Saturday, May 31, 2008


If my fire is not large it is yet real, and there may be those who can light their candle at its flame.

- A.W. Tozer, "The Pursuit of God," p. 10

Friday, May 30, 2008

It's Just a Flesh Wound

For your Friday amusement . . .

Wondering when Hillary will bow out? This 90-second political "ad" gives valuable insight:

You can see all their ads here. There are currently 7, so no candidate is exempt.

Thursday, May 29, 2008


George Bush at the Air Force Academy, 5/28/08

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Cranach Groupies

A friendly reminder: If you haven't yet read my Cranach post from last week, please do. I labored on it for months, just for you.

It turns out that someone beat me to the punch on my post, though. Paul McCain has an entire website dedicated to this painting. So if you haven't had enough yet, please check out what he's put together. More good stuff.

By the way, have you ever wondered what Ein Feste Burg ("A Mighty Fortress") might have sounded like in Luther's own time (1483-1546)? Check out the following YouTube clip - boring video but good audio:

And Bach (1685-1750)? He did several versions of this hymn. Here's one that his son, Wilhelm Friedemann (1710-1784), later augmented with timpani and trumpets. The first photo is a Luther painting by Cranach, the second is believed to be the last painting of Papa Bach only a month or so before his death, and the third is Friedemann:

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Ein Feste Burg, And All That Stuff. A Favorite Painting - Cranach in Weimar

I've posted so many things sympathetic to the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox church that some of my Presbyterian friends may be questioning my bona fides. But as John Paul II would say, "Do not be afraid!" Perhaps this post will help to reestablish "(w)here I stand."
This post is an attempt at art appreciation. I freely admit that I am a marketer, not an artist, so if you happen to notice flagrant ignorance, please feel free to correct me (gently).
I've been working on this blog post off and on for many months, and it is very long, so you may not want to try to read it all at one sitting. The pictures are nice, though, so I hope that will be enough to entice you to come back a few times and read the whole thing.
I suppose there's a handful of paintings I'd call my "favorite," but if I had the opportunity to take one, and only one, with me into exile, it would be Cranach's magnificent altarpiece triptych which can be found in the Herderkirche in Weimar, Germany.
I have a special relationship with this painting. In my missionary days, when working in communist East Germany, we would have discipling meetings with the youth pastor and his wife in Weimar. His window faced the Herderkirche across the square, and I attended services there a few times (plus once afterwards, on a return visit years later). I also was able to hear some organ concerts there during the summers. Bach himself attended this church for a time, and a couple of his kids were baptized here. By then, the painting was about 150 years old, but the organ is a much newer affair, so it's not one he played.

So during these services and concerts, I got to spend a lot of time looking at the painting. Maybe that's part of why I like it so much - that, plus the winsome way it portrays the salvation of the donors, the viewer, and the artist himself. I've even been up on the altar for a closer look, and have walked behind this work to see the other side (I think there's something painted on the back, too, but that's where memory fails me - probably it's just decoration for when the triptych is "closed").

The church goes by several names. In addition to Herderkirche (named after a German poet and philosopher of the Romantic period, whose statue now stands before the church), it is sometimes referred to as the Stadtkirche (city church), though its "official" name is the (Lutheran) Church of St. Peter and Paul. It was built between 1498-1500 and largely rebuilt after heavy damage sustained in WWII bombings.
Though the church was originally Catholic, it became Lutheran during the Reformation, and barely twenty years after the Reformation reached Weimar, Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553) was commissioned to paint this altarpiece. By that time, he and Luther had become friends, even godfathers to each other's children, and he had printed "Luther Bibles" on presses he owned. Cranach painted numerous portraits of Luther (and Luther's wife, Katie) over the years, becoming a sort of "painter of record" for Lutheran reformers. However, Cranach was multi-vocational: in addition to his painting and printing businesses, he owned a pharmacy in his town of Wittenberg (where Luther posted his 95 Theses) and served as mayor for a time.

