114: Why, oh, Why Did You Change? Please — We Really Want to Know …

Pew_foundation_logo_2     “People will be surprised by the amount of movement by Americans from one religious group to another — or to no religion at all. They’ll also be surprised by the extent to which immigration is helping to reshape the U.S. religious landscape.”
    (Luis Lugo, director of the Pew Forum on Religion and American Life.)
    The big news in religion this week is: You’ve changed!

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    Or, at least, millions of you have changed religious affiliations in your lifetime — nearly 1 out of every 2 Americans reported that to researchers in a major project funded by the Pew Forum.
    More than one in four American adults have completely left the faith of their childhood for another religion — or they’ve moved to no religion at all. Then, when denominational change is added to the mix — meaning that you’ve changed from one branch of Protestantism to another branch within the Christian faith — then 44 percent of American adults have changed their religious affiliation!
    Now, that may not sound so newsworthy at first glance — but dig a little deeper! Pew finally is placing solid research behind shifts that many of us who have been carefully watching the religious landscape for years have been describing mainly from anecdotal reporting.   

    Catholics? Your whole world is transforming in the U.S.!
    Lesson No. 1 for the Future, Catholics: Learn to speak Spanish!
    Half of all Catholics aged 18 to 29 now are Latinos. In virtually every Catholic parish I’ve visited in the past 25 years, people have talked about the importance of reaching young people. Well, half of the young Catholics in America are Hispanic.
    In fact, it’s only thanks to Latino immigration that the Catholic church has managed to shore up its traditional claim that “1-in-4 Americans are Catholic.” That’s because Catholics have left the church in the tens of millions over the years. One third of American adults who started life as Catholics — now are somewhere else religiously!

    These Pew conclusions run parallel with the ongoing research of Dr. Wayne Baker, a sociologist with the University of Michigan’s school of business. His landmark study, “America’s Crisis of Values,” formed the book showed us how deeply Americans’ deep passion for religion is also coupled with a desire for self expression that’s stronger than the desire for free expression in some Scandinavian countries.
    In short: We love religion — but we’ll make up our own minds, thank you.
    Perhaps Baker was in an ideal position to theorize on these trends, because he’s based in the Midwest, which Pew this week pointed out is an ideally balanced location for observing America’s religious diversity. We agree. That’s one reason we’re pleased that our ReadTheSpirit Home Office is situated in the heart of the Midwest.

    Pew reported: “The Midwest most closely resembles the religious makeup of the overall adult population of the U.S. The South, by a wide margin, has the heaviest concentration of members of evangelical Protestant churches. The Northeast has the greatest concentration of Catholics, and the West has the largest population of unaffiliated people, including the largest population of atheists and agnostics.”
    Go take a look at some of Pew’s findings. More reports will come later from further examination of this massive study — but some of the coolest data and comparisons are represented in interactive, online charts on the Pew site, already. Watch out! You could lose ourself for a good hour or so clicking around on the Pew site. So, when you’re good and ready: Visit the Pew Forum Web site.

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    BUT — PLEASE — before you do that —
either add a “Comment” to this story by clicking on the link at the end of this article online — OR, simply click to drop me, ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm, an email.
    We really would like to know: Why did you change? You’re not alone. More than 100 million Americans have changed affiliations. So, don’t be shy. Show a little of that desire for “self expression” that Dr. Baker writes about — and drop me a note. I’d like to gather some comments from readers about why you’ve made your changes — and see what insights we might share with ReadTheSpirit readers.

    Late this week, I talked with another expert on global religious-diversity issues. I spent about an hour on the telephone talking over emerging issues with the journalist and author Ira Rifkin, who lives in Annapolis and wrote one of the essential books on these issues: “Spiritual Perspectives on Globalization.” (Remember: You can click on any book or film cover in our articles and jump to reviews — and buy a copy via Amazon, if you wish.)

