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Photo: Shahram Sharif (Creative Commons license)

Photo: Shahram Sharif (Creative Commons license)

If you’ve ever passed someone on the street and said “hello,” but the other person didn’t acknowledge your greeting, you’ve experienced something called disconfirmation. According to Julia T. Wood, in Interpersonal Communication: Everyday Encounters, we “confirm” someone with both non-verbal (a nod, a smile) and verbal (a return greeting, or even a friendly grunt) communication. “We disconfirm others at a fundamental level when we don’t acknowledge their existence,” Wood writes.

Most of us have a tolerance, perhaps even an acceptance, of a certain level of disconfirmation in life. We probably don’t give that passing stranger another thought. On the other end of the spectrum, the church member or family member who repeatedly snubs us with the silent treatment might cause us greater angst.

Each advance in communication has brought with it the potential for all of us to be the recipients of more disconfirmation, as well as to add to it. The unreturned phone call … the email that went unacknowledged … and now, the requests to connect and be “Friends” and follow someone back. There are more ways to connect, but there are also more ways to miss each other and to miss opportunities to confirm and affirm each other.

Furthermore, as followers of Christ, who went out of his way to “confirm” those who were disconfirmed by many, I believe there’s a faith dimension to the issue.

Some, like social media expert Chris Brogan, treat social media as legitimate items on the “To Do” list, and schedule them in daily or weekly. I like this idea, because I’m the kind of person who needs structure, methods, and tools to get things done. Still, I’m not as good at managing my communications as I’d like to be, and if I’ve disconfirmed you, I apologize.

What do you think? How do you keep up with social media? And are Christians called to attend to the problem of disconfirmation, at least in our own lives, if not in the world?


Last week, I wrote about Starbucks’ Green Apron Book and asked whether the 5 Principles that Starbucks’ employees are trained to follow might guide the church in its efforts to establish and maintain a presence on social networking platforms. That post prompted some great discussion, not only about social media (in fact, mostly NOT about social media) but about broader topics such as the art of creating experiences, whether other comparisons between Starbucks and the church are valid, and even whether or not they have good coffee. I agree, the jury’s out on that last one, but I’d also argue that people aren’t paying $4 for coffee (a product) – they’re paying for coffee PLUS the experience (or at least, in the case of drive-thru customers, the emotional connection with the brand).

Photo: Randy OHC (Creative Commons license)

Photo: Randy OHC (Creative Commons license)

But it was Jerry’s comment that sparked today’s post: “Let me know when you figure out how to celebrate the Eucharist on the social media.”

There are the mechanics of ‘figuring it out,’ but what I think Jerry was getting at are the bigger questions and issues. Before we launch into a big discussion or debate, what I’d like for you (reader) to help me do is identify the important questions. Let’s start there. Then I think we’ll have a better discussion.

One place to look for the questions is online. Some churches are already celebrating Communion there – evangelicals in multi-site mega-churches experimenting with online church and Communion, yes; but also Methodists and Anglicans, and probably some Presbyterians. Maybe even Disciples!

In reading around  (see the list at the end of this post), here are some of the issues and questions that come up. Some of these don’t apply to the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), but they’re worth knowing about. These are specifically about Communion, not the broader topic of online church.

  • The need for participation to happen in the context of a physical community (I’m deliberately staying away from using the word ‘real’ here) such as a Sunday morning worship service in a church.
  • The amount of need for control over who can participate (members of that particular church or denomination only? any baptized believer? anyone?)
  • The role of the clergy or celebrants with regard to the sacraments (Do celebrants have to consecrate the elemants? Online, is BYObread-and-juice ok? What about a ‘virtual’ sacrament, like in Second Life?)
  • What is Communion all about in the first place? Is it a ‘love feast’? A memorial? Is Christ present, and if so, how? Is it a means of receiving grace and forgiveness?

Some practical considerations:

  • People who can’t get to church (i.e. homebound, institutionalized, incarcerated, those with disabilities, etc)
  • What happens when public health concerns or natural disasters force people to stay home? My experience with online Communion was with a Disciples congregation dispersed across several states in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
  • Might participating in online church (and Communion) lead someone who otherwise would not go to church to eventually connect with a local congregation? Or does it keep people from coming to a brick-and-mortar church by aiming to replace it?
  • What about those whom the church has hurt? Or those from whom the church has distanced itself?

Theological considerations (beyond those surrounding Communion):

  • In most of the discussions I’ve seen, the predominant theological question seems to be “What is church?”
  • A less-discussed theological topic is “Where is God in this?”

