Chris Seay’s talk was on consumerism. I’ve heard his name spoken around here and there; I know my pastor is a big fan. I’m not sure about why he was chosen as the expert on consumerism… not against it but just not sure why. His talk was much more pastoral than the others; it was needed as it was a much more familiar style of talk.
Seay started out by talking about how commercials have been telling us a counterfeit story. This flowed really well out of Donald Miller’s talk. Seay stated that the counterfeit story we’ve been told is that “when we get what we want we will be happy” – and it is this lie that diverts our attention to consumerism.
Seay used the interesting analogy of how, when playing Sims, buying things make your Sim’s comfort level go up. We’re being trained that buying things simply for the sake of buying things is going to make us feel better. That we’re trained to want more.
Seay sees that in the history of scripture, Israel is always asking for more. There is always this human need to want more. Now, in America, the richest people in history are obsessing over what we don’t have.
In response to all this, Seay lets out the major point here: We were made to create, not just consume.
Some interesting stats he laid on us:
$18 Billion on makeup
$15 Billion on perfume
$17 Billion on pet food
It would cost:
$5 Billion to eliminate illiteracy worldwide
$10 Billion to solve the water crisis for everyone in the world
$19 Billion to eliminate hunger worldwide
Seay also charged us to not spend so much on material gifts for Christmas, but instead use that money (Q attendees together spend an estimated $344,000 on gifts in 2006) to help change the world.
For me, this talk reminded me of one my ongoing threads of thought as of late: the role of the church in America is to be the pocketbook of the global church. Our money is worth such an average amount here to by above-average material items. Even a small portion of our money redirected to another country can literally save lives every day.
It’s hard because we have been so uneducated and inexperienced. Even at church we talk about all the new gadgets and gizmos and ways we can stay connected to build community… but don’t think to build community by changing lives across the world by giving $5 here and there. America doesn’t help us either, as – just as Seay said – the story has been made into a counterfeit consumerist one. We don’t get the news or see the images of our human brothers and sisters struggling while we try to decide what temperature to set the room we’re in.
Seay’s talk was a tough one because I feel like I should be moved to do something great and give away more than I already am. But we’re stuck in debt and can’t seem to do much until we get out of that. There are things I can sell and clear out my “space”… but are we called to have little? Or are we called to have wisely?
While I’ve been reading through the Old Testament I found that having things isn’t bad… it’s an honorable thing. I think the important thing is that we can “have” – but that we shouldn’t have in such excess that the people around us have so dramatically less. It’s ok to have a large house… but have people living with you. It’s ok to have toys… but make sure that the kids you know (and some you don’t know) have toys too.
Is that being too easy on myself? Should we live in poverty for the sake of poverty? It’s tough, strange line. Probably will be something we’ll all be dealing with as we live in America and spend on one meal the amount that could feed a child else where for a month. It’s probably something we’ll always be thinking and processing through.
And maybe that’s a good thing.
Jeff Johnson educated me. He took us through the ins and outs of the history of hip-hop culture and its effect on global culture in 18 minutes. I don’t really feel at all adequate to go through and try to detail that history… but wow. He knows his stuff.
He talks about how in other countries, where they don’t even have MTV, where they are in the midst of civil war, you can find G-UNIT written in graffiti or purchase Eminem posters. How has hip-hop gotten to a point where it is spread across the world, even where the music isn’t supposed to be available?
Hip-hop came out of a post-civil rights movement; the integration was happening, but the economic benefits had yet to reach the black youth of the day. They were disenfranchised and had no voice; so they created the voice of hip-hop. Suddenly they had a voice.
The problems came first when someone realized they could make a product of that voice and sell it.
The problem now is that, as Johnson puts it, hip-hop is being created by a “post-soul generation.” It used to be that someone in the family had a spiritual influence on the youth; the parents, the aunt, the brother – someone. But now there are people growing up with no one to reel them back in. Now, as Johnson describes it, you have 40-year-old grandmas clubbing with their daughters.
