Matthew Johnson

Author's details

Name: Matthew Johnson
Date registered: March 3, 2012
URL: http://theworldismyparish.wordpress.com

Latest posts

  1. UMC Lead: Twitter Prayer Practice — October 14, 2014
  2. UMC Lead: Twitter Prayer Practice — October 14, 2014
  3. Live More to God: Memorizing Scripture — October 10, 2014
  4. UMC Lead: Mall-ology: Building a Better Church through Shopping — September 17, 2014
  5. UMC Lead: Let’s Talk about Sex: 10 Questions with Bromleigh McCleneghan — July 25, 2014

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Author's posts listings

Oct 14 2014

UMC Lead: Twitter Prayer Practice

Original post at http://umclead.com/twitter-prayer-practice/


twitterumclead

I’ve long been fascinated by Twitter. I first encountered it at a conference in Memphis about five years ago were tweets from people in the room and around the world rolled across the screen next to the speaker, turning a large and passive event into an interactive and oddly relational experience. Since that first encounter, I’ve experimented with using Twitter in worship, organized Advent hashtags, and used it for pastoral care within my smallish circles of friends and acquaintances.

Twitter is, of course, a much larger universe than I have explored. Every day, millions upon millions of people hang their thoughts out in cyberspace 140 characters at a time. There are visible only for a moment before becoming buried under layers of other tweets — 6,000 of them per second on average, as many as 145,000/second at peak times. That equals out to about 500 million of them a day. That is equivalent to 2,500 novels in 24 hours. When I take a moment to think about it, that makes me a little anxious. That is a staggering amount of information. And it also makes me wonder … is anybody really reading all those words? Clearly, the people of the world are speaking, but is anybody listening?

For the past month, I’ve been intentional about listening in short bursts — about an hour or so a week — by scouring Twitter for the use of the word “prayer.” I’ve been looking for those who are tweeting petitions, and I’ve found many. They are often shared by younger folk, usually as an immediate reaction to the diagnosis of a loved one or recent news that has touched their hearts. The say things like:

  • Please everyone keep my neighbor and second mom in your prayers, she’s in the hospital and could use all the support.
  • I’m in need of prayers. Another family member went to heaven.
  • I would appreciate prayers from anybody who has love for me. Please. I need them more then anything right now.

Initially, it was heartbreaking to read them — not because of the calls for prayer themselves, but because seemingly nobody was hearing them. At least, nobody was responding. So, using the Portico Collective Twitter account (@PorticoCo), I started responding when I could. It didn’t matter where they were from, or what their particular beliefs were. I would simply offer short replies like: “We are praying for you,” or “You have our prayers.” And I would pray for them using their Twitter “handle” — God, shine your light on @_Destt and family.

I didn’t know what would come of it. What would people think about a stranger searching Twitter for their prayers? Well, the responses were humbling. In addition to them acknowledging the @PorticoCo responses by sharing them with their friends and/or marking them as “favorites,” they also wrote back:

  • I appreciate it a lot. Your prayers mean more to me then you know. Thank you.
  • Thank you for your prayers. It means a lot.

And many that simply said, “Thank you.”

As my phone notified me of each reply, I offered another prayer for them, and one of thanksgiving for the chance to practice ministry in this way.

Many churches struggle to solve the social media puzzle, especially when it comes to Twitter. But this experiment may be an excellent way for faith communities to start. Instead of shouting at the interwebs and hoping for someone to happen upon what we have to say, we church leaders would be wise to listen to what people are saying and offer grace. Not only will this listening-and-giving posture increase the number of follows, favorites, and retweets, but it will allow us to occupy a space, and establish a presence, in a way that few others are.

Image by Jennie Flickr/Creative Commons

Permanent link to this article: http://methoblog.com/3_0/2014/10/twitter-prayer-practice/

Oct 14 2014

UMC Lead: Twitter Prayer Practice

Original post at http://umclead.com/twitter-prayer-practice/


twitterumclead

I’ve long been fascinated by Twitter. I first encountered it at a conference in Memphis about five years ago were tweets from people in the room and around the world rolled across the screen next to the speaker, turning a large and passive event into an interactive and oddly relational experience. Since that first encounter, I’ve experimented with using Twitter in worship, organized Advent hashtags, and used it for pastoral care within my smallish circles of friends and acquaintances.

