current Next-Wave articles
Spiritual Exegesis of
and Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?
"Come gather round people
Wherever you roam,
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown.
You'll be drenched to the bone,
If your time to you
Is worth savin',
Then you better start swimmin'
Or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a'hangin."
||On New Year's Eve Eve of
Millennium Three I had a double-ring, between-two-worlds experience. For
the second time in my life, I felt awash in a global experience.
self-conscious introduction to a "global consciousness"
took place while I was watching, along with a hefty percentage of planet
Earth, the funeral that followed the most famous traffic accident in
history (Princess Diana).
second global experience was the eve of the most hyped date in
history. I spent it snuggled in the pouch of the PBS kangaroo as it
hopped around the globe to cover the wildly diverse and colorful
panorama of 2000 Eve celebrations. For someone who loves parties, but
hates going to them, it was the ideal way to bring in the people=s
truly unprecedented nature of such global celebrations too easily
escapes us. For the first time in history, it is possible for the
citizens of planet Earth as one body to have common experiences. On New
Eve hundreds of millions of people saw the same images, heard the same
songs, and felt similar emotions of wow, wonder, and awareness from the
collective genius of Earth=s
might this portend for our future? Might we come together as a
planet and tackle some of the challenges (global warming, environmental
degradation, racism and ethnic cleansing, terrorism, weapons
proliferation, etc) that beg for shared solutions but are without shared
structures for solving them?
reflecting on this new world a-coming-and what kind of world it could be--I also
was hit by the sense of another world a-going-and what a world it has been. A thousand
years ago very few people anticipated the coming of the year 1000, much
less celebrated it. Why? Because a thousand years ago the Christian
calendar dividing history into before Christ and after Christ was the
preserve of only a small band of literate elites in a small corner of
the second millennium, Christendom so triumphed that by it's
end the entire world is in some way governed by and celebrating the
"Christian calendar." Christianity so embedded itself in
cultures (Western, popular, media, global) that people from China to
Cancun are keeping time by the Jesus clock. On New Years' Eve we were celebrating 2000 years of
what? 2000 from what? What was the hinge point of history? In short, PBS'
Eve (and ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox) could be interpreted as a giant celebration
of the success of Christianity over the past thousand years. If not
"every knee" was bowing, at least a significant portion
of the planet's
necks were tilting heavenwards. The skies were lit-up by fireworks
celebrating two millennia of history spent in the wake of a WaterFire
Messiah who showed how God's
grace could be both a cleansing stream and a consuming fire.
world of Christendom is over. The words AChristianity is dying in the West@
launch a recent book by New Zealand novelist/theologian Michael Riddell.
A special "Millennium Edition"
of The Economist began its treatment of the last thousand years
by observing: "Already
Christianity, the faith once almost synonymous with Europe, is decaying
in its homelands---as
its rival, Islam, is not."
One wonders how many necks in Egypt, Israel, Indonesia, Japan, Nigeria
would have bent backwards if they had been fully aware they were
commemorating one of Christianity's
role will Christianity have in the next millennium? Postmoderns have no
trouble singing with Mariah Carey "You and I must make a pact/We must bring salvation back."
Can postmoderns learn to make a pact with the church as well as with pop
culture to "bring
In fact, might the church learn some things from pop culture about how
to "bring salvation back?"
of the most talked about shows on television now are both British
imports: Antiques Road Show and Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.
Both are so successful that they are spinning off clones. In the case of
game shows, everybody now has at least one, comprising over six hours of
prime time gaming a week: Fox (Greed), CBS (Winning Lines,
$64,000 Question), NBC (Twenty One), ABC (Who Wants To
Be a Millionaire, Mastermind, You Don't
the success of "Who
Wants to Be a Millionaire?"
This show has made the transition from rational to Experiential, from
representative to Participative, from word-based to Image-based, and
from individual to Connected. In other words, it is EPIC programming.
The recovery of Christianity in the next millennium is likely to be
based on whether or not the church can carve (not cast) its ministries
into more EPIC shape.
From the opening question "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" to the space-age set in which Regis
Philbin and contestant face-off mid-air in hover-craft, Star-Wars like
vehicles, everything is designed to offer everyone involved an
experience. In the same way singing hymns and choruses back to back
magnifies the experiential momentum of worship as opposed to stand-alone
songs slotted into liturgical notches, the show appears on three
successive days a week, not at weekly intervals throughout the viewing
Rather than put contestants in an isolation booth, this game shows
offers them ALifelines@
that invite participation from the audience and from friends at home.