Although the Calvinistic Reformers made a point of eliminating anything in a church that could be taken to be a "graven image" - statues, paintings, stained glass - not so Luther. He realized that every time someone hears a Bible story, he forms a picture in his mind of what that might have looked like. And if every hearer of the gospel has an image in his mind, "Why then should it be sinful to have it before my eyes?" As long as images were only reminders or teaching tools and not thought to be of intrinsic value, they were welcome.

So Cranach got to work at producing what's been called a work of "evangelical iconography." But he wasn't able to finish the painting before an exile from Weimar of about 5 years following the capture of his prince in a mini-war with the Catholics; he did return in 1552 after the Protestants returned to power, but died only a year later. His son, conveniently named Lucas Cranach the Younger (1515-1586), completed the work his father had begun. The portrait of "The Elder" which you see here was painted by "The Younger" in 1550.

The major donors for the painting were the leader of the Protestant Union, elector Johann Friedrich der Grossmutige, and his wife. Johann Friedrich is the aforementioned prince who was held captive from 1547-1552. Husband and wife are in the left wing of the triptych and their three sons are in the right wing, all of them praying toward the center painting.

The focal point, of course, is the remarkable center painting. Perhaps not remarkable for its artistry or technical sophistication (one commentator refers to its "dispiriting didacticism"), but for the theology and piety and immediacy that preach the Gospel in paint.

You can get a nice close-up of the painting on this site, but turn your volume down first to avoid the loud MIDI file. Click on the various figures you see there, or the directional hands below the painting, and you'll see even more detailed views. Alternatively, just keep reading, because I've reproduced those detailed views below (click on each figure to see a larger version) . . .

Expulsion from Paradise

Adam is driven from the Garden of Eden by fantastical creatures. The skeletal figure doing the prodding I take to be "death," but I'm not sure what to make of the club-wielding figure, which looks like a chicken with breasts.

Adam is moving along at a pretty good clip. Eve, however is nowhere to be seen. It was Adam's sin that made Christ's sacrifice necessary.

The Ten Commandments

This is presumably Moses presenting the Decalogue to the Israelites. As we'll see later in the depiction of Luther, one foot is pointing into the painting and the other is pointing outward to the viewer - us - as if to remind us that the Law was given not just to the Jews, but to all humankind. The Law, as an expression of God's perfection, shows us our imperfection, indeed, our total inability to live up to God's standard.

The Snake in the Desert

Numbers 21.4-9 tells of the wandering Israelites who complained about their desert experience and were bitten by poisonous snakes. God instructed Moses to hang a bronze snake in the camp. Anyone who looked at it would be saved. This is a prefigure of Jesus, who will save all who look to His saving work on the cross.

The snake will be mentioned again, in the "Trio in the Triptych" section below.

Notice that the flow of blood from Jesus' side courses through the middle of the camp.


The shepherds receiving news of the birth of Jesus.

Here, Jesus' blood flows above the shepherds, but below the angel, reminding us, perhaps, that humans need salvation, but angels do not.

The Lamb

Jesus is the sacrificial Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world (John 1.29); the almost invisible banner at the top of the staff he carries bears this message in Latin . This Lamb is also a warrior, however (see Revelation 17.14, for example), meaning we can take the banner to be a battle flag.

The area where the Lamb stands isn't the only place in the painting with vegetation, but it appears to be the only spot where things are blooming. The Lamb of God brings new life.


This is where I wish I knew more about art. I suspect Cranach had something in mind when he painted Jesus' head listing to the right, put bark on the wooden crossbeam, and showed only the very bottom of the placard that proclaimed Jesus "King of the Jews." The flowing white loincloth suggests something to me about Christ's divinity and the breadth of the salvation He was purchasing by His death.

John 19 tells us that a Roman soldier stabbed Jesus' side with a spear in order to make sure He was dead. Water and blood flowed out. The next section talks about where that blood goes.

Justification - The Trio in the Tryptich

This is my favorite part of my favorite painting.

John the Baptist points with his right hand to Christ on the Cross, and with his left hand to the Lamb. John and Jesus have remarkably similar faces, perhaps because they were cousins?