I understood Johnson’s challenge to the church to be to stop excusing and ignoring race and the cultures of the diverse races. We are more comfortable saying Jesus wouldn’t see color instead of dealing with the realities that differences make us great. Johnson suggests there is still racism in the church –that a black person isn’t a “black” person when they’re a part of your church.
The point of hip-hop in our conversation is that it’s an example of how it transcends ethnic and cultural communities without shedding who “I am”. Instead, when we can create together, our diverse backgrounds can add value. Unfortunately, we most often get “urban ministry” that is, and I quote, “suburban ministry in blackface.” The white church needs to “remove the fakeness” – a young black man will see it, because “I am us.”
I really enjoyed this session. Johnson is obviously passionate about his craft and how it creates culture. It was also good to have just a completely different style of speaker than I’m used to. Johnson just oozed with passion and you knew that in those 18 minutes he was telling us the most important things he knew to say to us.
For me, the best thing out of this was the reminder to not ignore race. I need to always remember that other people come from different memories. How I remember church growing up is not how my brother who is Asian remembers it. How I remember celebrating Christmas is not how my sister who is Black remembers it. How I remember my first day on the job is not how my Hispanic neighbor remembers it. There are deeper stories and deeper disconnects there than I might expect. Instead of being afraid of them, we’ve got to rejoice in them; and your story can make my story a better one.
Donald Miller was the first of the second session presenters. The second session was decidedly different from the first. Whereas the first seemed to be experts who set the tone for the key points of our conversation at Q, the second session felt much more pastoral. Perhaps the better was to synthesize it is that the first session was “here’s the story” and the second session was “here’s what my part of the story could be.”
Donald Miller did a great job at setting the tone for the following presenters, talking specifically about narrative and how stories effect us; specifically, how our personal story effect us.
Miller began by telling the story behind on of his yearly rituals: every year he spends time to sit down and literally decide what he’s going to spend the next year doing. What is your next year going to be about?
This past year he was struggling, however, as he couldn’t decide what it was he wanted to do for the first time. While he was still trying to figure it out, he received a call from a friend he’s known for years. He had once sent her a letter that described the things he wanted to accomplish in life. They talked about that letter and he discovered why he no longer knew what he wanted to do: he had accomplished all the he had once dreamed of. He needed a new story to take part in.
We as humans identify most with a three-act, single protagonist story. We are the single protagonist, and we need an antagonist. A few things he points out from this idea:
· The story becomes as important as the dream. If the protagonist dies, their dreams die. What is lost if the dream dies?
· If your ambition is evil, you are the villain.
· If your ambition is apathetic, you are a background character.
The problem he describes for the church today is that our story has been hijacked by a lesser story; the story of secular culture. For all the time we spend on “sacred” entertainment, we spend hours more on “secular” entertainment. We need to be a part of a better story.
Miller describes a friend whose daughter was dating a… less that appropriate suitor. Her life was going down a path the father did not approve of, but he didn’t know how to help her. When the family stumbled into an opportunity to help build and fund an orphanage in another country, the family rallied around the idea. The suddenly found a better story. Saving lives was such a better story to be in than rebelling against her father. The family found themselves in a better story, and better for it.
I think the psychological implications of story and narrative can run deep. I find myself agreeing greatly with Miller – I wish he had taken the ideas further. I don’t think that the church has been simply hijacked by a lesser story; I think most churches don’t have a story.
In Kevin Kelly’s presentation he made the “controversial” statement that we have to consider the possibility that Armageddon won’t happen in our lifetime. That there are other options for what will happen in the year 2100, 2200, or even 3100. So many churches have grown lazy because there is no greater story; they don’t know about social injustices like slave trading or environmental issues that will affect their children’s children. And so, the biggest story their church is caught up in is the color of the carpet.
So many churches have dissention because their pastor has not given them a better story to be a part of. Every story needs an antagonist; if the church isn’t aware of opportunities to change culture for the better, if they aren’t aware of the movements of Satan, they can easily lose sight of who their antagonist is. In a culture where the greatest antagonist is “the man,” then if the church has no other antagonist the first, and easiest, person to see as the villain is the pastor.