Help me out here….what other questions should be in the mix?

I hope you’ll follow some of these links and read what others have written, and then come back and add your questions:

Rev. Thomas Madron’s site (click on the PDF link to read his paper in favor on online Communion…written from a Methodist perspective but still fairly relevant for Disciples) – a multi-site evangelical church that also offers an online worship experience, with Communion.

Newsweek’s Belief Watch: “Click in Remembrance of Me?

This post by John Saddington on Church Crunch, about Online Church, which includes several helpful links.

An interesting discussion in ChurchCrunch’s Forums

Photo: darkensiva (Creative Commons license)

Photo: darkensiva (Creative Commons license)

There have been several humorous comparisons between church and Starbucks. If you haven’t seen the YouTube video, “What if the Starbucks Marketed Like the Church?” come back to this link after reading this post and check it out.

Now let’s turn it around. What if the church behaved more like Starbucks? What I’m suggesting has nothing to do with coffee…and everything to do with something called The Green Apron Book.

The Green Apron Book is a booklet that Starbucks gives its baristas. My stepdaughter worked at Starbucks for a while, and passed along the booklet. It outlines Starbucks mission: “To provide an uplifting experience that enriches people’s daily lives,” along with 5 Principles for doing exactly that:

1. Be Welcoming: Offer everyone a sense of belonging
2. Be Genuine: Connect, discover, respond
3. Be Knowledgeable: Love what you do. Share it with others.
4. Be Considerate: Take care of yourself, each other, and the environment.
5. Be Involved: In the store, in the company, and in the community.

Others, like Jeff Myers of the Slumdog Disciple blog, have already picked up on the notion that The Green Apron Book might have something to teach us about the experience we create for people (whether we claim that aspect of ‘church’ or ignore it). Darrin at the Hands and Feet 2.0 blog wrote a series of posts. Both Darrin and Jeff also mention the book, The Starbucks Experience by Joseph A. Michelli (McGraw Hill, 2006) for a more in-depth look at the 5 principles. But if you don’t want to go into that much depth, Jeff says The Green Apron Book is yours for the asking at Starbucks.

Here’s what I’d like to add. These 5 principles are a good guideline for Christians and churches when it comes to social media. Think about it. As Will Boyd of 3StoryChurch has pointed out in past posts like this one, there’s a lot more you can do on Twitter, Facebook, and other networks than just promote your programs, classes, sermons, and worship services.

We live in a world with abundant information. What people seem to be looking for are authentic, positive experiences. If your presence online and in the realm of social media is about creating that for them, even in small ways, they’ll be more likely to come to your website to see what else you have to offer.

And of course, follow through is important. If someone who connected with you or your church via social media shows up on Sunday morning, they should expect an in-person experience that matches the online presence. [For more on that, click the link to the YouTube video at the beginning of this post].

So how about it? Would you take a copy of The Green Apron Book to your next church board meeting, elder’s meeting, or small group discussion?

I’m in Grand Rapids, Mich. for the United Church of Christ’s General Synod. I’ll be here for the whole Synod, which officially opens Friday and ends June 30. On Thursday I spent the day covering a pre-Synod consultation on immigration.

The event included great speakers, immigrants who shared their stories, and community organizers including keynote speaker Norma Chavez-Peterson of Justice Overcoming Boundaries and Baldemar Velasquez, known for his work with FLOC, organizing farm laborers.

But the best quote of the day came from Dave Ostendorf, who said that liberal Christians tend to be “resolutionary” instead of “revolutionary.” He and others called for people of faith to go beyond passing resolutions and having church meetings to actually taking ministry outside of church walls and into the community to get things done, engaging systems and structures to get at the root causes of social problems.

One thing I appreciated about the day’s event is that those in attendance seem to understand the intricacies of justice work. They talked about the unintended consequences of the efforts of well-meaning Christians; they distinguish between feel-good, drive-by charity work and actually listening to, honoring, and empowering people who are oppressed so that they can shape their own futures with dignity. Those are nuances that you sometimes don’t hear when it comes to church mission and outreach.

In light of Ostendorf’s remark, I couldn’t help but think about the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). In about a month, the General Assembly will vote on whether to stop being a “resolutionary’ church. The idea is to replace sometimes-controversial Sense-of-the-Assembly resolutions (and a couple of other types of resolutions) with a dialogue process: Calls for Action.

But if we stop being “resolutionary,” we’re still far from revolutionary, and sometimes, a revolution — a turning-upside-down of things — is in order. While resolutions should not be  confused with actions,  I wonder if now we’ll fall into the trap of mistaking conversation for action. To be fair, the Calls for Action open a better space for dialogue than the 12, 24, or in a few cases, 48 minutes of floor debate. But at the end of the day, will anyone urge us to take it a step further?

