May 23, 2015

Religious Switching 2.0

ReligiousSwitching2014-legendWell, last week I promised you, the full Religious Switching in America Graph along with commentary. The graph is complete. Click on the image for a better view. The commentary and related data tables… well I guess I will have to discuss with Chaplain Mike when that will be coming. The graph took a little longer to finish than expected.

To understand that graph, 54,000 Americans were surveyed in 2014. The top of the graph represents what they said their faith group was in childhood. The bottom of the graph represents their faith group today. The lines between the top and the bottom represent the changes between childhood faith group and current faith group. The legend for the smaller faith groups is to the left. The blank space at the right of the graph represents those faith groups where not enough data was provided to determine changes. All data was derived from the Pew Forum’s Religious Landscape Study.

My apologies for not having the commentary ready. I will have it soon. Please contribute to the discussion my leaving your own thoughts and comments and I will answer them as best I can in my next post. For comparison purposes the 2007 graph is provided below.


More on “Playing the Music”

MS Band 1

Picking up on yesterday’s post, here few more thoughts on “playing the music”…

• • •

Last night we went to a spring intermediate school band and choral concert (5th and 6th grade). My grandson was playing and we knew several other children and families who were involved. I have four children and have been to many of these events before. I’m not being unkind when I say that concerts at this age are usually events to be endured rather than enjoyed. At least with regard to the music, that is.

There is, of course, much to be enjoyed and celebrated. Just looking down at that gymnasium floor and seeing all those energetic, eager, dressed-up, awkward pre-teens navigating their first tentative steps toward adulthood is entertainment enough. Then, take a glance back at the bleachers. Some of their parents are barely thirty years old, many are holding drooling newborns or squirming toddlers, and there they are watching their little man or woman play an instrument, sing in the choir, maybe even do a solo in front of a huge crowd. That can be a wake-up call! There are plenty of grandparents like me, too, the old veterans, who chuckle with recognition when the jazz band strikes up “Ben’s Blues,” the same piece we’ve heard played by every first time combo we’ve witnessed. A blest community of ordinary people in all shapes and sizes and seasons of life, gathered to hear the music come alive through our kids.

The young choral director in her twenties always throws in a surprise or two to delight the crowd and show off the kids’ energy and emerging talent: a solo or two in a contemporary pop song, a swinging rendition of “Rockin’ Robin” with movements and gestures, an African folk tune that impresses everyone with the children’s ability to sing in a foreign tongue. The band’s not left out either — they rock the joint (oh so slowly) as they don sunglasses and play the theme from “Mission Impossible.”

Of course, the tempos are tedious, entrances and cut-offs are anything but precise, the tuning is questionable and instruments squeak here and there, often at the most inopportune times. A vocal soloist misses her cue and the choir has to start the song over. The audience begins to clap at a pause in the music rather than at the end. Mics feed back on the teachers who introduce the numbers and there are awkward silences between performances as the groups rearrange themselves and their equipment and music. The teachers always tell bad jokes. Parents and grandparents like me crawl around the floor and bleachers trying to find the best spots from which to capture the memories through pictures and video. It’s a scene right out of Mayberry, I tell you; small town charm at its best.

But somehow it all comes together, and the audience and participants end up thoroughly enjoying the show. Afterwards the community mills around, we visit with our neighbors, snap pictures, admire each others’ children, and touch base with the teachers, some of whom are getting to know yet another generation in our families.

MS ChoirYesterday, we talked about “virtuoso spirituality.”

Maybe that word threw some of you a bit. I for one don’t think I’ve felt like a “virtuoso” for a single second in my life of faith. More like the kid who hit the cymbal on the wrong beat or the one whose clarinet squeaked or whose voice cracked when trying to hit that note that was just out of reach. When it comes to following Jesus, I’m not sure I’ll ever leave the awkward middle-school stage.

But I’ll give it to those kids and this community. They may represent exactly what “playing the music” is all about. Putting yourself out there. In all your awkwardness and naïveté and self-doubt. Trusting the music and the practice you’ve had. Keeping your eye on the director or conductor. Listening to the others and trying to blend in. All the while knowing that there is a big community around you that takes delight in you and your growth, that is there to applaud every step of progress and to encourage you after every mistake.

I tell you, I saw a lot of grace, forbearance, kindness, joy, and encouragement at a 5th and 6th grade concert last night.

I also saw a lot of awkward, half-grown kids who made a bunch of mistakes and produced a lot of mediocre music — it surely wasn’t “virtuoso.”