If the pastor hasn’t given his church a better story to be a part of, his people will turn on him or leave.
Big churches can get by on the story of being part of something big. Church plants can get by on the story of being part of something new. Aging churches can get by on the story of being a resting place before they die.
Or, we can have a better story. What is your church’s story?
Kevin Kelly. I took three pages of notes from this man. His talk steamrolled through the future.
Some of you might know that I’m in the opening stages of writing a book. There are so many things he said that fall right in line with the stuff that I’ve been working on, that it was a huge encouragement that I’m heading in the right direction. The hesitation for me is to question how my voice can even begin to matter when someone like Kevin Kelly is saying similar things… he’s going to do it bigger/better with a larger audience… so there is this fear of why should I even try?
I think for me the key here is that while I ate up his stuff, while I thought it was phenomenal, while for me just hearing this one session was worth the cost of admission… looking around I saw a lot of people that just didn’t “get it.” The issue is a matter of what voice do you bring to these conversations. I may not have as much experience as Kelly, but I have my own, unique voice. Perhaps people might resonate with my sentence structure and vocabulary more than they can with Kelly. Perhaps have do have some new and unique perspectives. Perhaps there is room for me at this table of conversation. But after listening to this man just throw out idea after idea that each are so revolutionary that (in my opinion) Fermi needs to consider having a full-fledged futurist conversation, it’s a bit intimidating. But I digress.
I could spend 10,000 words pouring through the wisdom that Kelly spilled onto the Tabernacle floor. I think these notes will be something I return to several times. Let’s just try to get through a couple of the more “key” concepts and things that really set off stuff for me.
First of all, the future is not that far away. By looking at birth records, Kelly finds that we need only go back 13 generations to reach 1000AD, 30 generations to reach Christ, 60 to reach Moses. That means thinking about Christianity in 1000 years really means thinking only 13 generations out.
13 generations ago, the church was dealing with these hot issues:
· Catholic Indulgences
· Is the Holy Spirit from the Father or from the Son (people were killed over this argument)
· Marriage for Priests?
· Can we take a leavened Eucharist?
· Will there be an Emperor Pope?
· The Crusades
That was only 13 generations ago. How will 13 future generations look back on our struggles? Will things like musical style be that important then?
We’ll reach 2040 in one generation – or, really, ½ of a generation. The social issues we’ll be dealing with in 2040:
· End of the Boomer generation
· Shrinking world population due to currently falling fertility rates in every country
· Age-lust; youth is precious because it cannot be regained
· China will be largest economy, outgrowing America
· 30% of China will be Christian
Perhaps one of the more interesting ideas is that of discerning what possible futures exist and what are impossible. Kelly makes a great (and EXTREMELY controversial) point: every interpretation of the apocalypse has been wrong so far. It simply hasn’t happened yet, but every generation interprets the scriptures to say that it will happen in their generation. Kelly suggests that we realize that the apocalypse happening in our timeline is just a possible future. And that it happening in the next 1000 years is just a possible future. But that it hasn’t happened yet… so we need to think past it.
Denominations are growing and splintering at a rapid rate. The number of denominations:
· 1800: 500
· 2007: 40,000
· 2100: 260,000
The current fastest growing denominations are Mormons, Jehovah’s Witness, and the Amish. If current trends continue, the future “Christianity” will be a para-Christianity.
The last thing I’ll hit for now (I’ve skipped like half of his talk) is the dangers that a falling world population bring. The world has always been growing in prosperity and the population has always been growing. Futurists fear this dip in world population because they’ve never seen it happen before; the human race has always previously replenished itself. The U.N. charts on fertility predict the human population will peak in the year 2050, and then dip down. And that’s a conservative estimate, based on fertility rates alone – no major famine, war, etc is taken into account.
In the talkback session with Kelly later, he talked a little more about this issue, and the cause of it: People are having smaller families because of TV.
