A Confession of Faith for the Church in Virtual Worlds (1st Draft)

(Cross posted from Mr. Locke’s Classroom)

PREFACE

In a time of deep cultural change, the church has both great opportunity and great responsibility.  It is propelled into the future by its mission, while connected to the past by traditions, teachings, and writings stretching back to the beginnings of our faith.  It is often tempting to forge ahead into our mission, mindless of the lessons and wisdom of our predecessors.  It is equally tempting to enshrine our traditions as idols, embracing only the familiar and failing to acknowledge the new paths where God would lead us in the fulfillment of our mission.

Technology changes things.  But technology is a part of God’s Creation, and a gift:  We can use it for good, twist it to evil, or ignore it.  The last option, while always popular, has rarely been successful.  Gutenberg’s printing press changed the world, paving the way for the Renaissance and the Scientific Revolution. Because it made possible the Reformation, it also brought drastic changes to the church, changing almost every visible aspect of Christian worship and theology in just a few generations.   In our generation, the internet and digital communication have already brought about drastic changes, and will continue to transform the church in sweeping and dramatic ways in a short span of time.

In the past few decades, church participation in our culture has been in steep decline.  And yet, as millions of people leave behind behind their communities of faith, millions more are finding community online, in places that a few years ago wouldn’t have even qualified as places.  Worshiping communities of Christians are also beginning to appear online, especially taking root in 3-dimensional synthetic interfaces known as Virtual Realities, or Virtual Worlds.  The writers of this confession are among them.

We are not “virtual” churches.  We are not “virtual” people. We are very real people forming very real relationships and communities that happen to gather in virtual locations.  Like the churches of the early Reformation, we have been met with interest and acclaim, with bitter criticism and rejection, as well as casual disregard. But we aren’t disappearing, and right now we are faced with some critical questions:  Can we forge into the future without losing sight of our past? Can we successfully articulate our faith to churches that have little understanding of virtual worlds, who see our endeavors as nothing more than game-playing?  Conversely, can we successfully articulate our faith to the millions of people already engaged in virtual worlds, but who have little understanding of the church, who see it as irrelevant to contemporary life?

Like many confessions, this one springs from a time of great upheaval, and a strong desire to preserve the integrity of the gospel and the unity of the church in the face of new situations and challenges.

I. GOD

We trust in one God, who alone is the creator and sustainer of all worlds and all realities, whether labeled virtual, physical, spiritual or otherwise.  God reigns over all. God loves all. Continue reading

Lost enough to believe

Too many times, I feel I have to have a firm foundation to stand on to start something. Building a house. Writing a post. Believing in a new marriage between two folks I see so differently. But that goes against what and how I believe.

I build houses all the time on a surface and in a platform that many will never understand. Being in a place I never conceived of six years ago, I now exist in many realities for which I cannot build a solid foundation for. These realities exist in the questions. They do not need my permission or concrete belief to exist or occur. If I try to define them, they fade or morph into other things that I never expected.

God, like these realities, doesn’t ask my permission to walk into the reality I perceive. God simply is. God, in my perception, wants me to live in the liminal space between concrete belief (some call this putting God in a box) and all out disbelief. I see this space as a space where questions pave the streets and answers are always on the run. I live here. How about you?

Gay and Christian?

Vincent Cervantes’ opinion on the matter. What do you think?

God Is Not Male

A post I found enlightening and thought that I would share with y’all:

God Is Not Male.

Vacation Bible School – In Second Life

It’s that time of year again when congregations are ramping up for VBS – vacation Bible school. I have to tell you a nerdy secret, I have always loved VBS. Since I was old enough to enjoy banana Popsicles and wear butter cookies on my little fingers I have loved everything about VBS. From the felt art Jesus, disciples and sheep to the high theme VBS camps today I’ve just love that week of getting together every day to be all Jesusy in a macaroni art kind of way.

