Wednesday, January 23, 2008

"Rethink" Human Connection

An interesting article on a conference helping leaders, Christian and not, to 'rethink' how they use technology at the expense of relationships.

"Rethink" Human Connection (The Christian Post)

The first idea that popped into my mind is the over-saturation of technology in many church services. We need another company's inspiring video (which is impersonal). We need a band to perform for us all plugged into megawatt speakers (which is impersonal). We cannot hear our own voices, nor the voices next to us sing (which is impersonal). We need satellite services with the 'pastor' beamed or hologrammed in (which is impersonal). We only have one leader that cannot be known by the majority of the congregation (which is impersonal). We segregate services (which is impersonal).

There's a lot to 'rethink.' I do believe people crave that human connection. We don't want church and church services to encourage passivity by it's mere structure. The television does this well. But should the church?

Notice the 'comments' after the article. One decried that non-believers shouldn't be sharing with believers the effects of technology. Yet I wonder if that critic forgets how much of of the 'world' is already in us at a more profound level. Quakers didn't even allow music in their churches. The human connection found in earthy communal worship was profound enough.

Living with Questions update

I received in the mail today a notice that Living with Questions is in it's third printing!

One reader said the title doesn't give away all the intriguing aspects of this book, since so much of my own story and journey is wrapped up in it, including the thread of the relationship with my mother (I don't want to give it away, if you don't know my personal story).

This book is great for students and adults alike. If you haven't picked up this easy-to-read yet packed-with-tons-of-helpful-information book, go to your local bookstore and order it. Or if you like online orders,!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

"Banned from Church" part 2.... framework for 'authority'

I came upon two helpful article to consider regarding the 'authority' of pastors, elders, congregations, etc., in the church.

The first is by well-known theologian, D. A. Carson. This article is helpful to see the different kinds of church governments used in today's churches. Notice that each, though quite different, have their own Bible verses to back up their claims. Whether these verses are used properly is up to the reader:

Authority in Church by D. A. Carson

This second article by Hal Miller. It's a refreshing look at Jesus view of leadership. It also helps separate a modern view of 'authority' and from the Bible's view of 'authority.' Also note that while today we associate 'power' with 'authority,' Dr. Miller shows this isn't the case in the church. A provocative statement he makes:

The New Testament does not say anything about one believer having authority over another. We have plenty of authority over things, even over spirits, but never over other Christians.

An Elder's Authority: That of Children and Slaves by Hal Miller

Are these guys nuts? Comments?

Friday, January 18, 2008

"Banned from Church" ... share your thoughts!

Today's edition of the Wall Street Journal. The cover of Weekend Journal shows an article called "Banned from Church." It highlights how many churches have revived the practice of strict church discipline.

The illustration is humorously eye-catching, a retired-aged, clean-cut person being shamed by a finger pointing through heavenly clouds.

The opening story highlights a pastor from a Baptist church who phoned 911 on Sunday morning.

"Half an hour later, 71-year-old Karolyn Caskey, a church member for nearly 50 years who had taught Sunday school and regularly donated 10% of her pension, was led out by a state trooper and a county sheriff's office. One held her purse and Bible. The other put her in handcuffs.

"The charge was trespassing, but Mrs. Caskey's real offense, in her pastor's view, was spiritual. Several months earlier, when she had questioned his authority, he'd charged her with spreading 'a spirit of cancer and discord' and expelled her from the congregation. 'I've been shunned,' she says."

Her strict offense was urging the new pastor to abide by the bylaws of the church, which including assigning deacons. He refused deacons for his reasons. She insisted on the bylaws. For this she was shunned.

His justification for shunnnig her? He says in the article that "a strict reading of the Bible requires pastors to punish disobedient members. 'A lot of times, flocks aren't willing to submit or be obedient to God,' he said in an interview."

I'd love to know that verse in the Bible that says it is a pastors job. Matthew 18 says it is the congregations job, not the pastors. In that passage, not even elders are mentioned to do it by proxy. And that makes everything a little trickier.

This continues some thinking I've done regarding authority in the church and the model most evangelical churches follow... a senior pastor who is in charge of just about everyone and everything else.

I've got questions:
  1. Has the idea of "this is the way we've always done it" blinded us from reviewing whether our method is what God intended? Are we guilty of not studying the issue and demand we stick to what has been taught us or accepted as the norm?
  2. If Jesus is the head and the church is the Body, what is a pastor or elder? Another head? A representative head?
  3. Is there a senior pastor position in the scripture? If so, is he given authority to judge, shun, excommunicate... what are his limits?
  4. Is the pastor or elder accountable to anyone?
  5. Is leadership in the early church singular or plural?
  6. If a pastor's or elder's job is to safeguard doctrine, is that necessary now that we have the Scriptures spelling it out for everyone to read?
  7. If a pastor's or elder's job is to organize services or to help teach Scripture to the congregation, does that include taking authority and discipline unto ones own hands?
  8. What qualifies someone to take such a position? A seminary degree? The gifts of the Spirit? Mature character? Who decides this? Ordination? Ordination in denomination?
  9. If members in the church find the pastor unbiblical or spiritually abusive, what do they do about it?
  10. Does Jesus through Holy Spirit lead the people of God or does he only lead the 'one in charge'?
Please share some thoughts.

While you gather your thoughts, feel free to prime the idea pump with this thread at the Christian Classics Etherial Library. Maybe this will prime the idea pump.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Generation Me: Are today's youth more narcissistic than ever?

The NYT published an article today, Generation Me vs. You Revisited.

It seems every generation believes the one after them is narcissistic (read Plato in the article).