    I asked Ira what he found most surprising in the Pew report.
    “Nothing,” he said. “Anybody who has been observing this scene for a while, this is what you see -– you see people hopping from one group to another, people feeling more free than ever to search for answers that make sense to them.”
    What Ira did find most interesting, however, is the way these patterns of change are affecting some groups more than others. Catholics are going through a historic change. The Jewish population is shrinking significantly. Mainline Protestants are experiencing a dramatic evolution. Hindus and Buddhists don’t seem to be leaving their faith groups as rapidly as other Americans — “but in another generation, they may see more change and intermarriage than they’re seeing now,” Ira said, pointing out elements in the Pew study that he found intriguing.

    In other words: All of us who care deeply about the impact of spirituality and religion on the shape of our world want to know — Why did you change?
    Take a moment this weekend — and drop us a note!
    Why? Oh, why?

    Once again: Add a “Comment” to this story by clicking on the link at the end of this article online — OR, simply click to drop me, ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm, an email.

    OR, click on the “Digg” link below and add a very brief “digg” comment — even a phrase — to this story’s listing on Digg-It, which will tell even more folks worldwide that it’s worth reading:


Digg!

004: A Conversation With Tony Campolo …

God_of_intimacy_and_action THIS is the first of a 2-part Conversation. Part 2 of Tony Campolo is here.

     “We need to get back in touch with our Catholic brothers and sisters. We need to say: ‘We can teach you some things, but you can teach us even more.’”
    From David Crumm’s talk with evangelical scholar Tony Campolo   

    A Conversation With Tony Campolo kicks off what we hope will become a popular mid-week feature here at ReadTheSpirit, bringing you fresh exchanges with some of the leading spiritual thinkers of our age. (Just to whet your appetite, next week’s mid-week “Conversation” will be with the near-legendary author Frederick Buechner.)

    Now in his 70s, Campolo is more vigorous than many scholars or evangelists half his age. He’s constantly hopping on airplanes, circling the globe. For this conversation, I caught up with him via telephone in a hotel room somewhere in the American South just before he delivered that day’s talk to that day’s audience.
    Not only is he a famous evangelist, but Campolo is a sociologist who taught for many years at Eastern University in Pennsylvania. That rigorous, analytical framework in his professional training produced a relentless, restless edge to Campolo’s faith, which makes him one of the most fascinating and unpredictable spiritual voices today.
    In fact, Campolo had so much to say in our wide-ranging conversation that I am reserving his provocative thoughts on the spirituality of animals for tomorrow’s story!
    In today’s exchange, we reference Jim Wallis (and you can click on the title of Wallis’ most important recent book, “God’s Politics,” to jump to our review and buy a copy) as well as Brian McLaren (and, yes, we’ve already reviewed McLaren’s brand-new “Everything Must Change” and you can pick up a copy of that as well by clicking on the title here).
    Campolo’s new book, which we discuss at length here, is one of the most important books he’s ever written: “The God of Intimacy and Action,” co-authored by Mary Albert Darling. (Click on that title to read our review – and we’ve also got a fresh review of Campolo’s other recent book, “Letters to a Young Evangelical.”)
    Here’s our Conversation, Part 1 …

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    TONY: Hello, friend. Good to talk with you again.

    DAVID: Hello! We’ve talked about each of your recent books, all of which I thought were important, but this new book, “The God of Intimacy and Action,” I think is really a milestone.
    It’s as if you’ve produced the missing link here to connect the work of people like Jim Wallis with the work of all those who are moving toward a more spiritual expression of the faith. You’ve packed into your 56 pages of this book a very strong call to remember that the roots of both movements already were integrated into our Christian heritage.
    TONY: You’ve got it exactly right. Yes. This is very, very important for us to work on right now. In the Protestant community, there’s been a strong awareness that we need to be equally committed to social justice on the one hand and to evangelism on the other hand. Those two things have always been with us, but there’s been a belief among us that they’re two different things.
    In this book, we’re trying to make the point that they’re not different. Both things flow out of our spirituality. Both social justice and evangelism flow out of our experience with God.
    For the book, I have traced this truth in particular through the lives of St. Francis and John Wesley. Most people know something about Francis, but John Wesley isn’t known as well. Here was a man who was very much into the Catholic mystics on the one hand. He was very much into centering prayer and contemplation. And, out of this mysticism came his passion for reaching people with the gospel story and reaching out to help the poor and the oppressed as well.
    This kind of spirituality also links us to people like Billy Graham.