Twitter is, of course, a much larger universe than I have explored. Every day, millions upon millions of people hang their thoughts out in cyberspace 140 characters at a time. There are visible only for a moment before becoming buried under layers of other tweets — 6,000 of them per second on average, as many as 145,000/second at peak times. That equals out to about 500 million of them a day. That is equivalent to 2,500 novels in 24 hours. When I take a moment to think about it, that makes me a little anxious. That is a staggering amount of information. And it also makes me wonder … is anybody really reading all those words? Clearly, the people of the world are speaking, but is anybody listening?

For the past month, I’ve been intentional about listening in short bursts — about an hour or so a week — by scouring Twitter for the use of the word “prayer.” I’ve been looking for those who are tweeting petitions, and I’ve found many. They are often shared by younger folk, usually as an immediate reaction to the diagnosis of a loved one or recent news that has touched their hearts. The say things like:

  • Please everyone keep my neighbor and second mom in your prayers, she’s in the hospital and could use all the support.
  • I’m in need of prayers. Another family member went to heaven.
  • I would appreciate prayers from anybody who has love for me. Please. I need them more then anything right now.

Initially, it was heartbreaking to read them — not because of the calls for prayer themselves, but because seemingly nobody was hearing them. At least, nobody was responding. So, using the Portico Collective Twitter account (@PorticoCo), I started responding when I could. It didn’t matter where they were from, or what their particular beliefs were. I would simply offer short replies like: “We are praying for you,” or “You have our prayers.” And I would pray for them using their Twitter “handle” — God, shine your light on @_Destt and family.

I didn’t know what would come of it. What would people think about a stranger searching Twitter for their prayers? Well, the responses were humbling. In addition to them acknowledging the @PorticoCo responses by sharing them with their friends and/or marking them as “favorites,” they also wrote back:

  • I appreciate it a lot. Your prayers mean more to me then you know. Thank you.
  • Thank you for your prayers. It means a lot.

And many that simply said, “Thank you.”

As my phone notified me of each reply, I offered another prayer for them, and one of thanksgiving for the chance to practice ministry in this way.

Many churches struggle to solve the social media puzzle, especially when it comes to Twitter. But this experiment may be an excellent way for faith communities to start. Instead of shouting at the interwebs and hoping for someone to happen upon what we have to say, we church leaders would be wise to listen to what people are saying and offer grace. Not only will this listening-and-giving posture increase the number of follows, favorites, and retweets, but it will allow us to occupy a space, and establish a presence, in a way that few others are.

Image by Jennie Flickr/Creative Commons

Permanent link to this article: http://methoblog.com/3_0/2014/10/twitter-prayer-practice/

Oct 10 2014

Live More to God: Memorizing Scripture

Original post at http://revmhj.com/blog/2014/10/10/memorizing-scripture


Seedbed published a piece I wrote on Scripture memorization this morning. I'm a very enthusiastic supporter of Seedbed, so this was a dream come true for me.

I want to add something that was too long for that post here in case people were curious about one thing in that post. I created a sheet of cards covering the thirty texts scholars determined were the basis for Wesley's teaching on Christian Perfection. When I created this sheet, I used the English Standard Version for the text of the cards. Some may wonder why a United Methodist would use the ESV.

When I was 8 years old, St. Paul UMC in El Paso, TX gave me a Bible and it was the Revised Standard Version. I read that Bible all the way through elementary, junior high, high school, and most of college. I picked up a paperback version I used for Inductive Bible Study classes in seminary primarily because I was familiar with it and the language. I switched to the ESV in 2001 because it was 95% the same as the RSV and I could get it in nice leather bindings. That wasn't an option for the RSV by that time. So, although there are some translation quirks, I'm mostly familiar with the language and even though I've tried the NIV, NLT, and NRSV, I keep coming back to the ESV because of its familiarity, not because I'm tempted to go Calvinist. μὴ γένοιτο!

(That's not a slam - some of my best friends are Calvinists.)