Martin Luther holds the Bible, which he had recently translated into German. On the page are three verses, the first of which he points to:

  • 1 John 1.7 - If we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

  • Hebrews 4.16 - Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

  • John 3.14 - Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, [v. 15 - that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life].

Luther's left foot points outside the painting, perhaps signifying that his is a missionary message, not one to be limited to personal piety.

Between John and Luther stands the painter, himself, Lucas Cranach the Elder. This is an unusual touch, made all the more unusual - and remarkable - by the flow of blood that springs from Jesus' side and lands right on Cranach's head. Through this, Cranach declares his own devotion and need for atonement, and bluntly asserts that this atonement is not mediated through priest or church. The religious message about salvation is not just abstract theology, but practical necessity, and that's why Cranach needs a "straight shot" of the blood. As the only character who looks beyond the painting to the "audience," he seems to be inviting us into the painting to share with him in the benefit of Christ's blood.

So Cranach draws us in, John points us to the living Word, and Luther points us to the written Word (which itself is living and active).


We see Christ again, this time trampling Death. His translucent spear (staff?) looks a lot like the translucent staff that the lamb is carrying, and it's held at about the same angle. The skeletal Death looks a lot like the figure that chased Adam from Paradise. I take the lion-like creature to be sin (Genesis 4.7) or Satan (1 Peter 5.8). Notice the snake near Jesus's right knee, just in case we miss the allusion. Notice also that Jesus's red cloak flows under the Lamb's banner which proclaimed him the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world - just in case we missed the connection.

Jesus has a fairly nonchalant look on His face as he gazes out of the picture, as if to show that this battle over sin, death, and Satan wasn't much of a contest. It was a lifesaver for us, but there was never any question as to the outcome. As Luther wrote in his most famous hymn:

The prince of darkness grim --
We tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure,
For lo! his doom is sure --
One little word shall fell him.


And so we see, in this one painting, a view of Creation, Fall, and Redemption. Cranach invites us to view this as participants in the timeless story, however, and not mere onlookers.

"God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5.21).


The following sources were helpful as I prepared this analysis:

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

News You May Have Missed: Marksmanship Gets Personal

I am working on a serious post (really) but for today, here's a lesson in cultural differences, courtesy of Reuters. It's a story I'm confident you won't see on the NBC Nightly News:

If the video doesn't come up below, you can get it at this link.

(One of the inventor's names sounds like Bart Garrett, which adds an additional degree of humor for those of us who know someone else by that name. All the more so, because it's not hard to imagine him inventing something like this.)

Thursday, May 15, 2008

News You May Have Missed: Retired Priests and Nuns Try a New Type of Spiritual Warfare

An Australian retirement home for retired Catholic clergy has started offering fencing lessons to its residents. Apparently, it's turning out to be a big hit, though some have expressed reservations:
"It's very unusual at our age," said 93-year-old Sister Delores Kirby, a retired nun of the Faithful Companions of Jesus order. "It's a challenge. I'm always a bit afraid I might fall over."
Read the article and see more pictures here.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A Policy of National Self-Sabotage

(Click on the cartoon for a larger view.)
One of the strongest things about the American system is that politicians listen to "the people." And one of the weakest things is, yes, that politicians listen to "the people." The first instance we know as democracy, and the second is called pandering. Statesmanship, I would argue, is the wisdom to know when to listen and when to lead - and the fortitude to follow through in the face of opposition.
Where are the statesmen on the issue of American immigration? And why is it that Catholics and British newsmagazines seem to be the only ones saying anything sensible on the subject? The following opinion piece/analysis appeared in the Economist's April 12 edition. It's a bit long, but very informative. And I hope you find it persuasive, as well:

One of the most unjustly neglected films of the past few years is Mike Judge's “Idiocracy”. Mr Judge is the genius behind Beavis and Butt-Head, two of the most disgusting creatures on television, and Hank Hill, one of the wisest. In “Idiocracy” he turns his talents to futurology—and to the troubling question of the long-term impact of dysgenic breeding, junk food and grunge culture on America's collective IQ.

