Saturday, April 21, 2007

Harry Potter Again!

The last Harry Potter book has been named, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. It's due to be out on July 21, and it should be another all-nighter at the bookstores.

Unlike any other series I know of, this series has grown up with it's heroes and heroines, and, more or less, with its reading audience. My own son, now 16, was introduced to HP at the very beginning, 9 long years ago. We read the first book to him, liberally skipping the parts too complex for his understanding. But after that, he devoured every book after that on his own, often beginning on the night of the release. (Harry Potter books are released at midnight at bookstore events featuring costume parties and themed refreshments and long check-out lines.) A couple of the middle books were the objects of read-all-night "slumber" parties.

The last book came out when the boy was 14, and he opined that he was now too old for it. so we skipped the midnight trip to the bookstore. We were off on a cross-country trip the next day,and the airport bookstore had a good price, so I bought the book there. On a "mother's intuition" hunch, I casually left it on top of my carry-on while I visited the rest room. You can guess the rest: he was finished with the first chapter before we left the ground, and I didn't get my reading in until the second day of vacation! Parents of children of a certain age so cherish these last moments of childhood!

For the record, I think that the resolution to this series is going to revolve around the fact that two boys fit the criteria of the savior of the magical world, Harry and Neville. I hope they both survive, but whatever happens, I'm sure it will be a good subject for my annual sermon to the kids (always on a subject of their culture, books, movies, etc.)

I'm not up for a midnight trip to the bookstore, but I am going to pre-order the book and casually leave it around the house. (after I read it, this time!) Amazon's worked it out so that if you pre-order, you get it on release day. If you want to pre-order, here's a link!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Church Growth Research Upset

Hartford Seminary has been researching church growth, and it has discovered that they stereotype most of us carry that all church growth is happening in very conservative, very big, very suburban churches isn't accurate.

Many downtown churches grow, especially if they find themselves in re-developing areas of the city.

Growing churches have found ways to attract more men, (another hot topic in religious journalism these days) they have a website, they use percussion in worship services, have a recruiting plan, and offer support groups and wellness programs. Theologically liberal churches grew more than conservative, and "somewhat conservative" churches grew more than "predominately conservative."

A major finding: Growing churches tend to be multi-cultural and nothing kills growth as effectively as a church conflict.

Why are growing churches multi-cultural? Aside from the longing many religious people have to live out their values in a multi-cultural church, insofar as growing churches attract persons under 50, persons under 50 are far more multi-cultural and far more comfortable with diversity than their elders.

The two strategies which seem to have brought growth (and diversity) in this congregation have been helping the Young Adults get organized and starting a specialized "extended family" (yep, we still have them from the 1970's...they are long term social/support groups) for multi-racial/multi cultural families.

You can see the whole report here

Monday, April 09, 2007

The Easter Blessing of Kosen Rufu

At yesterday's service, we passed out little green paper leaves and invited all present to consider something that was "leafing out" in their lives(a new skill, new way of looking a life, a resolution, etc.) As they were ready, they trooped up and attached their leaves to bare branches, then we blessed the branches and the growth and creativity they represented. This morning, I went over to have a look at what the congregation wrote and finish the process of blessing all those individual intentions before the janitor swept them away.

It was an intergenerational congregation, so many leaves involved youthful handwriting and resolutions involving musical instruments, getting along better with siblings, and sports skills. The adult-written leaves mentioned things like family relationships, new skills, taking better care of their health, dealing with anger, and various aspects of spiritual growth. I found four different languages in my wandering through the 500 leaves, and three times the words, new to me, "Kosen Rufu"

A Google Search (how did we ever manage our ministries before the internet?) reveals that this is a fundamental concept from Nichiren's Buddhism which involves how the quest for personal peace and happiness becomes a contribution to world peace. That's worth some study, so, since I wasn't organized enough yesterday to participate in the morning's ritual, I'll name my intention here; to learn more about Kosen Rufu and incorporate what I learn into my life.

May all that is budding out in your life be blessed!

Sunday, April 01, 2007

UU Jokes

When April Fools Day comes on a Sunday, it's time to haul out the UU jokes. I'm not a big fan of the classic UU jokes (UU's honor the 10 Suggestions, pray "to whom it may concern", and the only time Jesus' name is heard is when the Janitor falls down the stairs, etc.) Those jokes all play off on the notion that this strange outfit that calls itself a religious organization is really a bunch of spiritual idiots. Ha ha. Ho Hum. Old hat.

Here are several of the new style UU jokes we told in church today. Like all jokes, they get their punch line from our foibles. I don't mind us having foibles. I'm just tired of the spiritual idiot foible. So here's a different batch.

Leader: How can you tell a Unitarian Universalist?

CR: I don’t know. How DO you tell a Unitarian Universalist

L: You can’t. They already know it all.

CR: Ok….Have you heard the latest UU miracle?

L: No. What’s the latest UU Miracle?

CR. Somebody saw the face of Ralph Waldo Emerson on a Tortilla.

L: That reminds me. Why wouldn’t Mr. Emerson ever let his dentist give him Novocain?

CR. Why not?

L. Emerson wouldn’t let his dentist give him Novocain because he wanted to transcend dental medication.

CR: Ouch. Humm… Ok: What did the UU who was studying Zen ask the Hotdog vendor?

L: I don’t know. What?

CR: Make me one with everything.

L: Ok…so, there were once two old guys talking to each other in a California Diner. One says to the other, “Have you ever delved into the mysteries of Eastern religion? And the other one says “Yes. I was once a Unitarian in Philadelphia.

CR. Have you ever heard UU’s compared to Jalapeno Peppers?

L: no.

CR. One or two gives real spice to a dish, but a whole bunch together will bring tears to your eyes.

Judging by the laughter, they liked Transcending Dental Medication the best. But the biggest laughs went to the last joke, which isn't really a UU joke at all but is apropos of our iMinistry initiatives which involved recording sermons.

It seems that there was a Rabbi who was an extremely good preacher and his people loved to hear him preach on Friday evenings. They wanted him to also preach on Saturday morning. But he wanted to spend Saturday morning at home, in his jammies, with his family. So he got an idea. He would pre-record the sermon, and, since it is not permitted for Jews to turn switches on the sabbath, he would hire a Gentile to push the "on" button at the time of the sermon.

So he did that for several weeks. And that got the folks of his congregation to start thinking that they, too, would prefer to spend Saturday at home in their jammies with their families. And that if they sent tape recorders to the synagogue, they could listen to the rabbi’s sermon at their leisure.

And so the inevitable happened: the day came when the only people in the synagogue were Gentiles with tape recorders.

And that is the first known instance of artificial in-sermonation

Happy April!