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     DAVID: You and your co-author Mary Albert Darling are arguing that this fusion of spirituality and social action shouldn’t lead away from the world.
    TONY: Exactly. We’re reacting against the kind of monasticism that says that, when you become spiritual, you should leave the world and go off into a monastery somewhere.
    DAVID: And you’re saying that when popular evangelical writers like Brian McLaren and others are pushing for a whole new version of Christianity to emerge – you want to make sure that, in the process, they don’t cut us off from our roots.
    TONY: Yes. What I’m saying is that, when we had the Protestant Reformation, we left so much good behind us in Catholicism! We need to have a rapprochement.
    We need to get back in touch with our Catholic brothers and sisters. We need to say: “We can teach you some things, but you can teach us even more.”
    You know what prayer is for a lot of Protestants? It’s reading off a lot of non-negotiable demands that we make to God, then we tell God a lot of things that God already knows. There’s a whole lot more to prayer than that.
    Catholics have spent centuries developing relationships with God in many forms of prayer and, as Protestants, we’re largely unaware of those wonderful forms of prayer. There’s a spirituality in Catholicism that we need to reclaim. We can hold onto our Reformation theologies, but we had better get back into pre-Reformation spirituality. That’s what we’re saying in the book.

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    DAVID: There’s this palpable sense of urgency in your work and usually you’re a good step ahead of the rest of the evangelical writers like Wallis, pushing in new directions sometimes before the rest are comfortable following you. A lot of people are very anxious these days about the next steps to take.
    So, what gives you so much hope and energy.
    TONY: A number of things give me hope. (And, he chuckles as he continues.) One is that we may have gone as far as we can go in the wrong direction and a reaction is setting in!
    DAVID: Sort of a sad commentary.
    TONY: It’s true wherever you look. Our marriages are falling apart. We are feeling ourselves alienated in the workplace. There is a sense of loneliness that has reached such a high level in our world. And, people finally are reaching out to discover something beyond themselves.
Just recently I was in England and was I doing a show on the BBC. They asked me, “Why are you over here talking about Christianity? Don’t you know that we’re almost done with that over here. No one goes to church.”
    And I said, “I think you’re looking at the wrong thing. It’s pretty evident that you’re into spiritual things here. It’s everywhere you look. Walk into a bookstore. Look at the media. Listen to what people are talking about. Spirituality isn’t dead. The interest in it is everywhere.”
    So what we need to say to the church, very strongly, is: “We’ve got to get more spiritual.”
    DAVID: So, that gives you hope?

    TONY: Yes, the Protestant church hasn’t really spoken yet out of its rich heritage. We have a powerful heritage if only we reclaim it and share it with the world, again.
    Instead, for far too long, the Protestant church has focused on its rational theology that we developed from the Renaissance through the Enlightenment. The Reformers really came up with a strong, rational theology that spoke to people’s minds.
    But we’ve got to wake up and realize that the Enlightenment is coming to an end. The hunger for spirituality is everywhere evident.
    This is my great hope – that we will finally speak out of our rich heritage. And it also makes me weep, because I realize that we don’t have a lot of time here. If the church does not speak to the spiritual hungers of people more effectively, then people will look for this elsewhere.
    DAVID: They’re doing that already, right?