The premise is simple. Two typical citizens—the army's “most average” soldier and a street prostitute—find themselves transported 500 years into the future. They soon discover that they are towering geniuses compared with the knuckle-draggers who inhabit the America of 2505. The country's best university is run by Costco. People are named after brands such as Frito and Mountain Dew. Starbucks has become a chain of brothels. The president is a former porn star and wrestling champion.

One might imagine that America's politicians would do all that they could to prevent Mr Judge's dystopia from materialising. But when it comes to immigration they are doing exactly the opposite—trying their best to keep the world's best and brightest from darkening America's doors.

Consider the annual April Fool's joke played on applicants for H1B visas, which allow companies to sponsor highly-educated foreigners to work in America for three years or so. The powers-that-be have set the number of visas so low—at 85,000—that the annual allotment is taken up as soon as applications open on April 1st. America then deals with the mismatch between supply and demand in the worst possible way, allocating the visas by lottery. The result is that hundreds of thousands of highly qualified people—entrepreneurs who want to start companies, doctors who want to save lives, scientists who want to explore the frontiers of knowledge—are kept waiting on the spin of a roulette wheel and then, more often than not, denied the chance to work in the United States.

This is a policy of national self-sabotage. America has always thrived by attracting talent from the world. Some 70 or so of the 300 Americans who have won Nobel prizes since 1901 were immigrants. Great American companies such as Sun Microsystems, Intel and Google had immigrants among their founders. Immigrants continue to make an outsized contribution to the American economy. About a quarter of information technology (IT) firms in Silicon Valley were founded by Chinese and Indians. Some 40% of American PhDs in science and engineering go to immigrants. A similar proportion of all the patents filed in America are filed by foreigners.

These bright foreigners bring benefits to the whole of society. The foreigner-friendly IT sector has accounted for more than half of America's overall productivity growth since 1995. Foreigner-friendly universities and hospitals have been responsible for saving countless American cities from collapse. Bill Gates calculates, and respectable economists agree, that every foreigner who is given an H1B visa creates jobs for five regular Americans.

There was a time when ambitious foreigners had little choice but to put up with America's restrictive ways. Europe was sclerotic and India and China were poor and highly restrictive. But these days the rest of the world is opening up at precisely the time when America seems to be closing down. The booming economies of the developing world are sucking back talent that was once America's for the asking. About a third of immigrants who hold high-tech jobs in America are considering returning home. America's rivals are also rejigging their immigration systems to attract global talent.

Canada and Australia operate a widely emulated system that gives immigrants “points” for their educational qualifications. New Zealand allows some companies to hand out work visas along with job offers. Britain gives graduates of the world's top 50 business schools an automatic right to work in the country for a year. The European Union is contemplating introducing a system of “blue cards” that will give talented people a fast track to EU citizenship.

The United States is already paying a price for its failure to adjust to the new world. Talent-challenged technology companies are already being forced to export jobs abroad. Microsoft opened a software development centre in Canada in part because Canada's more liberal laws make it easier to recruit qualified people from around the world. This problem is only going to get worse if America's immigration restrictions are not lifted. The Labour Department projects that by 2014 there will be more than 2m job openings in science, technology and engineering, while the number of Americans graduating with degrees in those subjects is plummeting.

The United States is fortunate that it can solve its talent problem with the wave of a magic wand, by simply expanding the supply of visas to meet the demand. Raise the cap on H1B visas—or better still abolish it—and increase the supply of green cards, and the world's brightest will come flooding in. A country that is blessed with a dynamic economy and a world-beating higher-education system does not even have to go around wooing people, as other countries do.

Yet America suffers from one big problem: its political system is especially dysfunctional when it comes to immigration. A few brave souls are trying to lift the H1B visa cap. But most politicians are more interested in bellowing about building walls to keep illegal immigrants out than thinking seriously about the problem. And a few are even actively campaigning to reduce the number of H1B visas in order to keep American jobs for Americans. As Mr Judge might well wonder: how do you win the global talent wars when Congress is already in the hands of the idiocracy?

