Monday, December 20, 2010

Coming Attractions: Worship in 3-D

Actually, not coming. It's already arrived in Grapevine, TX and will apparently be available in Coral Springs, FL in time for Christmas services there as well. 

You can read more about it in today's Dallas Morning News

When 3-D technology first appears for movies in the 1950s, it was what might have called sort of a carnival sideshow attraction. Film makers were banking that the novelty of seeing movies in 3-D (the "ooh, shiny!" effect) would draw larger audiences to their films more than making up for the additional costs in cameras and equipment to produce and process them. Most of the films were shot in black and white and made on an otherwise low budget, with minimal attention to acting, writing and plot and greater attention on the special effects, particularly effects that might surprise or scare an audience. 

Not surprisingly, this initial 3-D craze ran into the law of diminishing returns in just a few years. Very few films were made using this technology again until a brief return in the 1980s (Jaws 3-D), a return which seemed more an act of nostalgia for the 1950s tradition than any sort of significant breakthrough.
But now, 3-D is back, and nearly everywhere. Avatar was not the first to link 3-D to a film worth seeing even without it, but its success has spawned what might be called the mainstreaming of 3-D film making in this decade. Now, at nearly every movieplex, one can expect to find at least one or two films available in both "regular" and 3-D format. 

And 3-D technology appears to be on the verge of making its way into mainstream television programming in the near future as well. 

It is also already available, without any special eyewear needed, in some hand held gaming and cell phone displays on test markets in Japan and China.

Indeed, 3-D now appears poised to become a standard for video displays for entertainment and marketing everywhere. 

So why not for the church, and why not for worship?

After all, 3-D does bring in greater crowds to movies again, and it does create a more immersive movie experience. You can feel more like you are part of what's going on, especially in a film such as Avatar where the 3-D effects are used not so much for "thrills" (though they work there, too), but on an ongoing basis. Shouldn't worship for Christians be at least as immersive as the scenes of the Na'vi at worship in Avatar?

It's just there that the problem arises. It is what is on the screen, or if in 3-D, perceived by the brain also to be elsewhere, that is immersive. It's worship as an event done by others and modeled in our brains, but not fully in the rest of our bodies. It is virtual worship, if it is worship at all. It is, as Marshall McLuhan famously wrote, "the juicy piece of meat carried by the burglar to distract the watchdog of the mind" (Understanding Media, 1964). We think and even feel we're doing something, like worshiping, perhaps, when we see things like this. But in fact, those feelings are only neural signals that generate no actual action by the body. 3-D technology may present a compelling illusion, a simulacrum of worship, but not the thing itself.

Why? Because in an incarnational faith such as ours in which God becomes flesh and dwells among us, bodies matter.

And bodies at worship are called and enabled do more than watch and passively or virtually experience. 

While our brains may not be able easily to tell the differences between virtual and actual experience  the distinction between what we may see with our eyes or process in our visual cortices and what our bodies are actually doing at any given moment, we believe in a God who can, who searches "kidneys and hearts" (literally, Rev. 2:23), and who will return among us as Judge not simply of our thoughts, wishes, feelings or intentions but also our words and deeds. It matters what we do and don't actually do. "Not everyone saying to me, "Lord Lord" will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the ones doing the will of my father who is in heaven" (Matthew 7:21).  
The pinnacle and standard of our worship as Christians is found in our prayers and actions around the Lord's table. In the words of the Great Thanksgiving from Word and Table I, "we offer ourselves in praise and thanksgiving in union with Christ's offering for us" (See The United Methodist Hymnal, p. 10).  Or, more graphically,  in the words of the older Methodist/Anglican communion ritual, "we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and lively sacrifice unto thee"  (United Methodist Hymnal, p. 29).

We offer, we present, and in the older ritual, we speak and we embody these words at this moment. They are not spoken for us by the presiding pastor alone, but by the entire congregation. At the moment we are either standing or kneeling (depending on whether we come in submission or come with thanksgiving on this particular occasion) while the presiding pastor stands with arms raised in the ancient Christian and Jewish posture of prayer (orans position). 