     TONY: Yes, you’re exactly right.
    One evidence of this hunger and the willingness of people to move in new directions is the explosiveness of the Charismatic movement.     Looking at it as a sociologist, this is a trans-rational movement. We’re talking about speaking in tongues. Healings. Miracles. These things that are at the heart of the Charismatic movement are things that are trans-rational. The kind of rational theology we like to preach in Protestant churches to convince people intellectually of the faith isn’t reaching millions of people.
    Just look at that movement. It’s 100 years old and it has exploded from zero people a century ago to 600 million today. And mainline churches are standing back and saying: “Well, we’re not into this kind of emotionalism, sorry.”
    And the fundamentalists are scared to death of this movement because it’s sucking people right out of their churches.

    DAVID: You’re saying the response you see from most Protestant churches is headed in the wrong direction. People are obsessed with what amount to non-issues for the vast majority of people and they’re missing the core of this movement, which is springing from this deep desire to reintegrate spirituality into our lives.
    TONY: Yes, exactly! As we’re talking today, I’m here in the South and down here we’ve got Southern Baptists working hard on attacking liberalism as if that’s an important issue for a lot of people anymore. And what’s really happening is that newer churches like the Assemblies of God are sucking members right out of their doors.
    This movement is getting larger and larger around the world, focusing on the human hunger for spirituality. And, one of the reasons we wrote this new book is because movements that tap into the hunger for spirituality may be leaving this other important part of the faith—social justice—behind.
    We have to reconnect the linkage between all of these branches of our faith.

    DAVID: That doesn’t sound entirely hopeful, as you talk about the state of things. It sounds as though you’re very worried about the future.
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    TONY:
There’s hope in the new hymnology. I can hear it out there already. I hear a lot of things emerging there, but there is hope. You know, our hymnology always precedes our theology. The reality is that we feel the future and we sing about the future before we understand it.
    Sociologists for many years have known this. The arts always pick up the future before the intellectuals do. That’s why our hymnology is so important. The hymns we’re singing express the feelings we have about God before we fully understand what we’re feeling.
    DAVID: Well, the Wesleys were legendary for the quantity of hymns they produced at the birth of the Methodist movement.
    TONY: Right. And the old songs from that era were very evangelistic, but, if you look at them closely, the best hymns also were sermons set to music. They communicated entire theological lessons in a hymn.
    Think about “Amazing Grace.” Listen to the words. That’s somebody testifying to a whole understanding of the faith. It’s a theological declaration set to music.
    DAVID: But you’re not suggesting that worship should exclusively focus on hymns from that earlier era?
    TONY: No, and there’s a whole new hymnology emerging. Listen to the new worship music. What I’m saying is that I think it’s time we looked at that new music and spoke to the musicians and hymn writers about what we should be saying in this new era.
    I’m concerned that some of the new songs don’t really express our full faith. I’m concerned that many of the new songs don’t link us with the importance of social justice in our faith.
    That really frightens me and, whenever I can, I do talk to songwriters about this. And they are usually interested in hearing what I have to say. It’s important that we talk.
    DAVID: Can you give us an example?
    TONY: The very popular song that young people sing all the time that goes, “It’s all about you, all about you, Jesus. I’m sorry, Lord, for the things I’ve made it. When it’s all about you, all about you, Jesus.”
    I’ve stood up and said, “You know, Jesus would not have liked that song, because Jesus said, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.’
    “Note that Jesus didn’t say it’s all about the first commandment. Jesus said that you can’t deal with the first commandment without dealing with the second one. Praise music that focuses only on the first part of that loses the total message of Jesus. Both things are required.”
    DAVID: But you also like a lot of what you hear today, right?
    TONY: Yes, there’s a lot in this new music that’s very good. In a sense, if we want to go out and find out what the future will be, we need to go out and listen to what people enjoy singing now.
    You’ll glimpse the future in that. For example, a lot of the new praise music contains so much from our tradition about nature all around us praising God. I think that’s a good thing.