How, as church, can we Disciples go from resolutionary to revolutionary, instead of going from resolutionary to…a bunch of nice Christians who can proudly say that we all get along? I hope we can find a way.

It’s been a long week with much to blog about. Not surprisingly, the California Supreme Court’s decision to uphold Proposition 8, which defines marriage as between one man and one woman, tops the list of blogged-about topics. While some argue that the church ought to get out of the civil marriage business, Bill McConnell wrote (actually last week) that it’s the state that ought to butt out.  Steve Kindle, of the Open Hearts, Affirming Pages blog, posted several items this week. And Danny Bradfield, over at Field of Dandelions, mentions it in this Pentecost-related post.

Photo: ptrktn (Creative Commons license)

Photo: ptrktn (Creative Commons license)

In a tangentially related post, The Prophet Joel asks whether the “Open & Affirming” designation adopted by some LGBT-friendly churches puts politics before Christ. His post before that one is good Friday afternoon reading: Television Characters Who Are Seminary Drop-Outs.

We also began the week with Memorial Day, when we remember those who have lost their lives serving our country and protecting our freedoms. Charlie Cochran blogs about God and fireworks. And Pastor Bob Cornwall shares A Prayer for Memorial Day on his Ponderings on a Faith Journey blog.

I also missed a great post last week, from the Field of Dandelions blog: “Beer, Revisited.” I won’t try to explain. Just read it.

Shortest post of the week: found on the Ageing Xperience blog.

My favorite post this week comes from Keith McAlliley who writes the Blogging from Bridgeport blog. Keith calls us to really give some hard thought to what we mean, as Christians, when we talk (obsessively, sometimes) about the need for building “community” in our churches. Do we just want social time? A support group? Or is it about something else altogether? Read what he has to say, and share what you think with him.

Got a blog post you’d like us to feature next Friday? Don’t be shy. Email us: news AT disciplesworld DOT com. Have a great weekend.

Photo: Foxtongue (Creative Commons license)

Photo: Foxtongue (Creative Commons license)

One of the best things about blogging (especially when it’s Friday and you’re a little tired of writing) is that you can read other people’s blogs and link to what you find. Here are a few interesting posts for your afternoon or weekend reading:

Danny Bradfield over at the Field of Dandelions blog posted this great photo in Earth Day. His blog’s got a new look. While you’re there, read about his recent adventures as a judge for the school’s science fair.

What do Disciples of Christ, the Vineyard churches, Mormons, Frank Viola and the house church movement, and the Orthodox Church have in common? They’ve all grown, to some extent, out of “restorationist” principles – the idea of restoring the New Testament church. Blogging from Bridgeport wonders if the New Testament church needs restoring, after all? He makes an interesting point – go read his post on the quest for the New Testament church, and comment.

Bob Cornwall rarely lets a day go by without updating his Ponderings on a Faith Journey blog, and he’s always got something interesting to say. This week, he’s written twice about the use of torture as an interrogation tactic. I especially like this post, though, about interpreting the Koran.

Going back to last month, The Ageing Xperience writes about the donation of organs – and various other items – to a church, and what kinds of obligations and issues this occasionally creates, even if the donor’s intentions are good. Anyone who’s a pastor or has served on a church’s board or as a trustee can probably relate.

In closing, from Nathan Day Wilson’s blog, a word from Thoreau. As much as social media has opened up the floodgates of self-expression, there are others out there (on the internet, yes, and in “real life”) whose songs go unnoticed. May we listen well, and may we help others to make their lives sing.

Okay, I realize that many in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) still don’t know about the Mission Alignment Coordinating Council. Others, frankly, don’t care all that much about the effort to align the general (and probably soon, the regional) church’s structures with its mission and to better serve congregations. But they should (IMHO).

The MACC is an 11-member group that has been working for about a year to figure out what needs to be done to improve the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). That’s an extremely general description of their work; click here if you want specifics.

Today they made their report to the denomination’s General Board and asked for feedback. Now, the report’s been out for about a month — most General Board members have probably read it. So the biggie today was the feedback. Given the responses via Twitter and email, I wondered how this would go, because the responses I’ve seen and heard to the MACC’s proposals have been all over the map.

First off, let me just say that the MACC’s members have done a lot of difficult and thoughtful work, and have tried to look to God to guide that work. Everyone we’ve heard from has also noted this, and I want to reaffirm it. No doubt, these folks have invested a lot of time and energy into trying to move the church forward, and forward in the right direction.

