the street from wherever they live, and I do mean wherever. Just ask at your Starbucks and someone else in line will give you directions.

Yep, we’re so diverse we go there, too.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he’s not a member of a megachurch, but he does know how to use PowerPoint in worship. Tell him a story electronically at

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Notes From My Knapsack 8-21-08
Jeff Gill

Get a Peace of Scouting

This Saturday, Granville’s own Super Pack 3, our Cub Scouting organization, will have their start of the school year picnic out at Infirmary Mound Park.

Aug. 23 at 3:00 pm the lawn chairs and shady canopies will unfurl around the bounce houses and food tents back behind the horse show arena, and a few hundred Cubs and Scouts and little brothers and sisters (plus parents) will say hello to a new school year of Cub Scouting (and a hog will end his year, with our sincere appreciation shown in bbq sauce).

First graders are Tiger Cubs, and from those newest Scouts to the Webelos ready to make the jump in March to Boy Scouts in Fifth grade, we have over 150 young men in Super Pack 3.

The normal pack meeting, the gathering of the whole shebang, is at 7 pm on third Thursdays right through May, but the heart of Scouting is the small group: dens in Cub Scouts, patrols in Boy Scouts. Each grade has a “rank,” Tigers in First, Woves in Second, Bears in Third, and Webelos in Fourth and Fifth. And each rank has three to five dens (Pack 3 had 21 dens last year), which is where the real Scouting program happens, learning about the outdoors, themselves, and what it means to be a citizen and a leader among your peers.

The Scouting Movement goes back to 1907, 1910 in the US, and really to May of 1900, when the entire British Empire went crazy over good news in a very bad year. The Boer War had gone badly for England in South Africa, and a small outpost had been cut off and assumed overrun. It turned out that Mafeking was holding out against overwhelming odds, and on May 18, 1900, a relief column made it to the city and commanding officer Robert Baden-Powell.

Baden-Powell, or B-P as he was known by both friends and respected enemies, returned to a hero’s welcome, and the startling news that his book written for soldiers, “Aids To Scouting,” was selling like hotcakes among young boys (and girls) back home, with “B-P Clubs” starting in various towns (think Michael Phelps and swim clubs).

B-P was actually disturbed by this – he had not written the book for children, and knew that romanticism of warfare was not what young people needed. On the other hand, he saw so many city kids new to the military come into the wilderness helpless, starving where food was handy and dying of thirst where water was available. If kids thought heat came from furnaces and food from grocery stores, what would you expect?

So he turned down a cushy spot in the military bureaucracy, retired a General, and spent two years doing research and writing (in Windmill Cottage next to Wimbledon, which I’m told you can still visit). Then he told his publisher, eager to hit the shelves while his fame was still remembered, that he wouldn’t sell his scheme until he tried it himself.

B-P called his new plan “Peace Scouts,” and used the “patrol method” to deliver character formation and leadership development through outdoor education, with a focus on learning by doing, not adults standing up talking unless it was storytelling. And he did one thing that some still think controversial – he kept uniforms as a central feature of his program.

Uniforms weren’t about militarism, but about uniformity. Because the test run of his new book, “Scouting For Boys,” was to bring 22 young men to an island off the English coast, 11 from the city, and 11 from the small towns and countryside, 11 from some level of privilege and 11 from humbler backgrounds. The Scout uniform was meant, and still means that all the boys are on a level playing field, with only their individual achievements marked with “merit badges” and “activity awards” which they earned by competing against . . . themselves.

August 1, 1907, these 22 boys and three adults spent two weeks testing out “Scouting For Boys,” and the program they began there now serves 38 million young men and women all over the world, in over 200 countries (basically, every country but Cuba and China).

The program gave birth to not only Boy Scouts but Girl Guides, called Girl Scouts in this country, and in 1930 the junior level, Cub Scouting was formally organized. The nation with the largest total number of Scouts in all phases? Nope, not the USA, which “only” has 7.5 million registered – that would be Indonesia, with over 8 million young men and women in Scouting.

But you can just come out to Infirmary Mound Park Saturday afternoon! Or e-mail me at