Monday, October 31, 2011
Keeping up with Christian trends has been challenging, to say the least. It seems that church leaders discussion leaders facilitators, having taken a page from Hollywood, ad agencies and popular culture in general, constantly stir the pot in an effort to, as they put it, 'reflect the culture around' them. While generations past, as well as the writings of the Apostles … and the rest of the Bible, come to think of it, felt the Church should reflect Christ, the emergent voices for Christianity have eschewed that notion in favor of customer identification.
As it turns out, however, lifeguarding has a new branch that appears to be following suit (no pun intended) to stay current (pun sort of intended) with their swimmers. I had a chance to sit down with the man who has championed what he calls The Emergent Lifeguard.
Bryn: So, Mitch, you have developed a new lifeguarding technique, is that right?
Mitch: Yes, yes I have. I found the old school of lifeguarding, you know, the one that was used, like 50 years ago, to be off-putting to many beach-goers. I mean, who wants to have some stoic square sitting in a wooden tower … watching you all the time? It's rather creepy when you think about it.
Bryn: Tell us more about your vision. How is your program different?
Mitch: Thank you for asking, Bryn. See, we found that some beaches and pools that had signs 'No Lifeguard On Duty' were actually getting more attendance than the beaches with lifeguards.
Bryn: But those are generally free beaches, too, right?
Mitch: I think that's really beside the point, don't you?
Mitch: Trust me, it's beside the point. Anyway, we decided to try out different things-we had the lifeguards get rid of the red shorts and white shirts. That style has been around since my grandmother went swimming. We also changed out the cross for a fish. The cross just had too many negative stereotypes, you know? And the fish, well, it's more encouraging. It sort of tells swimmers, 'you can do it!'
Mitch: I like it, too. But that was really just a step in the right direction. We then took down the towers completely!
Bryn: Aren't the towers meant for the guards to see struggling swimmers?
Mitch: See, we don't like to call it 'struggling.' We prefer to say they're 'finding their own stroke.'
Bryn: So, wouldn't the towers help your guards see the swimmers 'finding their own strokes?'
Mitch: The towers are very intimidating. Think about it, what do you think of when you hear the word tower?
Mitch: Castles! Dungeons! Prisons! That's not making swimmers feel comfortable. And when they're not comfortable, they will just not come to the water, right?
Bryn: So, tell me how the guards identify who needs help.
Mitch: It's far more relational, Bryn. We all need help, right?
Bryn: I suppose you're right to an-
Mitch: And the best way to help someone is to be there, not hovering over them, stifling them. And that's why we have our guards hang out on the beach. They put out a towel, lube up and lie back for a good tan.
Bryn: So, who's watching the swimmers?
Bryn: Okay, let's put it this way … what happens if one of your guards sees a swimmer, uh, finding his or her own stroke?
Mitch: Well, first, we encourage the swimmer to experiment. Maybe they'll discover a better way to swim, who knows? They might be the next big swim teacher! We wouldn't want to snuff that out.
Bryn: All right, so, the swimmer goes under. You think they might drown.
Mitch: We don't really believe in drowning.
Mitch: Have you ever seen anyone drown?
Bryn: No, but-
Mitch: Neither have I. They say it on the news, but I've never drowned. And who's to say these people didn't die of something else while they were in the water? As far as I'm concerned, drowning is an old superstition. We need to get past that.
Bryn: Then why have guards at all?
Mitch: I'm not following you.
Bryn: Do your guards ever go into the water?
Mitch: Absolutely! We sometimes go out to swimmers who are finding their own stroke and see if we can learn what they're doing. We flap our arms around, go under, swallow water, all of that.
Bryn: So, you pretend you're drowning.
Mitch: We don't believe in drowning. We're meeting the swimmer where they are. We're showing them that we're just like them. And as a result, our beaches attract huge crowds. We've been beaching the unbeached all over. People who never would have gone to beach have decided to come. It's happening!
Bryn: Does the increased attendance have anything to do with the women guards wearing bikinis? In fact, it says here that most of your guards are female, petite and, well, shapely.