We offer. We present. We pray. We register what the presiding pastor is doing with her or his body in our motor cortex, but our own motor cortices are engaged as well, along with the rest of our brains and bodies. What we say and what we do in the moment are one. This is truly immersive worship-- worship not just in 3-D on a screen, but in 4-D. For here we are not located solely in space, but across time and eternity, praying and singing and offering and presenting with "people on earth and all the company of heaven" (UMH, p. 9).

The technologies needed? A cup, a plate, a table. The monetary costs involved? The one-time costs of those items, which you might borrow, plus whatever it takes for the bread and wine, which may be donated. Low or no cost, and zero compatibility issues.

With the technological threshold and the monetary costs so low for 4-D worship, why settle for mere 3-D?

Perhaps because we know the real cost-- "our souls and bodies... a reasonable, holy and lively sacrifice." 

Perhaps,  like the simulacrum of the steak dinner that entices Cypher to betray his friends freed from the Matrix, we find it easier to believe the enticing promise of the burglar's distraction that more technology at higher monetary cost translates into more people at worship, and more people at worship means a better church, whether they or we offer souls and bodies  in worship to our Triune God and in actual discipleship to Jesus or not.

Peace in Christ,

Taylor Burton-Edwards

Image credit: Stereoscopy 3d Anachrome optical diopter glasses. Image by Luca Volpi. Used by permission under a Creative Commons License.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Christmas Communion-- Musical Settings and Texts by Mike Rayson

Unto this holy table, the Lord is calling near
All you who earnestly repent, of sin are welcome here
So let us live together, and peace let us profess
Therefore, God’s people, lets prepare, our hearts as we confess

O God our God of mercy, hear these our prayers this day
We have not loved you with our hearts, our lives we turned away
We’ve failed to be obedient, we have not done your will
O God we’ve broken your law and against your love rebelled.

We have not loved our neighbors, we have not loved the lost
Their cries have fallen on our ears yet we have brushed them off
Forgive us Lord, forgive us, come set us free from sin
And set us free, obedient, with joyous hearts, Amen

My friends I bid you joy and peace, good news to set you free
While we were hopeless, lost in sin, Christ died for you and me
That proves God’s love toward us, in Jesus name I say
Child, you have been forgiven, He offers you the same.

The Lord God be with you
And also with you
Come lift up your hearts
We lift them up to
our God,  we give glory, our thankful hearts raise
It’s right and a good thing to give thanks and praise

It is a good and joyful thing
To sing of your faithfulness
We offer up our thankful hearts
Creator of heaven and earth
You formed us in your image Lord
Your breath gave life to dust
And though we turned our love from you
Your love stayed true to us

You loosed the chains that bound our feet
And claimed us as your own
You made a covenant promise that
We’d never be alone
And through your people and prophets still
You word rings loud and long
So with the saints of old and new
We sing this ancient song

Holy, Holy, Holy, Holy
God of power and God of might
Heav’n and earth proclaim your wonder
Glory to the Lord on high
                Loud Hosanna’s, Loud Hosanna’s
                Glory to the Lord on high
Blessed is the one who cometh
In the name of God he rides
Saints and sinners raise your voices
Glory, glory, is our cry
Loud Hosanna’s, Loud Hosanna’s
Glory to the Lord on high

On the night he was betrayed, Jesus took the bread
Gave thanks, and broke it as he said..
“Take eat, take eat, my body is given”
For you, take eat, the bread of heaven
                Remember me, remember me
                Given for you, remember me
Then after they ate, he took the cup
Gave thanks to you and offered it up
Drink this, drink this, the wine of my blood
Poured out for all, a cleansing flood
                Remember me, remember me
                Come, drink this cup and remember me
And so as we, remember again
Your mighty act of grace through your Son
In praise and thanks, and in union with Christ
We’re a holy and living sacrifice
Alleluia, Alleluia

Let us all in one accord, sing the mystery of our Lord
Christ has died, and Christ has ri’sn
Christ will come again
Gloria, in excelsis deo

Pour out your Spirit, on your gathered people
Pour out your Spirit on this bread and wine
May they be for us, the body and the blood of Christ
                That we may be in this world
                That we may be in this world
                That we may be in this world
                The body of Christ
By your Spirit, make us one with Jesus
One with each other and one with the world
Until he comes, and reigns o’er us victorious
                And we will be his body
                And we will be his body
                And we will be his body
                The body of Christ
Through your Son Jesus, with the Holy Spirit
Here in your holy church all honor is yours
Glory to God, Glory in the highest
                O Come let us adore him
                O Come let us adore him
                O Come let us adore him
                Christ the Lord.