The U.N. conducted studies in Indian counties, tracking what the effect TV had on the population as it entered the areas county-by-county. They found that as TV entered a county, the fertility rate dropped dramatically. The culprit? Soap Operas.
It was found that soap operas have changed women’s perceptions of their role in society and what they want for their children. Previous to TV entering a county, a woman would want for her daughter to have a large family. Once they began to watch soap operas, however, they same the glamorized life that smaller families had. Smaller families meant more money, which meant better opportunities for the children. Thus, the mothers wanted fewer children so that their children could have a more glamorized life. TV is the best birth control, doing for countries what planned parenthood and laws couldn’t.
And yeah, I skipped a ton of stuff. I think the key thing to glean from his talk, if none of that stood out to you, is that we must be thinking about the future generations. They aren’t that far off. We also need to be observant of future trends. If a Christian publishing house is based in America, they must be actively seeking entry points into the growing Chinese economy. We don’t simply need to be hiring Spanish-speaking employees and a Hispanic marketing expert… that’s the sort of things we should have been doing 5 years ago; America is already there.
We need to be researching the market in China. We need to figure out how house churches utilize materials. Do they even have a budget? Do we even produce materials that make sense to their culture? How do you produce a Bible study that doesn’t contain the Bible, since we don’t want out customers to die simply for having purchased our materials?
…are American Christian publishing houses, these great institutes of wisdom, these treasures of gifted writers and designers and managers who help America better understand the scriptures, our lives and our culture… are American Christian publishing houses even thinking about China? Should they be?
And after the most pleasant presentation came the most emotional: Catherine Rohr.
Rohr is the founder of the Prison Entrepreneurship Program. She uses business as a tool to love inmates and help them succeed in life – and stay out of jail – once they leave. As part of her program she takes in the top gang leaders and drug dealers – the people who are already naturally leaders and entrepreneurs. In the program all the inmates spend four months in a business plan competition (and doing the chicken dance). When the are released from prison, Rohr picks them up at the gate and will already have housing arranged for them and planned interviews with companies.
In three years, the PEP has had 256 graduates. There have been no active participants who have gone back to prison; and only 2.8% of the people in this program have been kicked out. Rohr believes this huge success rate is because of one simple thing: she and the PEP staff love them.
When prisoners in Texas are released they are given one outfit of clothes, $100, and a bus ticket to the city they committed their crime in. Rohr tells the story of one graduate who, when she picked him up, immediately handed her $10 (of the only $100 he had to his name). He wanted to tithe. He currently makes $9/hr and tithes 10% to his church and then gives another 5% to the PEP.
Rohr reminds us that prisoners – even murderers – can be role models. She questioned why the church won’t have faith in former convicts, but will allow grace for the “old-school” murderers in Moses, Paul and David.
This was, without question, the most emotional time of the day. The guilt that comes from being cleansed from the stereotypes we have of people so foreign to us like prisoners. They’re criminals… they must be evil, right? Is it safe to have a former convict as a church attendee if we have a preschool program? Can they ever really change? Why should we bother even trying to help?
And in telling her story, Rohr lavishes love on these people we have sought to de-humanize. My first reaction is to simply think – “well, I don’t interact with that culture. My life doesn’t intersect with them… that’s why I’ve never thought about it that way. I don’t know any ex-cons.”
Aaron, Aaron, that is the point! I don’t interact with that culture; I never have… and there’s too large of a chance that I never will. Why do I refuse to lavish love on them? If I don’t, if my peers don’t, if this body of Christ doesn’t intercede and pour love on them… what kind of life are they going to have off of $100 and a one-way bus ticket? If we who claim that “love wins” don’t bother to love them… who will?
Next up was the surprise speaker, Rick Warren. I believe he was a replacement for Rick McKinley. Warren spoke with the poise and confidence of some kind of elder statesman of the community, granting his blessings on the event. The guys behind me just kept saying “wow” over and over again during his talk. He was able to capture the audience’s attention and hold it effortlessly. This was the first time I’ve had any interaction with him or his ideas; I was pleasantly surprised.