Monday, May 12, 2008

On the Nature of Truth: Is Is, but Is Is Not Ought

Provocative thoughts from Thomas Hopko on the nature of truth, and the role and limitations of the natural sciences:

There is no truth - scientific or poetic, physical or metaphysical, literal or spiritual - that is contrary to Christian truth. . . . There is no such thing as "Christian truth" as distinct from any other kind of truth. Truth is truth; it is the same for everyone. In this perspective, divine revelation is not only about God; it is about everything else as well. And created things also are all about the God who made them, and so, in that sense, are revelatory of God in His divine energies and operations in the world.


[Two warnings about science:] The first is that natural science in itself is restricted to physical nature and human behavior. It is not concerned with metaphysical, spiritual, and divine things . . . . It says nothing about the origin, meaning, and destiny of that which it studies.

The second warning is that science is concerned with physical, animal, and human natures in their presently deformed [by the Fall of man] forms, not in the forms in which God originally created them, nor in the state in which they will be in God's coming kingdom. Therefore, for example, the fact that a certain percentage of human beings is proven to be of "homosexual orientation" is irrelevant in a theological and moral discussion of same-sex attraction and love. It says nothing about human being and life according to God and Christ. It says nothing about what was intended for humanity from the beginning and will be for humanity at the end. . . . It merely provides data (always welcome, interesting, tentative, and debatable) about sinful humanity in a disordered and corrupted world in need of salvation.

Picture: "What is Truth" by Ron Waddams

Friday, May 9, 2008

Photo Melange

In case any of you were yearning for this, here are some coffeehouse photos from my February-March trip to Vienna. Taking all the shots from table height may be artistic, but really, I was just trying to be inconspicuous.

If you'd like to see all my trip photos (plus some bonus dog shots), they're at this link. Go ahead. It's Friday. You're bored. What else are you going to do? Work?

Thursday, May 8, 2008

The Paradox of Freedom

I came across this quote from Thomas Hopko, the Orthodox theologian I've been referring to a fair bit. In this paragraph he endorses freedom but distinguishes it from choice:

In [the Orthodox] understanding of things, unlike our modern American view, the freer a person is, the less they choose. Thus a person who would be perfectly free by God's grace would never "choose" anything at all. They would see, know, and will what is good, true, and beautiful, and do it.

In other words, Hopko seems to be saying that the more we become like God, the more we will (super)naturally desire what God desires. As we walk in tune with the Spirit, we will desire the things of the Spirit. Therefore, no "choice" is necessary. What do you think?

This reminds me of a favorite verse, Psalm 119.32:

I run in the path of your commands,
for you have set my heart free.


Wednesday, May 7, 2008

What's Next, Pipe Organs?

LifeWay Research finds unchurched prefer cathedrals to contemporary church designs
Written by Tobin Perry

NASHVILLE, Tenn.-- People who don’t go to church may be turned off by a recent trend toward more utilitarian church buildings. By a nearly 2-to-1 ratio over any other option, unchurched Americans prefer churches that look more like a medieval cathedral than what most think of as a more contemporary church building.

The findings come from a recent survey conducted by LifeWay Research for the Cornerstone Knowledge Network (CKN), a group of church-focused facilities development firms. The online survey included 1,684 unchurched adults – defined as those who had not attended a church, mosque or synagogue in the past six months except for religious holidays or special events.
When given an assortment of four photos of church exteriors and given 100 "preference points" to allocate between them, the unchurched used an average of 47.7 points on the most traditional and Gothic options. The three other options ranged from an average of 18.5 points to 15.9 points.
"We may have been designing buildings based on what we think the unchurched would prefer," Couchenour concluded. "While multi-use space is the most efficient, we need to ask, ‘Are there ways to dress up that big rectangular box in ways that would be more appealing to the unchurched?’"

"Quite honestly, this research surprised us," said Ed Stetzer, director of LifeWay Research and LifeWay Christian Resource’s missiologist in residence. "We expected they’d choose the more contemporary options, but they were clearly more drawn to the aesthetics of the Gothic building than the run-of-the-mill, modern church building."