Permanent link to this article: http://methoblog.com/3_0/2014/10/memorizing-scripture-2/

Sep 17 2014

UMC Lead: Mall-ology: Building a Better Church through Shopping

Original post at http://umclead.com/mall-ology-building-a-better-church-through-shopping/


mall

I’m in full suburban immersion mode since launching a new, mixed-reality faith community in July. This now includes trips to the sprawl of boxed-in asphalt parking lots, strip plazas of chain retailers, and even old-school shopping malls. Yes, malls still exist. And the one in my neighborhood is busy. Well, busy is a relative word, I suppose.

The mall’s population is easily the most diverse I’ve encountered in the area: racially, ethnically, and economically. The corridors are full. The public play areas are jam-packed with exasperated parents and squealing children. The sofas are full of exhausted purse-holders, and those engrossed in personal screen time. Yet, as I’ve walked laps, simply listening and observing, what I haven’t seen is a substantial number of people engaging with the stores. The stores are all but empty. It doesn’t matter much where they were located. Inside a mall filled with more than 5,000 shoppers, there haven’t been more than five people in any of the non-anchor stores at any given moment. Loop after loop, floor after floor, it was the same scene.

I felt a great deal of sympathy for the people working inside those glass cages. Then I realized what I was probably feeling was empathy, because their experience, being on the inside looking out, is representative of the experience of being part of an institutional church that is built on a consumer, attractional, and “if you build it” mindset.

Now, without apology, I abhor this reality. I hate that this is the present state of the church. And there are plenty of people who are calling for it to be deconstructed. I’ve done the same. While new models are emerging, however, most of us are still stuck like those stores fixed in the shopping mall. My epiphany, looking through those windows, was that church leaders have to manage the transitions as if we are both innovators and minimum-wage sample distributors/shirt folders.

Because of this, I decided to go inside the stores recently and informally interview my fellow comrades in the war of attraction. Obviously, there is something working for them. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be open for business. How do they stay viable in a culture where seemingly no one is coming through the doors? Here are four takeaways from mall workers that I believe translate well to a “churcheeze”:

Don’t be Pushy, Invite Instead

The shops that tried to prompt traffic with the hard sell were the least populated. Almost unanimously, the workers who used this tactic said it was a management/corporate policy and they hated it. They felt their shops would do better if they weren’t blocking the way with both body and voice. Similarly, workers in shops that created a space that was inviting, open, clearly marked, and visually appealing claimed more success with visitors and, ultimately,  buyers.

Translation into Churcheeze: Don’t invite strangers to church with pamphlets and offers of donuts. If you encourage your people to hand out trinkets with a pitch, they may resent you for it. Instead, invest in good signage. Keep entry points clutter-free and inviting. And, for the sake of all that is good and beautiful, fix that damned website.

Get Out from Behind the Counter, But Respect People’s Space

Waiting for someone to come to you was said to be the quickest way to lose a sale. When you do approach someone, ask if there is something specific you can help them with, advise them on something unique and/or limited, but then back off. Giving space for them to engage their senses and digest what you’ve told them will lead to more linger time. Do this only once. If more than one person is working the floor, have a plan for who talks to whom.

Translation into Churcheeze: If someone does visit your space/class/worship, be sure they are not only welcomed, but also served. Don’t just hand them the bulletin, let them know how to use it. Point out and/or share something that you personally enjoy about what is happening. Invite them to something special that is coming up in the very near future that you are attending yourself. Your recommendations give them something to look forward to. Designate who does this. Don’t let it be anyone (and everyone)! A smothered visitor makes a quick exit.

Always Be Ready

Hours can go by without a single person coming into the store, but when they do, you have to be ready to do the above. Readiness is equated to excitement about the brand and selection. If you aren’t ready, you don’t care. And if you don’t care, they won’t either. “When nobody is in the shop, we are getting ready for the times when they are. Things are put in order so that every person can receive the same attention and have the same experience.”

Translation into Churcheeze: Visitors may come at an inconvenient time, but it should always be an opportune time to offer hospitality. Give them a tour even if you are on break or busy typing. If you are that busy (like performing CPR or something), disturb somebody else. Ushers/Greeters/Whatevers shall not have a time when they are in a seat. Have a place for visitors to plug in that is intended and hospitable for drop-ins. Stagger the start of programming so there are multiple entry points into the life of your community throughout the year.