But where to start with his talk..?
His opening ideas: It is easy to be relevant, if you don’t want to be Biblical. It’s easy to be Biblical if you don’t want to be relevant. We must balance the two, but the greatest temptation for a leader is to be in imbalance, because it’s so very much easier.
Relationship needs to be personal, not programmatic. We need to be living a lifestyle, not following a strategy. We don’t need innovation, we need incarnation. And, most importantly: you ARE the message.
The secular culture offers three major temptations:
· Lust of the Flesh: “I want to feel good.” This is hedonism.
· Lust of the Eyes: “I see it, I want it.” This is materialism.
· Pride of Life: “I want to be…” This is secularism.
Warren suggests that we haven’t engaged culture because of our arrogance. We need, instead, humility. Humility is teachability.
In thinking of the future, we need to not simply be looking at what is going to change, but also what is NOT going to change. People will always need love. People will always feel guilty, will always hold on to resentment, they will always feel lonely. People will need meaning and purpose. One hundred years from now, people will still need to be loved.
I love that here, less than an hour into our week, and Warren breaks everything we’re talking about down into one simple phrase that should be on our minds whenever we’re talking about changing culture, or culture being changed: 100 years from now, people will still need to be loved. That’s the core of everything, really.
Warren’s message was definitely the most pastoral message today. It had the most “nuggets” that you can easily take away. As he himself said about his book, Purpose Driven Life, however, he didn’t say much “new” – he just said it in an easier way to understand. Looking back on his talk, I think it resonates with us because we can easily get the points he was making. We can hold on to them and they have this great big stamp-of-approval because they came from Rick Warren’s mouth. I am NOT saying this is a bad thing.
Looking back, his talk was one of the easier ones to deal with. He nailed it on some very important concepts, but he articulated his ideas with such warmth and clarity that they hang on the tip of your mind.
In 100 years, people will still need to be loved. Even me.
After Andy Crouch spoke, we were presented with the following question for discussion:What is the cultural good that God has called you create?
They only gave us five minutes to process and discuss. I haven’t fully processed this, but I think it’s important to attempt to answer. I think I’ll let these questions percolate and try to answer them better after I’ve digested the conference.
Our second speaker was Andy Crouch, editorial director of ChristianVisionProject.com for Christianity Today and author of the upcoming book, Culture Makers. Andy was a great choice for the first presentation after Gabe Lions because his topic really began to set the stage for where we were going to be going for the week.
Crouch essentially had two major points: the difference in life between postures and gestures, and the ideas of culture being cultivated versus created.
Crouch finds that in recent history the cultural channel of the church has had four major postures. The first was the Fundamentalists, who chose to condemn culture. The next were the neo-evangelists, who sought out culture to critique it.
His next major movement resided with the Jesus Music Movement, using the example of Larry Norman. At this point in time the church chose to copy culture. Take the sounds of the surrounding culture, sanitize it for our ears, and then call it new. Finally, we are currently caught in to posture of consuming culture. To quote a later presentation (there are several concepts and theme that are being woven throughout the speakers – it seems unintentional, but it’s happening), for every hour of Christian music we listen to, a Christian will watch two hours of Lost or Borat.
The biggest issue with these postures is that humanity (specifically, the human body) is not meant to live in postures and stay in that pose. Instead, if you have good posture (back straight, no slouching and all that), you have the ability to use a full range of gestures in better ways. There are reasons and times to use these different gestures:
1. Condemn – Things that we just know are wrong don’t need to have a committee meeting. We shouldn’t need to dialogue whether or not the Nazi actions of oppression should be condemned.
2. Critique – Much of art is made to interact, not simply be consumed. The creator wants a dialogue with those who view his/her art. They want the art they created to create thought, not simply be consumed.