Image Credit: Used by permission under a Creative Commons License.

The Rev. Mike Rayson, OSL, is pastor of St Paul UMC, Brighton, IL 
& founder of Mike Rayson International Ministries.

He grants permission for use and publication of this resource by congregations for worship and educational uses. It may not be sold or used for other purposes without written permission.  You may reach Mike for additional permissions via email at:


Monday, December 13, 2010

Snow Days


Lovely when it's falling, especially as it settles on trees, but a serious hazard to drive in unless your community has the equipment to keep the roads relatively passable. And even then, traffic may (and probably should!) slow to a snarl.

That's why schools and some businesses have "snow days," days they cancel work as usual because it's just not reasonable or even safe to expect their employees and those they serve to come in.

In fact, it's a snow day in Nashville (where my office is-- and GBOD is closed today, too!) and "back home in Indiana" (where my family lives) today. In Nashville it's because there's simply not enough equipment around to deal with almost any degree of snow (it snows annually but rarely there), so the National Guard have been called in to assist. In Indiana, it's not that the snowfall was that great (4 inches or so) but that it's too cold for road salt to melt it and the winds are constantly creating new dangerous drifts. The plows push it away and it blows right back.

Having grown up just north of the Mason Dixie line in Cincinnati, and having spent most of my professional years in Indiana so far, I've seen a good number of snow days over the years-- for schools and businesses.

When it's schools and businesses, though, usually it's not that big a deal. Sure, there is some lost business, but you'll get right back into the swing of things tomorrow or the next day, right? It's usually more of an inconvenience than a crisis.

But not so for many congregations. The "next day" is often a full week away. A lectionary or sermon series may have been interrupted. Practices for Christmas choir music and the children's pageant may not happen as they should have. And especially in the "year-end giving days" of December, congregations are relying on every dollar or check in that plate to make budget and denominational obligations for the year.

With all these pressures, and perhaps few contingency plans in hand, congregations may be more than a little reluctant to cancel even when many other organizations and businesses would. 

So, what's a pastor to do? How do you make the call about whether to call a snow day on a Sunday, or even Christmas Eve? And what do you do about worship and finances if you do make that call?

Calling a Snow Day

First things first: Safety matters. Keep in mind who is in your congregation and what their physical capacities are. Many congregations have a much higher percentage of older adults, some of whom may have varying capacities to navigate by car or on foot on snow and ice, than schools or businesses. Some congregations have a large number of very young children (and their parents!) who may need extra help and bundling to manage without falling or getting hurt. If schools and businesses are closing, or even announcing delays, in weather like you're facing, you may want to plan to do the same. Even if schools and businesses might remain open, you should think carefully about whether conditions are safe enough to expect your people to come out, whether for worship, choir rehearsals, or whatever.

Don't leave this decision to the last minute if you can avoid it. Work with leaders in your congregation to develop a policy adopted by your church council and a communications plan you will implement when the conditions call for a snow day on a Sunday or other gathering. The policy should include objective criteria that fit your area.   Keep in mind specific criteria may vary widely by region and access to snow removal. Consider calling your local school districts to see how they make these decisions. While in Central Indiana, 4" or more of snow with temperatures in the single digits might be a reasonable criterion in areas with some snow removal available, but in the center of Milwaukee, where snow removal is more aggressive, you might consider waiting until at least 8" or more have fallen.

As for the communications plan, if you don't already have one, start creating email lists, phone trees, or other systems to make sure everyone who normally attends knows you have cancelled and any other information they need to know. Again, school systems can provide helpful guidance or models of how to develop your plan. Many typically provide multiple means for every parent and teacher to be contacted-- phone calls, email, text messaging, or Facebook. Find out how your participants prefer to be contacted, and make sure they get the information they need by their preferred means. It doesn't hurt to communicate it twice!