Mitch: That's correct. We found that large men intimidated other men who didn't want to come to the beach as a result. It had a positive effect on single women, but we were losing a whole demographic of single men and insecure couples. By using a larger number of petite female guards, interspersed with medium sized male guards, we found the right mix.
Bryn: But these women, could they really pull a male swimmer in?
Mitch: They sure reel them in, I'll tell you that! Ha ha. Oh, wait, in what way were you meaning that?
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Monday, October 17, 2011
Nothing describes the world of Evangelical Christianity like change. Major denominations have faced down looming threats posed by hair-over-the-ears, pre-recorded music accompaniment and four-part harmony on Sunday morning. Churches in the United States have seen pastors lose their suits and ties in favor of T-shirts and jeans. Hymns sung for over 100 years have been subdivided into age-appropriate Classic services offered at 6am. Church buildings, once constructed as monuments pointing heavenward are planned and build like office buildings with an eye toward eventual resale. In fact, many have forgone church buildings altogether, meeting instead at the beach or in a bar. Even pastors have been replaced by discussion facilitators. In this ever changing climate, yet another wave has come.
Recently, I sat down with a member of this new, emergent church demographic, a zombie. I found that this man is not alone. There are many like him, folks who, feeling out of place in conventional churches, have formed their own brand of Christianity.
Because brain-eating zombies are subject to harsh discrimination, I will call him Mr. Zombie (no relation to Rob, so far that I know). I met Mr. Zombie at an abandoned warehouse so he would feel relaxed for our interview.
Mr. Jones: So, you are a zombie, is that what you call yourself?
Mr. Zombie: Sorry, what was that? I was distracted by the size of your head.
Mr. Jones: Yes, well, um. I asked if 'zombie' is the name you go by?
Mr. Zombie: Actually, we prefer the term Living Dead. Our flesh may be decomposing and yes, we eat people and really like brains, but we're no more 'zombies' than your average church-attender.
Mr. Jones: I see. So, tell me how this all got started.
Mr. Living Dead: Well, we never felt like we fit in with the pink-skinned, groomed 'Living' in church. For me, personally, I found the sermons about resurrecting in a new body strangely bigoted. It felt judgmental. As if the pastor were saying, 'you know who you are.' Then, the sideways glances when the pastor taught about being a new creation, putting off the old flesh. It just got to be too much!
Mr. Jones: So, you and others like you left conventional churches.
Mr. LD: That's right. At first we gave up on church altogether. Who needs the hassle of getting up on Sunday morning and going out in the daylight, being told to stop eating brains...
Mr. Jones: So what changed?
Mr. LD: The Organizer changed everything.
Mr. Jones: The 'Organizer' being the man who started this movement?
Mr. LD: That's right. He started meeting us at night, talking to us.
Mr. Jones: But he's not a zombie--I mean, Living Dead.
Mr. LD: No, he's alive. But he dressed like us and cut his skin and made himself look like a zombie. He even had some gangrene-like stuff on his head! Otherwise we would have just eaten his brains and missed out on everything. Some of us still think he's one of us. Just a few of us know his secret.
Mr. Jones: How did he get you to start this church?
Mr. LD: He told us it was okay to be an undead. He showed us that transforming our lives and changing our ways was just symbolic. There's no need to change anything to be a follower of Christ. He pointed out that very few living Christians change, except on Sunday for a few hours.
Mr. Jones: So, in his words, you just skip the formality.
Mr. LD: That's right.
Mr. Jones: And what if I wanted to join your church?
Mr. LD: We don't discriminate. We welcome everyone.
Mr. Jones: But you eat people.
Mr. LD: You show me a denomination that doesn't hurt a few people. The fact is that we're alive! It's happening! We're not stifled by common considerations of modern society. We have realized there's no limit to what we can do to express our excitement and faith. We have a big tent.
Mr. Jones: I thought you met in a sewer.
Mr. LD: It's a figure of speech.
Mr. Jones: The tent or the sewer?
Mr. LD: Both, really.
Mr. Jones: I'm lost.
Mr. LD: We prefer the term 'un-churched.'