3. Copy – By copying, new ideas can be infused into the forms that are available, creating new opportunities.
4. Consume – Some things are made simply to be enjoyed. Bread is infused with leaven so that it can be eaten.
On top of these postures/gestures we have to also look at two other concepts: cultivating and creating. Gen 2:15 reads:The Lord God took the man and placed him in the Garden of Eden to work it and watch over it. (HCSB) The key here for Crouch is that Adam was placed in a garden; not the wilderness or a desert. The garden already was there – it was already cultivated. Culture is already available and there – it’s already cultivated. However, Adam is then charged with the responsibility to name the animals. He is called upon to create. Crouch suggests that whenever we create, we attempt to create in a team of 3. He’s found that a core group of 3 will spread influence to 12 committed people. Those 12 committed to the idea will then spread to a community of 120. Whew. That’s a lot to take in. I like that Crouch takes these negative “postures” we’ve adhered to and turns them around to how they can be powerful, creative gestures. I think we as a society have forced ourselves to believe that we must be in some kind of posture – we must identify ourselves in some way as having some sort of position on subjects. That “this” is what I’m all about. More so, if we change our posture on a subject, we are seen as weak because we didn’t stand true to our beliefs. That somehow, if we change an opinion once or twice or – God forbid – thrice, then we are an indecisive person. I’m not sure what posture I’m stuck in, if I truly am. I would like to think I have good posture and can react and engage with a full range of gestures. It’s hard to tell from my own perspective, though. There are definitely things that I simply consume and don’t worry about how it fits into my worldview of life. And… that’s the end of only my first page of notes.
I feel like I have been attacked by a machine gun full of ideas.
Normally when you go to some kind of conference there are a few ideas that you pick up, a few nuggets of wisdom that you enjoy. But the Q Conference? I’ve just been pelted with truth and idea and concept and story and dream and vision. This is day one. I’m not sure my little head can make room for the presentations on Thursday. Or Friday.
So, I’m going to attempt to pour out some of these ideas into written word so I can hopefully remember some of what hit me today. I have 14 pages of notes… on day one… and I am NOT a note taker.
We arrived right before 10, got registered and found a seat in the balcony, and then the event began. The first presenter was Gabe Lewis, the organizer of the Q Conference and the Fermi Project. Their goal is to put focus on four things:
culture | future | church | gospelOn the subject of culture:
Culture is everything around us, broken down into 7 channels. In no particular order: media, arts & entertainment, business, education, government, church, and the social sector.
Without having much time to think it through, I’m able to accept these 7 channels as a basis for the conversation we’re having this week. I’m not sure what I would add to it off the top of my head… but we’re moving at such a velocity that this is something that we almost have to accept for the week. If these are the channels of influence, it would be interesting to explore how they intersect in my life, my church’s life, and the life of my workplace.On the subject of future:
Great quote from one of the slides: “Your actions today actually create the future.” Lewis uses this time to introduce the idea that everything is going green. As such, to save paper waste, they have provided us with water bottles.
I agree that every business is becoming more and more green. This is import to my generation, and they seek out companies that aren’t green – even Apple is a major target of protestors. I’m curious how long it will be until churches and Christian organizations will be hounded by protestors upset that we’re supposed to be the example of gardeners in the land God has given us, but we waste so much paper with bulletins and energy keeping empty churches warm.
I thought it was good of Lewis to move on this subject quickly; Kevin Kelly was presenting only an hour or so later and he would more than supply some conversation for the future.On the subject of church:
According to Lewis, when the church is operational, it has the most potential to shape culture.
I think the key here is that we as church leaders and influences understand and acknowledge that there is this concept of other cultural “channels.” I like that Lewis is not at all afraid to say that the church has the most potential to shape culture, and should be shaping culture. It’s good to hear some positive words about the potential of this Bride of Christ, instead of the continual deconstruction of it. I think it’s also good to that he puts on the requirement that for the church to have that potential, it must first be operational and healthy.On the subject of gospel:
One of the prevailing themes of the Fermi Project is that we have diluted the Gospel into an individualistically-focused half truth. We are getting half the story, not the whole story. In the half-story, it’s all about us and our sin. In the whole story, it’s about the cycle of sin and the redemption of the world.
And that, my friends, was only the first 18 minutes.