As I am typing this the soundtrack of my young summer VBS days is playing in my head…

Do Lord, Oh Do Lord or Do Remember Me…
…hide it under a bushel NO, I’m gonna let it shine!
God said to Noah there’s gonna be a floody, floody..
He’s got the Whole Word in His hands…
Red and yellow, black and white they are precious in his site Jesus loves the little children of the world
I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart to stay.

Anyway – the point of this post is that I’m thinking it is time to try a VBS for grown-ups in Second Life – whattaya think? Would you set aside an hour every evening of a week this summer to hang out in SL, look at Bible stories in new ways, take SL field trips, learn to make SL arts and crafts and make new friends from all over the country – or world even?

Your VBS leader – Miss Sophianne 🙂

Grace Mediated

In his study of base communities of Latin America, Ecclesiogenesis: The Base Communities Reinvent the Church (Orbis, 1986), Leonardo Boff wrote, “Grace and salvation are always expressed in sacramental form. They do not come like a bolt from the blue. They find their path to the hearts of human beings through all manner of mediations. The mediations can change, but grace and faith cannot.”

Whether it’s a face-to-face encounter with a witnessing Christian, a life in a well-established and traditional church, in a Sabbath gathering of 3D avatars in Second Life, or even in the Tworship via the First Church of Twitter, the belief that the Holy Spirit can work in and through any vehicle is what compels me to create, participate in, and sustain online Christian community.

What say you?

Song list from Worship 3/24/10

Worship music from last week at Koinonia Church

we begin with an acoustic rendition of Emily Dickinson’s poem “Hope is the Thing with Feathers”  move into Holly Near’s powerful voice and words in “I am Willing” to the sublime sound of Eva Cassidy singing “Oh Had I a Golden Thread” then on to a rousing original remix of “One Love Around L.A.” and finally the techno-dance beat of “Create in Me”

Scripture reading:  Hebrews 10: 22-25 (Contemporary English Version)

So let’s come near God with pure hearts and a confidence that comes from having faith.Let’s keep our hearts pure, our consciences free from evil, and our bodies washed with clean water. We must hold tightly to the hope that we say is ours. After all, we can trust the one who made the agreement with us. We should keep on encouraging each other to be thoughtful and to do helpful things.
Some people have gotten out of the habit of meeting for worship, but we must not do that. We should keep on encouraging each other, especially since you know that the day of the Lord’s coming is getting closer.

Give a listen:

Hope is the Thing http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3BI-Z67RnIg

I am Willing http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dge7f1Ne4Ng

Oh Had I a Golden Thread http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w0kEQSrqu8c  

 One Love Around L.A. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YJlVVhyjXfA

Create in Me http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gAfbVBW94JU&feature=related

Meditation

For those of  you who were not able to join us for Monday Meditations or at worship last evening at Koinonia, here is a short meditation to use this week as we move into Holy Week.  

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me”

Psalm 51:10

Take a moment to read the words slowly, allowing them to sink deeply into your soul.

Breathing in: pray these words:
create in me a clean heart

Breathing out pray these words:
put a new and right spirit within me

use this breath prayer through the week

Meditation Prayer;
“Create in Me a Clean Heart” by Joyce Rupp

+ create in me a clean heart, open and receptive, so that  I may embrace the many ways you choose to visit my life.

+create in me a clean heart, cleared of the refuse of old battles with others and deadly opposition to myself.

+create in me a clean heart purified through the daily disruptions and the life encounters that take me beyond my grasping control and ego-centeredness.

+create in me a clean heart free from the clutter of cultural enticements, so that I can enjoy the beauty of life’s simple things and relish the gifts I easily take for granted.

+ create in me a clean heart, bathed from harsh thoughts, shame, and perfectionistic tendencies, warmly welcoming others with the embrace of nonjudgement.

+create in me a clean heart brushed free of frantic busyness, so that I will have time to dwell with you in the listening space of solitude and silence.