Stetzer suggested that the unchurched may prefer the more aesthetically pleasing look of the Gothic cathedral because it speaks to a connectedness to the past. Young unchurched people were particularly drawn to the Gothic look. Those between the ages of 25 to 34 used an average of 58.9 of their preference points on the more ornate church exterior. Those over the age of 70 only used an average of 32.9 of their 100 preference points on that particular church exterior.
The Gothic style was preferred by both unchurched Roman Catholics and unchurched Protestants, according to the survey.
"I don’t like modern churches, they seem cold," said one survey respondent who chose the Gothic design. "I like the smell of candles burning, stained-glass windows, [and] an intimacy that’s transcendent."
"Buildings don’t reach people, people do," Stetzer said. "But if churches are looking to build and are trying to reach the unchurched, they should take into consideration the kind of building. Costs and other considerations will play into the decision, but the preferences of the unchurched should be considered as well."
The online survey was conducted on Feb. 4 and 5, 2008. The representative, national sample was controlled for a variety of factors including age, race, gender and region of the United States. The sample of 1,684 unchurched adults provides 95 percent confidence that sampling error does not exceed 2.4 percent for the total sample.

The original, unabridged article can be found here.


Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Do You Prefer Hard-Core or Soft-Core?

A few hours after posting yesterday's blog entry, I read the following from Richard John Neuhaus in the May 2008 issue of First Things. It addresses the issue of "intellectually respectable" atheism versus the fuzzy logic of the so-called "new atheists."

Marx, Freud, and, above all, Nietzsche are atheists for whom one can have a measure of intellectual respect. They, says John F. Haught in his book God and the New Atheism, understood that when God and religion are eliminated life does not go on as usual. Haught calls them the hard-core atheists. It’s quite a different matter with the new crop of soft-core atheists. Haught writes: “Dawkins declares that the biblical God is a monster, Harris that God is evil, Hitchens that God is not great. But without some fixed sense of rightness how can one distinguish what is monstrous, evil or ‘not great’ from its opposite? In order to make such value judgments one must assume, as the hard-core atheists are honest enough to acknowledge, that there exists somewhere, in some mode of being, a realm of rightness that does not owe its existence completely to human invention, Darwinian selection or social construction. And if we allow the hard-core atheists into our discussion, we can draw this conclusion: If absolute values exist, then God exists. But if God does not exist, then neither do absolute values, and one should not issue moral judgments as though they do. Belief in God or the practice of religion is not necessary in order for people to be highly moral beings. We can agree with soft-core atheists on this point. But the real question, which comes not from me but from the hard-core atheists, is: Can you rationally justify your unconditional adherence to timeless values without implicitly invoking the existence of God?”
I had my own web conversation with some atheists regarding this topic about a year ago, as you may remember from an earlier post.

Monday, May 5, 2008

There Are No Atheists

I continue to keep up with some of the leading atheist blogs, but over time a few things have become apparent:

  • Atheism, by its very name, is defined by what it opposes. It's very hard to build a coherent life and philosophy based primarily on what you oppose, because in so doing, you are letting your opponent determine your thoughts and actions. If you're a person of faith, therefore, you can take satisfaction in having full control over the atheist agenda.

  • The atheist blogs become rather one-note and boring after a while. Mockery wears thin. Of course there are stupid Christians. But how does that prove the stupidity of religion? A stupid carpenter may install a cabinet door upside down, but that hardly proves carpentry is bogus.

  • Many atheist writers like to point out what they see as inconsistencies and illogic in the Christian worldview, but their own logic begs pity more often than awe. Thinking you're clever and insightful is not the same as actually being clever and insightful. Historically-informed criticism based on knowledge goes much further than criticism based on received wisdom and caricature.