Single Digits Add Up

I tend to fall prey to the idea that impact equals big numbers all at once. Yet, the managers of these stores say their success comes by doing all of the above on a consistent basis so people come back again. You may not see them for a while, but if you treat visitors with respect and welcome, they will come back. “Repeat business is the best kind,” one person said. “Those customers found (and continue to find) something of value in our brand.”

Translation into Churcheeze: Create a culture that celebrates the ones, fours, and fives even more than the hundreds and thousands. Eliminate the “just” and “only” language that devalues what creates the sum of your ministry. Our communities are being built, not magically summoned from the ether.

Have your own takeaways? Be sure to share them in the comments.

###

photo by Walter Lim Flickr/Creative Commons

Permanent link to this article: http://methoblog.com/3_0/2014/09/mall-ology-building-a-better-church-through-shopping/

Jul 25 2014

UMC Lead: Let’s Talk about Sex: 10 Questions with Bromleigh McCleneghan

Original post at http://umclead.com/lets-talk-about-sex-10-questions-with-bromleigh-mccleneghan/


bromleighinterview

UMC LEAD: Hi, Bromleigh. Thanks for taking the time to talk to me for UMC LEAD. Your writing is all over the place: The Christian Century, Ministry Matters,  Fidelia’s Sisters. You’re even writing with me at Portico Collective. But I know you’ve been preoccupied with a bigger project these days.

McCleneghan: Yes, I’m working on a book for Abingdon Press. The working title is Like Nitroglycerin: Sex, Love, and Faith. It is exploring issues of love and sexuality, and what it means to be a person who hopes to live as God calls us to live. I’m trying to give an answer for what that all looks like and what makes that complicated. The church tends to talk about love and sexuality as if they are clear cut, but my sense is that is not the case. If that were the case, we’d have it all worked out.

Which clearly, we don’t. My social media feed is filled with evidence of that on a daily (and even hourly) basis. Will this book help the church reframe those conversations? Is that your audience?

My hope is that the theology and the ethics, and the consideration of ideas will be useful enough that clergy might be interested in using it with groups in their churches, or even just for their own learning and growth. I also hope that seminarians would see it at a tool for them and their own self reflection. But largely it is for an audience of layfolk — Christian as opposed to anything else — but not necessarily deeply churched. It is primarily looking at issues of sexuality and romantic love outside of marriage.

Was there a moment or revelation that made you want to wrestle with such a heated issue?

I started reading about Christian sexuality and love when I was in my 20′s. And it all said, “Anything that happens before you are married doesn’t matter. Anything that happens outside of marriage is lust and a sin.” And that was so denigrating to all the wonderful experiences I’d had. By the time I got married, I’d been in love three times, and each of my prior relationships was critically important in helping me to become the person that I am today. So I want to do this work so people can be empowered to claim the value of their experiences.

When did Christianity become so concerned about sex?

Well, we’ve always had concerns and questions going back to the story of Adam and Eve, so this has been a part of our story for a long time. Of course, there is always a difference between the conversation we have and what we practice.

The early Puritans whom we know as being stringent around sexuality had plenty of premarital sex; there were a lot of pregnant brides in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. And for a long time, marriage itself was, and still is in some places, an economic privilege. So, we’re not being particularly honest when we say that love, sex, and marriage have always gone together in the same ways.

Part of the big noise now is that sexuality has become the battleground for larger questions like, “How we interpret the Bible” and “What does it mean to be created in God’s image?” and “What is the Christian life supposed to look like?” The divide in regards to sexuality has been reflective of other divides, particularly in American Christianity.  We’re just really focused on sexuality because it is interesting. Far more people have a position on human sexuality than have one on how to read the Bible.

You gave the Puritans as an example of the divide between teaching and practice. Today, we’ve got folks like Bill Cassidy. Why does this kind of thing continue to happen?

We see trouble when we try to pretend that we’re something we’re not. We have conflicting needs as human beings. We long for security, we long to be surrounded in a community that gives us meaning, we want to be supported, we want to have increasing intimacy and openness. But sexuality comes from a different need. We exercise our sexuality out of our need to feel alive, dynamic, and vital. That is the erotic side and it requires instability or uncertainty. I sure love kissing my husband, but I rarely doubt whether or not he’s going to kiss me back. You know, there’s not the same mystery about it. So, we need to recognize that humanity has these conflicting needs. The problem is that we try an assign different times in our life to one of those, or we just say that erotic side is all bad. We try and tuck it away, or shove it in the corner, and that doesn’t work very well. So, instead, it ends up coming out in ways that are not healthy or ideal.