+create in me a clean heart, rinsed of the residue of false messages about my identity, enabling my inner goodness and light to shine through all I am and do.

+create in me a clean heart, cleansed of all anxiety and lack of trust, restoring in me an enduring faith in your abiding presence and unconditional love.

+create in me a clean heart, scrubbed clean of racism and prejudice, drawing me toward all as my sisters and brothers.

+create in me a clean heart, washed with your mercy and strengthened by your love, helping me move beyond whatever keeps me from union with you.

Create in me a clean heart God. Dust off the unmindful activity  that constantly collects there. De-clutter my heart from harsh judgements and negativity. Wash away my resistance to working through difficult relationships. Rinse off my un-loving so the beauty of my generous and kind heart can shine forth. Remove whatever keeps me from followoing in your compassionate footsteps.
Amen

(taken from Out of the Ordinary c2000 by Joyce Rupp. Used by permission of Ave Maria Press, All rights reserved)

rethink church

It never ceases to amaze me at the many way God intervenes on behalf of humanity, to provide the holy connection to healing, hope and despair.
One of the beautiful things about the church and her people is that we are not confined and defined only by mortar, bricks and creeds. We are living breathing emissaries of the Holy and Divine, doing our best to be agents of grace amidst the chaos of daily life.
In the United Methodist church we are “rethinking” church, exploring new and creative ways to expand that idea- that church is more than bricks and credos-more than Sunday morning worship and Wednesday evening programs.
Rethinking church, then opens up the frontier of Second Life and other virtual worlds and social networking mediums.
What if church were a place where a cookie loving dragon  can sit with steampunk wrestlers, bluejeaned pastors, and seek God’s word and grace?
What if rethink church were a place where people from all over the world gathered for conversation, dancing, music, art, and prayer?
What if rethinking church was a post-denmoninational expression in a virtual medium that creates a sacred space for sojouners to find God?
To really see God at work in our world, we need to rethink how we expect to encounter God and how God can encounter us.
God is the ongoing creative synthesis of humans connecting in grace and compassion to become God’s holy people wherever they are gathered.
Koinonia Church, Beloved Gardens, Lighthouse Point and Art &Soul are simply more ways for us to rethink and be church.

Virtual Ministry – A Perspective

When I first considered participating in a church service in a virtual space, it took some mental gymnastics to wrap my mind around the concept. The technical aspects intrigued me but I had no idea how it would work. Ministry sans the face to face experiences that I’d had up to that time didn’t seem like it would have the same reality. Yet, when I walked my avatar into the space, I felt a connection that I wasn’t getting in the brick and mortar congregation I was then worshipping with. Having done research on welcoming and how congregations do this (or don’t do this), I was amazed that a physical personal interaction wasn’t necessary to create an atmosphere of welcoming.

Once I had entered the space, I began to understand why Kimberly was so excited about this way of doing ministry. The folks who were gathering were not the folks you’d see in a brick and mortar church on a Sunday morning or any day of the week.  These folks had been burned so badly by ministers and churches who could not or would not accept them that even going near a church, for some, was an emotionally painful experience.

As the church has continued to grow and thrive, it has become a place like no other worshipping community I have ever been a part of.  People continue to come as who they identify as – whatever form that identity takes.  One of our congregation shows up each and every week as a dragon.  Others wear period costumes.  It is a place where all are truly welcome.  It is a place that one can call home.  The community – the congregation – has settled in around the church and on adjoining islands to be close to this space.  So in more than one sense, the area is home to the folks who attend regularly.  The church is part of their community and they have chosen to locate themselves close by to be even more in community.

To those who are unsure of what virtual ministry can be or is, I encourage you to experience it.  Like many things in life, if you don’t experience it, you will not be able to fully understand it.  Experiencing the community that is Koinonia will help you to further understand what it is that is ministry in a virtual space.  It goes beyond the computer and into your very soul if you but let it in.