My own concern with the MACC is that, while they identified the need for transparency as paramount, their proposal doesn’t say much about it. And they didn’t model it for the rest of the church — DisciplesWorld wanted to attend their final meeting in January — and we were informed in no uncertain terms that the meeting was closed. We at DisciplesWorld have addressed that in an editorial, which will appear in our May issue. ‘Nuff said about that, for now.

One of the most interesting things today was how the MACC solicited comments and questions about its work. Instead of doing the traditional, Roberts’ Rules-governed practice of having people step to the microphones to speak, they asked people to get into table groups of 4-5. People were directed to comment on what struck them most about the MACC’s proposals, and what questions they have. After about 15 minutes of discussion, people switched to another table, with one person from each table group, who had taken notes, remaining behind to ‘host’ the next group. After two rounds of table discussions, table recorders were asked to come and report one item from the table discussions. Here is what they reported:

1 – Liked the proposal to extend the timeline and the feeling of not rushing anything.
2 – we can’t determine structure of domestic ministries without talking about the content and purpose of those ministries.
3 – “Our church needs bolder vision and bolder action.”
4 – “Change brings conflict and these proposals bring major change”  Let’s walk through conflict with courage.
5 – The MACC is doing good job of identifying problems and naming outcomes. But they are failing to ask individual entities to come up with the structure to accomplish the outcome. Feels like the oppressor telling the oppressed how to come up with the outcome.
6 – Who will be accountable to whom, and can there be action after dialogue with the General Board?
7 – For these things to be effective and foundational, we need relationships that lead to trust and to accountability.
8 – This seems like an indirect effort to shut down Disciples Home Missions. And NBA (National Benevolent Association, now Disciples Benevolent Services) is perceived as the problem, and it feels punitive.
9 – It was felt that it began with a theological basis but the theology is not carried out in proposals. They should be more theologically considered.
10 – How does this proposal resource the regions in the “movement toward wholeness,” in support of the 2020 Vision, etc.?
11 – Appreciation that we’re dealing with systemic change, rather than personalities.
12 – “This is an approach avoidance document.”
13 – An acknowledgment of the amount of work that was accomplished because of [MACC’s] intent and intentions to include all persons.
14 – Seems like technical fix rather than a mission-driven and delivery fix.
15 – There’s concern about how many next steps are lodged in Office of General Minister and President’s office – are we overburdening, and also, how much does  that centralize a church-wide conversation.
16 – There’s a need for clarity about what General Board can recommend and what it can mandate among these proposals.
17 – What is the expected outcome for justice and advocacy?
18 – Questions about the pastoral table – who is at it and are we inadvertently locking in 2009 agreements? And where are women, Haitians, regional ministers, etc.?
19 – Proposal #8 regarding new churches should be under the second desired outcome (celebrating and affirming diversity) – as opposed to grouped with programmatic issues in third desire outcome.
20 – Perhaps MACC assumed that general units’ work is still necessary to local congregations?
21 – We question the purpose of the pastoral table being fulfilled by being entirely race-based in its membership.
22 – “Turf protection dimishes ministry.”
23 – Are we doing what we always do – talk things to death – or will there really be substantive change in moving us forward?

Here’s what I see as a challenge. How does the MACC take in such a broad range of critiques, suggestions, and questions, and narrow those down? Are they really listening, or just letting people vent? Which comments will impact their proposals and the future direction of their work (they’ve asked for another year to continue meeting, and the General Board will most likely approve that request)?

And then, their next step is to go back to congregations during a conference in June, and find out what those congregations need to be resourced for ministry. This is a critical step for the MACC, because they didn’t get much feedback from congregations and individual Disciples last fall. One of the main objectives of their work is to better equip congregations for mission.

It seems (from this meeting) that regional and general ministry heads are quick to offer up their suggestions, and that’s great. But if the MACC’s work becomes dominated only by the concerns of general and regional ministries, then it’s not going to do what it set out to do.

Ironically, I don’t think that a failure of the MACC would impact Disciples congregations all that much. Many congregations figured out long ago how to “resource” themselves. The big loser here will be the general church. As I see it, the MACC process is about how to make the general church relevant to congregations. To succeed, they need to stay focused and may need to say “no” or “not yet” to much of what they heard today.

Photo: TheGiantVermin (Creative Commons license)

Photo: TheGiantVermin (Creative Commons license)

Confession: I’m not a fan of crowds. I’ll do just about anything to avoid them. Mostly I don’t like the physical aspect of crowds – the ever-present threat of having my toes stepped on, catching an elbow in the kidney, or of simply being wedged together with people I don’t know.