Mr. Jones: Right. Well, I'm sure you've heard that some believe your lifestyle contradicts the Bible and thus you can't truly worship God until you, well, stop being zom-Living Dead … people.
Mr. LD: That's what I'm talking about. See, so many people have it in their heads....
Mr. Jones: Yes?
At this point I had to get Mr. Living Dead's attention as he began drooling and tried to grab me by the hair. Once we sat back down, we resumed the interview.
Mr. Jones: Okay, let's talk about worship style. You meet in sewers at night, is that right?
Mr. LD: Yes. It's a more natural setting. Christians need to face the fact that sitting in pews or just in a building is boring and uncomfortable to many, if not all people, Living Dead or not. And how can anyone really worship God if they're uncomfortable?
Mr. Jones: Well, some may argue that worship is a response to God in reverence and isn't about the worshiper so much as it is about God and his grace.
Mr. LD: It's not about me.
Mr. Jones: Right. So, why the emphasis on comfort?
Mr. LD: It's not about me.
Mr. Jones: I'm not sure I get what you mean. You just said...
Mr. LD: I know. That's the beauty of it.
Mr. Jones: What if I don't like meeting in a sewer?
Mr. LD: It's not about you, either.
Mr. Jones: Then who makes the decision?
Mr. LD: Oh, we have market research that indicates more Living Dead would come if we met in sewers.
Mr. Jones: So, it's not about me or you, it's about the market research?
Mr. LD: Isn't God great?
Mr. Jones: Okay. Tell me about the music you use to worship. I've heard you use trash cans and feet stomping.
Mr. LD: That's right.
Mr. Jones: Can you tell me if you tend to use hymns or contemporary choruses?
Mr. LD: Neither.
Mr. Jones: So, you compose your own praises to the Lord?
Mr. LD: It's more free-form, really.
Mr. Jones: You must put the lyrics up on a Powerpoint.
Mr. LD: We don't have lyrics.
Mr. Jones: Just percussive music, no singing, then?
Mr. LD: Oh, we sing, but we don't use words. Many have eaten their own tongues and so we just moan and howl. Words can't express what we feel.
Mr. Jones: And what do you feel?
Mr. LD: It can't be put in words.
Mr. Jones: Okay, there must be some common ground with mainstream churches. What translation of the Bible do you use in you preaching?
Mr. LD: We speak English here … I'm not sure I get what you mean about using the 'Bible.'
Mr. Jones: Well, most churches read passages from the Old Testament and New Testament.
Mr. LD: …
Mr. Jones: How do you grow in faith? What do you use to teach?
Mr. LD: Our faith grows in our community. We have a thriving Living Dead environment. And when you say teaching, well, teaching is restrictive. We believe that we already have the answers. See, this is what I mean by being free. We don't claim to have the right answer for you or for anyone else. But I know what's best for me. The Bible is just an old book with antiquated rules and stories that no longer apply to people. Like me! I have to kill and eat brains to live. What would your 'God' say about that?
Mr. Jones: Killing is certainly-
Mr. LD: See, I found that being a Christian really isn't about a change of lifestyle. In fact, that's why I got involved. There really are no requirements at all. I can just add the name Christian and use a few key phrases and I'm a better Living Dead for it.
Mr. Jones: How are you better for it?
Mr. LD: For starters, my business has taken off in a big way! I'm earning ten times what I was making before.
Mr. Jones: Just by calling yourself a Christian?
Mr. LD: In part, yes. I put a fish on my business card. But also, I've found that saying certain key words in prayer have a powerful, even magical effect on my life. Without changing a thing! I just say that prayer every day and suddenly I have new customers, more business. Even more brains to eat! It's been a boon, let me tell you.
Mr. Jones: Do you study the teachings of Christ?
Mr. LD: Jesus taught people thousands of years ago. How relevant could that be? But I've found the true meaning of what He was saying. See, there are secret codes to happiness and success. He wants me to be happy and have everything I want. That's a beautiful message and I'm so excited about it!
Mr. Jones: So, this is really all about personal success and self-gratification?
Mr. LD: It's not about me.