Or maybe it was, in its own way.

However you want to look at it, music came alive here last night, we were all a part of it, and the joy was tangible.

Eugene Peterson: Virtuoso Spirituality


What comes next is very important: I am sending what my Father promised to you, so stay here in the city until he arrives, until you’re equipped with power from on high.

• Luke 24:49, MSG

• • •

Pentecost is the next great Sunday on the Christian calendar: it falls this Sunday for the Western Church and on May 31 for the East. The Holy Spirit has always been one of the great mysteries of our faith and throughout church history entire movements have been devoted to trying to capture the essence of the Spirit-filled life.

Today, I want to share a passage from Eugene Peterson, whom I have found to be a reliable guide for my life in Christ. This passage is from his book, Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading. Though it doesn’t speak of the Spirit directly, I find it to be one of the most enlightening texts I have read describing what, it seems to me, the Holy Spirit has come to do in our lives as Christ-followers.

See what you think. Let’s talk about this as we prepare to celebrate Pentecost.

Virtuoso Spirituality

Frances Young uses the extended analogy of music and its performance to provide a way of understanding the interrelated complexities of reading and living the Holy Scriptures, what John experienced as eating the book. Her book Virtuoso Theology searches out what she names as “the complex challenges involved in seeking authenticity in performance.” It is of the very nature of music that it is to be performed. Can music that is not performed be called “music”? Performance, though, does not consist in accurately reproducing the notes in the score as written by the composer, although it includes this. Everyone recognizes the difference between an accurate but wooden performance of, say, Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 1, and a virtuoso performance by Yitzak Perlman. Perlman’s performance is not distinguished merely by his technical skill in reproducing what Mozart composed; he wondrously enters into and conveys the spirit and energy — the “life” — of the score. Significantly, he adds nothing to the score, neither “jot nor tittle.” Even though he might reasonably claim that, with access to the interrelated psychologies of music and sexuality, he understands Mozart much better than Mozart understood himself, he restrains himself; he does not interpolate.

One of the continuous surprises of musical and dramatic performance is the sense of fresh spontaneity that comes in the performance: faithful attention to the text does not result in slavish effacement of personality; rather, it releases what is inherent in the text itself as the artist performs; “music has to be ‘realized’ through performance and interpretation.”

Likewise Holy Scripture. The two analogies, performing the music and eating the book, work admirably together. The complexity of the performance analogy supplements the earthiness of the eating analogy (and vice versa) in directing the holy community to enter the world of Holy Scripture formationally.

But if we are “unscripted,” Alasdair McIntyre’s word in this context, we spend our lives as anxious stutterers in both our words and actions. But when we do this rightly — performing the score, eating the book, embracing the holy community that internalizes the text — we are released into freedom: “I will run in the way of thy commandments when thou enlargest my understanding” (Ps. 119:32).

• Eugene Peterson
Eat This Book, p. 76f

There are many things I love about this and how it speaks to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

  • The Spirit is closely linked with the Word, reminding me that my relationship with God is a conversational one. As in all relationships we deepen our friendship by listening and speaking to one another. It is my special place to listen in this relationship.
  • God’s Word, however, is not just a “rule book” to be slavishly followed. It is a text to be performed in life by individuals and communities with personalities, contexts, gifts, and unique perspectives.
  • The Word has no actual value except in performance. The Story calls us to live within it, to carry it on, to live it out.
  • In reality, we add nothing to the Word. However, the “sound” of the Word that emanates from each individual’s and community’s performance brings out fresh nuances and perspectives that can make it “new” and invigorating, no matter how many times we hear it.
  • When we “perform” the Word with virtuosity, having not only “learned” it but having also “internalized” it, we then “interpret” it through our performance in such a way that it does not, in the end, draw attention to ourselves, but to the spirit and energy — the “life” — of the score itself.

It is the work of the Holy Spirit in us that enables us to “perform” the Word in our daily lives. I’m not one who thinks of this process as merely monergistic. We actively participate in it, we “work,” we cooperate, we practice, we learn, we internalize, we grow. It is a messy process filled with failures and setbacks. Any sense of “progress” may be invisible to us. It’s a lot like life and nothing at all like a mechanical process of production. Disciples are not made, but grown.

Seems to me that I spend a lot of time learning the notes. I probably should be doing more performances. Putting it out there, in front of the audience. Playing the music. Letting it live.

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