I’ve had a chance to look at some of your early chapters and was struck by the way much of the church’s teaching around sexuality is done as an attempt to create a healthy marriage, that it is the only thing that is important about sexuality, in fact. As United Methodists, we seem to have done this, too, with our rule about “fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness.” Aren’t there other things about relationships that we should be focusing on, too?

Absolutely. To simply collapse marriage, which is a huge and wondrous thing, into the same category as sexuality, which is also a huge and wondrous thing, but not exactly the same, seems to be missing the point. So, as leaders, what I believe we should be doing is a little more parsing. We should be more honest about where we are in our own experiences. For a whole host of reasons, pastors don’t convey what they believe about sexuality in their churches. So, people then assume that there is only way to think about it because they aren’t hearing any differently from their leaders. So, we should be more honest in our reporting.

You do just that in the book, sharing some of your own experiences with readers. What was that like? And what did your husband think when you told him you were going to write these?

This is my second book. I wrote one about parenting with a colleague of mine (Hopes and Fears: Everyday Theology for Parents and Other Tired, Anxious People), so I’m sort of practiced around talking about things that I hold close and dear to me in public ways. I try to be really reflective in my narrative voice. I think that is an important modeling of how to do theological reflection on one’s own experiences. It is easier, though, to talk about how you relate to your kids.

In this book, the subject matter is different, so my husband has been my first reader. My intent is not to share things that are private to our relationship, so he gets veto power in a way he wouldn’t for other projects.

Also, a lot of these stories are told from a time before he and I were together. There is a huge emotional distance from them for me. I’ve only told stories that I feel okay telling that are also fruitful for theological and ethical reflection.

You also surveyed a bunch of your friends and colleagues for this, right?

Yes. I loved the survey. I put together all the things I wanted to know from people, posted a link, and had 300-some responses. This allowed me to tell less of my own stories, so not just my husband but also my parents would be less concerned about how many [personal] stories got into the book. [laughs]

It was really amazing to see the stories people shared. I think of my own experience as being not wildly out of the ordinary. Most people have stories of love. Most people have stories of some hurt, of crossed wires and missed connections. There are some universal kinds of experiences, but we don’t really talk about those in the church that often. We say “fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness,” and that’s all we ever say. So hearing those ordinary stories from others is helpful and validating for all of us.

Were you surprised by the level of their sharing?

Yeah, I was amazed at how vulnerable people made themselves. I was also really distressed by how much hurt people have suffered. Out of those 300-some responses, 99 said they’ve experienced some sort of sexual abuse or harassment. There is a lot of bad stuff going on. And it shapes us, but the good news I saw was that you can also recover.

So it sounds like sexuality is something that people want to talk about. What will it take for us to have these kinds of conversations in our faith communities?

I think it requires a couple of things. First, it requires a carefully cultivated sense of safety within the community. And that is hard. I’ve been at administrative council meetings where people yell at each other about carpet, and think, “That is the last group of people with whom I’d share anything close to my heart.” So, as a church, we have to get better at talking about easy things before people will be willing to talk about the difficult things. I also think we need to be able to hold ambiguity more lightly. One of the things about our sexual experience is that a lot of them are fine, or they weren’t fine, or they were wonderful. And we in the church have a problem with that. We want people to decide if it was good or bad. And we also really need to clarify where the hope is. Just because things are complex doesn’t mean they are devastatingly bad. Just because it is hard doesn’t mean it isn’t worthwhile work. So, finding ways to speak grace into people’s sexual experiences is important.

What is a word of grace about human sexuality that you would want to share?

One is we don’t have to control everything. Those who love their lives, lose them. We don’t have to have everything go exactly as we anticipated. We don’t have to worry so much about protecting ourselves. When we start to let go of our fear, we can open ourselves up to the joys of intimacy and vulnerability, of being seen, and known, and loved as we really are. The other is that Jesus came that we might have life. God wants life to be good, and enjoyable, and lovely, and wonderful, and awesome. God didn’t make us to suffer.