Atheists claim that God doesn't exist. The Orthodox writer Thomas Hopko questions whether atheists themselves can exist:

According to the Bible, humanity's basic sin is not atheism. It is idolatry. In this perspective, all people have their god. It is either a god (or gods) that they have made or others have inflicted upon them, which they command and control; or it is the God who made them, whom they are commanded to worship and obey for their own good. In this view, there are no atheists, but only idolaters.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

"The Best Way To Be Relevant Is To Give People What They Want"

Courtesty of

Church transforms into coffee chain

DENVER — Connection Metro Church, which used its foyer coffee bars to attract visitors to its eight satellite churches in the Denver area, has decided to abandon ministry altogether to focus on coffee.

"People liked the coffee a lot better than the ministry, according to congregational surveys, so we’re practicing what we preached and focusing on our strengths," says former teaching pastor and now chief marketing officer, Peter Brown.

Many in the congregation seem downright relieved.

"The sermons were okay, but the vanilla frappes were dynamite," says one woman who regularly attended the church for two years so she could enjoy the special brews. "I even brought my Jewish neighbors and they loved them."

The staff of Connection Metro Church began noticing last year that more money was coming in through the coffee bar than in the offering. "

People complimented us about the pastries and mochas but didn’t really mention the teaching," says Brown. "After feeling disappointed, we got pragmatic about it and realized God was telling us where to put our efforts."

The church renovated each of its locations into Connection Coffee Houses and removed most traces of its spiritual past. Now crowds are up and many former members are flourishing.

"Who knew I was so gifted at making foam?" says the former head usher, now the head barista, as he makes a heart-shaped design on a cappuccino.

The church’s small groups have been turned into neighborhood reading clubs, with some reading Christian titles and others following Oprah’s recommendations. The only visible remnants of the coffee house’s past are the offering bucket which serves as a tip jar, and the greeters stationed at the door to give a more welcoming feel than the nearby Starbucks.

Some former members were stunned to arrive at church Sunday morning to find the sanctuary transformed into a seating area with newspaper racks and coffee-themed gift items. "

I guess we’ll go back to the Methodist place," said one father who had brought his family. "But only after we try those delicious looking chocolate cream-filled croissants."

People in the surrounding neighborhoods say they are far more likely to stop by now. One man who came occasionally says he feels less guilty standing around the coffee counter now that there is no service taking place.

"Before, we had to sit through the service and pay our dues," he says. "Now we go right to the good stuff — the double espressos."

The staff also feels liberated now that the pressure of ministry is off.

"The best way to be relevant is to give people what they want," says Brown. "In our case, that’s coffee drinks."

Thursday, May 1, 2008


ITP: Inside the Perimeter, noun, adj., adv.: an abbreviation for "Inside the Perimeter," relating to the area inside Atlanta's I-285 loop highway. Contrasted with OTP, "Outside the Perimeter, which is all the area of Atlanta outside of I-285.

ITP and OTP are much more than geographic descriptions. They divide states of mind and ways of being. ITP is urban and Democratic; OTP is suburban and Republican. Old money lives ITP; new money lives OTP. Gays and lawyers reside ITP; straights and corporate people will be found OTP. All the cool restaurants and coffee shops are ITP; it's hard to find anything other than chain restaurants and corporate coffee shops OTP. People ITP drive Smart cars or ride bikes or walk; people OTP drive SUVs or SUVs or SUVs. ITP couture is funky-cool; OTP couture is Polo-Macys.

Before attending my Emory class last night ("Wednesdays at Atlanta's Microbreweries"), I stopped by an ITP coffeehouse for some caffeine fortification, grabbed a table outside, and overheard a conversation that could only happen ITP. A youngish man (30?) talking with a similarly youngish woman, who seemed to be his counselor or therapist or life coach or Scientology leader or something. I only picked up snippets over the traffic noise of the busy intersection, but it went something like this:

He: "Yes, my parents . . . family . . . frustrated . . . Do I really want to start a relationship with a pot-smoking graduate student? But I do like him . . . he doesn't smoke that much . . . my dissertation . . . watching pornography and measuring . . . "

She: "An unusual dissertation . . . a bunch of guys jacking off . . . "
Somehow, I found it difficult to concentrate on my book of Orthodox theology.