    (AND, we will take a break in our conversation at that point. COME BACK TOMORROW for the conclusion of our conversation in which Tony talks about the theology of the natural world and the spirituality of animals.)

Our 1st column: We Haven’t Seen Times Like These …

Window_shakertown
W
e haven’t seen times like these in 500 years.

Oh, we’ve lived through wars and rumors of wars for centuries, but the only era in Western history that approaches the tossing and turning of our current cultural revolution happened half a millennium ago in the heart of Europe. The spark was an innovation by an otherwise obscure craftsman who figured out how to form durable chunks of moveable metal type.
Today, we casually recall that history as if Johannes Gutenberg immediately used that metal type to roll out a few Bibles and, the next day, the light of new media dawned over a disgruntled monk named Martin Luther, prompting him to nail his world-changing 95 Theses onto a local church door.
No, that’s not how it happened. Not by a longshot!

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It’s easy to compress what happened and miss the powerful truth. Read Alister Mcgrath’s delightfully provocative new book, “Christianity’s Dangerous Idea”. Mcgrath makes this point in broad-brush fashion: “Without the advent of printing, there would have been no Reformation.” And, by extension, no splintering of Western spirituality, no American separation of church and state, no Billy Graham or Martin Luther King Jr. or Desmond Tutu, no Alcoholics Anonymous or celebrations of religious diversity. If you really want to do your homework on this era, dig into Diarmaid MacCulloch’s more substantial history, “The Reformation”—and as a bonus, you’ll find yourself charmed by MacCulloch’s dry British wit throughout the book.

But, here’s the News we need to know today: Nearly a century passed—about 77 years—between the year that Gutenberg proudly rolled the first sharp-edged bits of metal type in the palm of his hand and the year, 1517, when Luther touched off the global spiritual revolution that we’ve inherited in 2007.
Here’s what’s so critical about that tiny historical detail: Scholars still debate whether Luther ever actually nailed his theses to a door. What they agree upon is that the Reformation was spread by pamphleteering, a powerful cultural strategy repeated by countless reformers and revolutionaries to this day. Half a millennium ago, it took most of a century for Gutenberg’s little metal seeds to blossom into the Renaissance equivalent of Kinko’s—small shops that could produce pamphlets.

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Right now, we’re living in the dawn of an entirely new age of media:
the digital age. For most people across the U.S., the Web is only a child a little over a decade old. But already it’s obvious that these virtual children are revolutionaries.

Let’s face it: Newspapers are imploding. That’s why I’ve taken a leave from newspapers after more than 30 years in this proud profession. Sure, newspapers still own big buildings and printing presses, but they’re no longer titans of media. The titans are YouTube, web aggregators like Google-News—and all the other virtual children of this new age.

This fall, evidence is becoming as obvious as the top of
this morning’s New York Times front page: “NBC to Offer Downloads of
Its Shows.” Times writer Bill Carter says exactly what we’re saying
here: “NBC’s move comes as companies throughout the television business
search for new economic models in the face of enormous changes in the
business. Networks continue to lose audience share — and viewers …
are increasingly demanding control of their program choices, insisting
on being able to watch shows when, where and how they want.”

Who’s trembling right behind newspaper and network executives?
Book publishers built on big-business models. They’re warily eying
these troubling waters and either they are aggregating into bigger
publishing firms to buy time and summon resources to face this new age
— or, if they remain independent, book publishers are waking up in the
middle of the night, worrying about their future.

    That’s a tragic situation, especially for religious media. Why? Because these are the times in which spiritual voices can thrive!

Any way you slice the sociological data, there’s an overwhelming
desire for spiritual solace around the world, especially in the U.S.
Before we launched this vast ReadTheSpirit project that will take us a
year to fully unfold, we spent the past year examining that data under
microscopes.
The enormous challenge facing all of us in media –
and in religious leadership – is discerning where this revolution is
taking us.

