584: Top 10 News Stories Affecting … Our Communities and Congregations

nyone recall the apocalyptic terrors of Y2K?
Anyone worried the world will end in 2012?
Time flies so quickly that we’re already closing out the first decade of this new millennium! (Note to math purists: Yes, a decade shouldn’t end until Dec. 31, 2010—but we collectively redefined our calendars for 2000 and we seem poised to do it again.)
In the cold, clear light of December 2009—rather than Y2K and 2012 as milestones framing our era—it seems that 9/11 and some future global warming tipping point seem to be the bookends of our global Zeitgeist in this decade.
Right now—we need your help! Why is it worth taking a moment to participate in our “Top News Stories” project this week? Because we all enjoy “Top 10” lists—and it’s a great discussion starter with family, friends, co-workers and neighbors.
This gets all of us thinking about the bonds that unite humanity around this small blue orb we call home. So, please, take a moment and engage with us this week! Your voice will echo to a national audience—and you’ll help us raise consciousness. Email us at [email protected]


TODAY, read our nominees below for “Top 10 News Stories That Affected Congregations in 2009.” That’s right—we’re only focusing on 2009 in our list. This is a joint project shared by ReadTheSpirit, the Alban Institute near Washington D.C. and the Dallas Morning News’ longtime expert in religion Sam Hodges.

ALSO TODAY, the OurValues.org Web site—coordinated by the University of Michigan’s Dr. Wayne Baker—is working on a purely values-based list of Top News Stories. Today, Dr. Baker gives us only his No. 1 pick—and hopes to interact with readers throughout the week.

AND FROM ALBAN TODAY, you can read Alban’s Top 10 list—prepared independently of our own list so that we can see how two completely different approaches might agree … and disagree.

ON WEDNESDAY at 2 p.m. Eastern Time in the U.S., join us at BlogTalkRadio for a live broadcast on these issues. The call-in number while we’re broadcasting is: (646) 478-3848

HERE ARE ReadTheSpirit’s




1.) Economic Crisis: Millions of Americans are losing savings, jobs and homes. New research shows our 15 million unemployed neighbors are suffering through a spiral of long-term problems including loss of health care, emptying of retirement savings and even clinical depression. One of our readers in an Arizona church put it poignantly: “We’re seeing more empty, sealed envelopes placed in offering plates so no one will know some folks are not able to give.” Bottom line: For a huge number of Americans, life is changing permanently.
2.) Election of President Obama: Our readers overwhelmingly put this in our Top 10 list. (Over at OurValues.org, Dr. Wayne Baker places this 1st in his Top Values Stories.) For congregations, after eight Bush years, political and social attitudes either soared or were dashed, depending on each community’s point of view.
3.) Global Warming: Congregations have been flocking to environmental causes in recent years—but now there’s an eco-crisis we cannot solve by recycling or selling fair-trade coffee. This cosmic-scale, creation-centered crisis is a theological game changer.
4.) Aging America: Millions of Baby Boomers are turning 60, posing urgent problems from health-care plans to retirement policies. Now more than ever, it’s time to quit complaining that your congregation is “too old” and recognize that America itself is aging. A defining question in the new decade will be: What are the spiritual gifts of aging?
5.) Swine Flu: Yes, it was more of a scare than a catastrophe, but congregations experienced a nationwide jolt of anxiety over policies on communion rituals, social hours and hand shaking. In a scary world of emerging health threats and instant communication, the swine flu scare may be just the tip of an iceberg chilling our physical interaction.
6.) Pets and Spirituality: Evidence is everywhere that animals play a vital role in our daily spiritual adventures. Books and films like “Marley and Me” and “The Dog Whisperer” are cultural milestones. When a Los Angeles church started a regular pet-friendly service in 2009, the news rocketed across the country.
7.) Explosion of Facebook and Twitter: This is more specific than the general growth of new media. Specifically, social networking tools like Facebook and Twitter are a tidal wave of human connection. Anyone who says people don’t want to be part of congregations isn’t looking at these tools.
8.) Rise of the iPhone: More than 100,000 powerful “apps” are in millions of palms. Now, we have more connective power in our palms than most of us had a few years ago in our entire offices. Congregations are just beginning to tap this power, sometimes telling members not to turn off their cell phones during worship. One church urged attendees to text a prayer to shut ins during worship. Far more news centering on these tiny powerhouses is coming in 2010.
9.) Launch of Rob Bell’s Drops Like Stars World Tour: He’s been compared to a young Billy Graham—and that’s true, but not because Rob preaches like Billy or is building a Billy-style organization. Rather, like Billy in his heyday, Rob is rewriting the rules of evangelism. Drops Like Stars is a new style of multimedia, interactive revival staged in commercial theaters. Rob and his leadership team are using those innovations as a gateway. The last-ever Nooma DVD was released in 2009, paving the way for even more innovations in 2010.
10.) Major Prophets Telling Us to Accept Spiritual Diversity: This was the year when heavy hitters published memorable books telling us that we shouldn’t even try to “fix” Americans’ spiritual diversity. That list includes Barbara Brown Taylor’s “An Altar in the World,” Harvey Cox’s “The Future of Faith,” Father Thomas Keating’s new “Centering Prayer” multimedia kit, and Samir Selmanovic’s “It’s Really All About God.” These prophets are telling us: Our spiritually eclectic culture is not a matter of poor preaching that allowed people to wander in new directions. On the contrary—men and women are happy to find their own spiritual wisdom in a host of new places. Like it or not—that’s the shape of the future. Period.


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    (Originally published at https://readthespirit.com/)

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