Rather than off-putting fill-in-the-blank questions, multiple choice
questions invite people at home to get involved and test themselves. The
use of multiple choice is not about dumbing down, as some say
about the less than genius questions that characterize the new game
about drawing in. And its success in drawing in multiple
generations to watch the same program is already making television
history. In contrast to most other network programming, especially game
shows, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? draws from all demographic
groups and virtually mirrors the US population.
The image of "a million bucks"
is well-entrenched in popular culture, and only needs a little polish
for it to shine like silver. The visual image of what a million dollars
looks like and might do to change your life are ubiquitous on the
The lone individual levitating center-stage is surrounded by successive
rings of fans, friends, and millions of cheerleaders at the other end of
the screen. The Judgment-Day sound of "Is that your final answer?" subtly connects us all to the
truth-or-consequences nature of every choice we make.
Jesus said, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life"
he was giving us the three progressive steps of a pilgrimage gospel. EPIC
was there from the beginning. Christianity is based on an image: Jesus the
Christ. Jesus, the very Image of God, invites us to Participate
in a pilgrim Way (steps one is "Follow Me")
that leads us into richer and deeper Experiences of Truth
(step two is from which one can then build the only Life
in which the circuits are completed that Connect with God,
others and creation.
the eve of Millennium Three, Christianity faces the most powerful
intellectual and spiritual advance in the history of civilization.
Internet technology is amplifying the worldwide flow of new kinds of
experiences, interactions, images, and connections. The doors of the
future are there for Christianity to open for the glory of God. Our
ancestors helped create those doors. Will we their descendants open them?
Or will we sit back, entwined like mummies in safety-belt strips of
protection, fear and suspicion--all death sentences--and let others open
those doors while the future flies by?
is no door we can=t
open with EPIC love.
Leonard I. Sweet
Riddell, Threshold of the Future (1989).
Millennium of the West,@
The Economist, 31 December 1999, 9.
|All things "Sweet"
Next Wave Web Magazine is a fan of Dr. Leonard
I. Sweet. If you haven't met Dr. Sweet, peruse his biographical information
(reprinted from his web site, www.leonardsweet
It has been said that there is no church leader
who understands better how to navigate the seas of the 21st century than Dr.
Leonard I. Sweet. Len is widely known and celebrated on three fronts: as a
historian of American culture; as a futurist/semiotician who "sees things
the rest of us do not see, and dreams possibilities that are beyond most of our
imagining;" and as a preacher who communicates the gospel powerfully to a
postmodern age by bridging the worlds of academe and popular culture.
Aquachurch web site
Canipe's review of Aquachurch from last month's issue
Aquachurch at Amazon.com
Browse the SoulTsunami
Currently Vice President and Professor
of Postmodern Christianity at Drew University, Madison, NJ where he is also Dean
of the Theological School, Len previously served for eleven years as
President (CEO) and Professor of Church History at United Theological Seminary,
Dayton, Ohio. Prior to 1985, Len was Provost of Colgate Rochester/Bexley Hall/Crozer
Divinity Schools in Rochester, New York. Involved in leadership positions in the
United Methodist Church, Len has been chosen to speak at various Jurisdictional
and General Conferences as well as the 1996 World Methodist Congress in Rio de
Janeiro. He also serves as a consultant to many of America's denominational
leaders and agencies. He is a member of the West Virginia
Author of more than one hundred articles, over four hundred published sermons,
and fifteen books, Len was the writer (along with his wife Karen Elizabeth
Rennie) for nine years of Homiletics, which became under his watch the
premier preaching resource in North America. His best-selling book FaithQuakes
(1994), selected that year as one of the "10 best religion books"
and "10 must-read books" was followed by Health and Medicine in
the Evangelical Tradition (1994), Communication & Change in
American Religious History (1994), Strong in the Broken Places
(1995), an audio seminar with Rick Warren called The Tides of Change
(1995) and The Jesus Prescription for a Healthy Life (1996). Len's
newest books are Eleven Genetic Gateways to Spiritual Awakening (1998),
A Cup of Coffee at the SoulCafe (1998), and his successor book to FaithQuakes,
SoulTsunami: Sink or Swim in New Millennium Culture (1999), which is
already in its fourth printing.
SoulTsunami is the
first in a 1999 trilogy of resources for leaders struggling to come to terms
with postmodern culture. The second installment, which was published in June, is
called AquaChurch: Essential
Leadership Arts for Piloting Your Church in Today's Fluid Culture. Where SoulTsunami
covers the waterfront and scans the 21st century horizon, AquaChurch
is designed specifically to help churches sail these new seas. The third volume
in the trilogy, SoulSalsa: The Art of Living Soulfully is due out late
in 1999, and is focused on issues of personal spirituality. Each book in the
trilogy has its own website and multi-medial components.