Interior_of_the_temple
The children piloting our ship
these days are not experienced navigators, but they have boundless energy and creativity. They’re carrying us into new realms.

We have seen it with our own eyes. We’ve formed a community of
writers, editors, artists, filmmakers, digital professionals, scholars
and clergy around us – professionals from a broad array of backgrounds
– and we are determined at ReadTheSpirit to be pilots in this new
journey.

Take a good look at that exotic-looking temple you see
here (pictured above and at left) with its ornate wooden decorations
soaring 60 feet above the Black Rock Desert in Nevada at the Burning
Man festival earlier this month. We were there. These enormous, wooden
“temples of remembrance” at Burning Man, designed each year by artist
David Best, are among the crowning examples of this new age in
spiritual expression.
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Hundreds of unpaid volunteers from across the U.S. spent weeks in
extreme heat and blowing desert dust to help Best build these temple
complexes. This year’s temple opened for the 50,000 temporary residents
of Burning Man for exactly one week – before the elaborate shrine was
burned and its ashes carefully removed, consuming like a Viking ship
all the memorial keepsakes that thousands of visitors had tucked inside
its walls.
If you care to read more about this cutting-edge cultural phenomenon, click on the title of “This Is Burning Man,” by
Brian Doherty, and buy a copy. Doherty’s book is the best available
overview of this creative force of nature that grew out of a small
circle of friends in California to embrace thousands from around the
world in the Nevada desert each year.

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But we’re not limiting ourselves to the outer edges of spirituality
. There’s enormous, often untapped, energy in traditional denominations.

Our initial reporting trip took us to Salt Lake City, as well, where
I reported a story on the cultural influence of the Mormon Tabernacle
Choir, a story that drew reader praise from across the country when it
appeared earlier this month in the pages of the Detroit Free Press and
moved across the wires.
Most Americans know about this choir, of course.

What they’ve probably missed about the denomination that sponsors the
choir is that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is
shepherding one of the most ambitious urban-renewal projects ever
attempted outside of Rome. The Saints are rebuilding the equivalent of
18 city blocks of downtown Salt Lake City almost from scratch. Along
the way, they’re actually bringing a long-extinct river back to life
and reviving a major downtown hub for commerce and neighborhoods.
If you want to read more about the inner core of this religious movement, I strongly urge you to pick up Coke Newell’s “Latter Days” or the Ostlings’ “Mormon America,” again by clicking on the titles here.
There is great urgency in what we are doing here.

    Consider: This revolution is so new that the first-ever national conference on
this kind of digital publishing, hosted by the heavy-weights in this
emerging field, was held only three months ago in California. And we
were there. ReadTheSpirit co-founder, photographer and software guru
John Hile spent that week in June in California with a Who’s Who of top
minds in digital media.
What’s burning in our hearts and minds
this autumn? It’s this: There’s a sad irony in the implosion of
traditional news media in the U.S. As news and even TV news operations
shrink, they’re redefining themselves in hyper-local terms. The vast
majority of journalists now are unable to actually head out, crisscross
the U.S. and report on what’s unfolding. There’s a good chance that
most writers may miss what’s shaping up as the greatest news story of
this new century, perhaps this new millennium.

At ReadTheSpirit, we’ve vowed that we’re not going to let that happen.
So, Stay Tuned!

NEXT WEEK: Our Monday-through-Friday coverage begins!
MONDAY: “002: Media Is Sacred Space …”
TUESDAY: “003: Here Are 4 Great Holiday Gifts …”
WEDNESDAY: “004: A Conversation with Tony Campolo …”
THURSDAY: “005: The Spiritual Lives of Animals …”
FRIDAY: “006: A Major New Voice Is Rising in Islam …”

Late October:
We’ll unveil Top-10 awards in 6 categories of religious publishing.
AND: Watch for our other projects – all headquartered at ReadTheSpirit – as they unfold in coming months.

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