Thanks, Bromleigh. We’ll keep an eye out for the book next year.

Thank you!

Permanent link to this article: http://methoblog.com/3_0/2014/07/lets-talk-about-sex-10-questions-with-bromleigh-mccleneghan/

Apr 29 2014

UMC Lead: Reading Scripture Doesn’t Need to Stink

Original post at http://umclead.com/reading-scripture-doesnt-need-to-stink/


For those of us in the United Methodist tradition, scripture is supposed to be primary. Many people I work with, however, don’t want to go anywhere near it. On the surface, they will say this because they find it boring. Or difficult. But, what I’ve encountered is that these challenges mask their real aversion: they fear of the sacredness of it. Many people are afraid they are going to break it, or that they are going to get it wrong and upset balance of the universe (or their pastor/parents/partner/etc.). I, and other faith professionals, shoulder a lot of the blame for this. With our academic and seminary-trained approach to scripture, we turn Bible study into an elite activity, leaving little room for anyone save the dogmatic “nameandclaimitism” of fundamentalists.

I want the people I serve to know the book that is supposed to define us, and I want them to know it as a story. I want them to know that it is sacred because they are included in it. The story of scripture is about us. It is about our lives and families. Because of this, it isn’t supposed to be inaccessible. And reading it isn’t always supposed to be an academic exercise. It is open to interpretation. It is open for us to play with it and within it. Here are five ways I encourage the people I work with to make scripture something they want to engage:

5. Paraphrase It

When I was a kid I was given a Good News Bible, which was not an “word-for-word” translation, but rather “idea-for-idea.” I also remember a copy of The Living Bible, which was a paraphrase, in my home growing up. While each have their upsides, what they lack is the understanding that the people in our communities can bring to the story; they are missing the images that resonate with them. So why not skip the intermediary and encourage them to paraphrase it themselves? A great place to begin is the Psalms. Each are songs and prayers that lend themselves well to personal language and experience. Rivers can become bike trails, enemy combatants can become the person at the desk across from you, outcries for the nations can become laments for your family and friends. If they do one a week and you never know … they may get published like Eugene Peterson did with The Message.

4. Read It Out Loud

Like C3P0 getting the Ewoks up to speed in Return of the Jedi, many of the stories of scripture were shared in the oral tradition for thousands of years before somebody decided to write them down. Much of the Bible is good storytelling that predates the stuff that all the cool kids are doing at the bars these days by a couple of millennia. Encourage the reading of the stories out loud in people’s homes, and have them listen for what they hear differently. Encourage them to find the humor (there is plenty of it!), reading it out loud to practice their delivery. Read the letters out loud, and think about them being shared that way originally, and how the people reacted when they heard them for the first time.

3. Animate It

Anyone who has suffered through building an Ikea entertainment center or spent 20 minutes on Instagram knows our culture is way-over words. So, encourage the translation of the stories from scripture into pictures. Break out the crayons and the sidewalk chalk. Or, dig those action figures and dolls out of the closet; have them tell the story. Because, face it, Toy Story Woody, Barbie, Spawn, and Wonder Woman would be awesome together in the resurrection of Lazarus. I’d watch that on YouTube … a lot.

2. Dramatize It

Got a group of people around? Do a little readers theatre. Break up the stories of the Bible into parts. If people want to be serious about it, the book of Job works really well for this as it is full of classical-type monologues. If people are in a melodramatic mood, they can choose one of the gospels and take turns being the Pharisees. And if they just want to be silly, they can pick one of those “begat” lists and improvise what each person may have been like going only by their name.

1. Personalize It

Finally, if people are ready to have an intimate (and likely challenging) moment with the scriptures, encourage them to substitute themselves for a character and tell the story in the first person. Because it is isn’t as easy to be hard on Judas for his betrayal, or Sarah when she laughs, when they are us. But it is also humbling to read and hear our name come out of Jesus’ mouth: “Anne, do you love me? Then feed my sheep.”

I’m sure you have your own ideas, too. What makes scripture relevant to you? How do you encourage people to engage their Bibles? Be sure to share in the comments below!

Photo by Kate Sumbler/Flickr/Creative Commons

Permanent link to this article: http://methoblog.com/3_0/2014/04/reading-scripture-doesnt-need-to-stink/

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