Another reason for avoiding crowds is the crowd mentality — the tendency for emotion and action to become magnified and transmuted. If you’ve ever seen a bar fight or been to a rock concert, you know what I’m talking about.

This same tendency exists on the Internet, where “buzz” often trumps believability and we lose the combination of reasoning skills and intuition that would make us say “bullpucky” if we heard or read the same thing from a single source. We ought to take anything buzzworthy with a grain of salt (just one example: the thousands of “Obama is a Muslim” rumors that made the rounds before the election).

I like a lot of things about social media, but Twitter and Facebook can amplify our human tendencies to behave like lemmings headed toward the proverbial cliff. What’s new with social media is that you can actually watch it happening.

Over the weekend, the Twitterverse was abuzz with news (marked with the #amazonfail hashtag) that reclassified as “adult” some of its books and other materials, especially those dealing with LGBT concerns and feminism or even having gay fictional characters. Not only that, but Amazon removed their sales rankings. Media outlets including the Wall Street Journal picked up the story, and so did bloggers (see here,and here). From what I understand, Amazon’s actions meant that reclassified materials (including Augusten Burroughs’ memoir Running With Scissors and an autobiography of Ellen Degeneres) would not show up in Amazon’s search results.  This is a big deal – with the number of items Amazon carries, not showing up on the first or second page of search results can mean a significant drop in sales. Your product is rendered all but invisible unless someone knows exactly how to find it.

Now, no one at Amazon is denying what happened. What’s troubling is how quickly an explanation for this turn of events spread – an explanation that’s maybe a little too convenient. More or less, the explanation is that Amazon secretly caved to pressure from the Religious Right and reclassified/deranked  these materials to stave off a boycott, and keep the fundamentalists at bay.

It’s hard to believe Amazon would cave to this type of pressure, while completely underestimating the backlash not only from the LGBT community, but from the hundreds of thousands of grown ups who deplore censorship and value freedom of expression. Amazon is a business — a publicly-traded company. They’re not immune to making mistakes, but I doubt they’d make such a stunningly bad business decision. Much as I’d like to know what the heck happened, I just can’t buy this explanation. It’s way too simple.

Amazon called it a “glitch” but the Twitterverse and blogosphere have mostly dismissed this explanation (and it IS lame — Amazon should give people a little more credit and a more detailed explanation, even if it’s incomplete).

Prediction: as the long arc of this story develops, look for alternative explanations that are complex but make more sense, like this one from tehdely at Livejournal, who worked for SixApart when something like this happened to them.

To paraphrase H.L. Mencken, for every problem there’s a solution that’s neat, plausible, and wrong. And in this case, I can’t believe the solution is to blame and flame Amazon. Let’s resist the buzz and put the outrage on ice, at least for a few days. The truth will eventually come out. Until then, pass the salt.

Rebecca Woods is news and website editor for DisciplesWorld magazine.

Originally published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Moms and Sons, “Mom Has a Wicked Curveball” was reprinted on It’s by DisciplesWorld contributing writer and mom Tanya J. Tyler, and goes out to all you single parents. An excerpt:

On the way to the park, it strikes me as singularly sad that this little boy has to play baseball with his mother. Not that I’m a slouch; after all, I was a softball star in high school and college, and I’m still a mainstay on my church and work softball teams. And it’s not that I don’t love baseball, because I do. It’s just that sometimes I wish my son had someone else to play ball with him. Someone male.

Read the full story here.

What would Jesus do if he was at his favorite Mexican restaurant, enjoying a Taco Salad and catching up on some reading, and overheard a couple sitting nearby trying to convince a young man to join a nefarious pyramid scheme (as opposed to, say, a benevolent pyramid scheme?)  Well, I don’t know what Jesus would do, but now I know what Disciples blogger Dan Mayes did. I’ll let him tell you.

Katherine Willis Pershey, over at any day a beautiful change, admits an aversion to hipness, both in the church, and in the fabric store.

Mad God Woman shares a link to another great blog, Stuff Christians Like. It’s not just a one-off list; each item of “Stuff” has its own blog posting. And he’s up to #495: Wondering if We’re Worth Anything.  Another great posting there compares different Bible versions to G.I. Joe characters (still works even if you don’t know your characters). Another recent posts from the Mad God Woman: Mitres of Fire, Hazards of Habit, about one of the major mistakes pastors make. Rock on, preacher lady.

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