And of course, always use the local media-- radio and television-- so anyone who doesn't get the personal message has a chance to get it publicly. But rely on these as a backup. Direct communication remains your best first option.  

When You Make the Call

You do want folks to know when they might expect worship to be cancelled. Communicating your policy helps that. You also want them to know when you have actually cancelled worship. That's what your communications plan does.

But you don't have to settle for just announcing a cancellation. There are other things you can do that allow your worshiping community both to worship and to offer their financial support despite the fact that you will not gather that day for worship.

Here are several options to consider.

1. Meet in the middle. This takes some advance planning, but it can enrich the community of folks who live near each other. If it is not reasonable for many folks to drive in to your worship facility in a safe and timely way, perhaps they could get safely to a point nearer their homes. Make out a map of your worshiping congregation showing where everyone lives. Then see where there may be clusters of folks relatively close to each other who could drive safely to some point, whether a home of a member or an open business, like a coffee shop or restaurant, where they could gather for a small group worship and prayer time. If you plan to meet somewhere in public, be sure you have the cooperation of the place where you will meet first. Identify one or more of these persons as "cluster worship leaders" and be sure to send these persons a suggested order for small group worship (a well known song, an opening prayer, a scripture for the day to read and discuss, an order for prayer, and a closing song). Let the clusters meet whenever they can, wherever works best for each.

2. Worship and pray with others where you are. Use your social networks and encourage folks to share worship with immediate neighbor in their homes. There are two outstanding online resources that could help you offer morning prayer together, or if you can't get outside at all, with others you may invite via Facebook or email or phone to pray with at a given time. Mission Saint Clare provides the complete services for the daily office, including the references for the readings for each day. If you don't want the daily office readings, but the Sunday readings instead, you can find the listing on the GBOD worship website ( or the full texts on the Vanderbilt Lectionary website ( 
Or, if enough of you use Twitter, you might find @Virtual_Abbey a great resource for a more contemplative service of prayer. The Virtual Abbey offers morning prayer every Sunday (around 8:30 ET usually), and daily morning, evening and night prayer most other days, drawing on a variety of resources in English from around the world. 

And to let others know what you're doing, consider "Tweeting" something like this: 

Has worship become a snow day? Gather family & neighbors & pray with @Virtual_Abbey. We are!

3. The money. If you live in a place that is prone to have a snow day or two each winter, start now to create opportunities and reminders for people to send in their offerings online or by check. Always include a prompt about sending in offerings, by whatever means, in your cancellation notice. Make it as simple as possible for people to do. The more you do this, the less cancelling worship becomes a financial problem for your congregation.

What's Worked for You?
If you've planned ahead with policy, communications plans, and ways for people to worship together in person or online and share their offerings, snow days may become more of an adventure than a crisis where you are. 

No doubt, some of you have done just that.

We'd love to hear your stories of what's worked, what hasn't worked, and what you're learning as you create alternatives for worship when gathering at your usual facilities is not an option. Feel free to share your stories in the comments below.

In the meantime, be safe out there!

Peace in Christ,

Taylor Burton-Edwards

Photo credit: Snow Scenery, by Daniel Tibi. Public Domain.


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Late Breaking Worship Resource: Contemplative Christmastide Worship for Youth./Young Adults/ Emerging Worship by Gavin Richardson

Gavin Richardson is a United Methodist with years of experience in working with youth and young adults in Tennessee, a founding member of the Nashville Emergent Cohort, and a contributor of multi-sensory worship resources on his own blog and published by Abingdon. Check this out and see if it might be helpful for one or more groups where you are this Christmastide.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Late Breaking Worship Resource: World AIDS Day Liturgy, from Claudio Carvalhaes

Claudio Carvalhaes is a colleague in the Office of Theology and Worship with The Presbyterian Church, USA. His blog is a source of many fine resources and conversations in his church, including  this worship service for today, World AIDS Day.