There are different views in the debate--and money to be made writing books about it. The self-esteem generation, which includes my own, as well as the understanding that responsibility doesn't begin until after college, does contribute to an entitlement attitude. Yet, we would be wise to not overstate or over-generalize the issue.

Scholars including Mr. Arnett suggest several reasons why the young may be perceived as having increased narcissistic traits. These include the personal biases of older adults, the lack of nuance in the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, changing social norms, the news media’s emphasis on celebrity, and the rise of social networking sites that encourage egocentricity.
The end of the article does speak to some selfless trends among the younger generations today. I've witnessed an upsurge in many finding the older generation even more narcissistic than themselves--needing to prove less. Maybe that's more of a Christian trend. Maybe that's why the current church model is shaky.

Just thoughts.

Dick Staub on changing the world

I enjoy reading Dick Staub. He's offers common sense for us Kingdom seekers. And I frequently find myself talking to my computer screen when I read him. "Yes, that's right. I totally agree." There's not many writing today as evangelicals that elicit from me that feeling of a kindred spirit.

One paragraph that resonated enough for me to post this:

I have less confidence in conferences, new ideas and strategies and more awareness that what is needed more than anything and in every generation is a deeper pursuit of and knowledge of God in a local company of friends for the benefit of the world.

I have found this deeply true in my experience. I'd prefer Lewis move to action, which often resulted in reading work aloud with friends and taking an conversational stroll down a sunny lane.

Read Staub's whole entry here. And I recommend subscribing to it as well!

Chesterton and Lewis: On "Translating" for a Culture

You know how it is; over time you find books worth reading that collect dust on your shelves until you remember them again. Such was my remembering of The Riddle of Joy. This collection of addresses delivered at a 1987 conference on celebrating the achievement of G. K. Chesterton and C. S. Lewis.

Christopher Derrick, a man who knew both Chesterton and Lewis personally, gives the opening address. A sober mind, quick witted, realist on the shortcomings of both men, he narrows what he sees as their primary similarities and strengths. He 'gets' them and notes reasons why many of us appreciate them so much.

Here are a few paragraphs I thought worth noting to you. When I read them, I found them robustly sane on the nature of my own work as communicator of who Jesus is and the Christian view of what he's doing with us. (Bold emphasis is mine.)

It has long been a commonplace to say that present-day people simply can't understand the traditional language of Christianity. I've always been rather skeptical about that. The verbal or lexical difficulties aren't so great. Where people fail to understand Christianity...I think it's mostly because they don't want to understand it.

However that may be, there's always a strong case for restating the gospel and the faith in the language of one's own time--provided that one does exactly that. The trouble is that some people claim and appear to be doing that necessary task, when in fact they're doing something radically different. It's one thing to restate the old faith so as to make it more easily understood; it's quite another thing to modify the faith so as to make it more easily acceptable. ...The pattern of much present-day theology--both dogmatic and moral--is not governed by what Jesus said and commanded, nor yet by the hard substance of the apostolic witness: it's shaped most crucially by what present-day people want to hear. As in business, the product gets modified in order to meet consumer demand. It's often modified very radically indeed. We hear of a renewed Christianity... made more relevant and meaningful and so attuned to the needs and preoccupations of this age. On closer inspection, it turns out to be mostly a secular humanism or a Marxism or something similar, just garnished with a top-dressing of Christian or Catholic terminology.

Now the great merit of both Chesterton and Lewis, considerined as religious writers, is that neither of them fell into that trap--that dishonesty, one might say. ...As regards substance, each--in the vst bulk of his writing--was in fact restating the ancient faith in the language of his day, in the rhetorical language of a flamboyant journalist or with the cool lucidity of a scholar, with a thousand new angles and insights but otherwise without modification. Each might thus be called a faithful translator, though a salesman or a propagandist as well, mightily successful in each.

One might sum it up by saying that while no sane person would read
Orthodoxy or The Everlasting Man in order to find out whether the Christians were right or wrong, he might well read both in order to form a deeper imaginative understanding of what the Christians were talking about. ...You sometimes meet people who know that "love" is at the heart of the matter but are utterly confused thereby. They overlook the crucifying complexity of that four-letter word, its erotic and affective senses being so overwhelmingly dominant in our culture. The remedy is simple: tell them to read Till We Have Faces?"

Thoughts on Pregnancy/Miscarriage: 1

My wife, Jonalyn, wrote a ten part series on the play-by-play of her thoughts and feelings, pains and uncertainties during the month of December. We were pregnant, but it ended in miscarriage. You can read those thoughts which begin here.

I've shared very little of my side of the story, the colorful twists and turns of surprise and questions, and the sand in the oyster that never became a pearl.

We thought news might be in the air when Jonalyn's cycle was "late." It wasn't the first time. On a Jeeping trip last Spring, the cycle was on day 35 when she tested at the campground. I walked around the tent a few times, shuffling in the red clay, waiting for her to emerge from the cinder block bathroom. I was emotionally preparing with questions of WHAT IF. And when she finally walked out to me, her head cocked to the side with a half grin on her face, the news was a strange bittersweet sound: Not pregnant. Though the pregnancy would have been a surprise, I told her that I was strangely disappointed.

I'm annoyed that our culture has developed a vocabulary around pro-creation that a 'surprise' often means 'unwanted.' Even at the OB-Gyn clinic, one of the first questions they ask is if the baby was 'planned' or a 'surprise.' Why does that matter? I think. What is here is here! 'Planned' easily carries the connotation of 'wanted' these days. This is Planned Parenthood's primary slogan: every child is a wanted child. Yet surprise doesn't mean unwanted. And a surprise doesn't diminish the miracle.

Well, at Thanksgiving, we faced the scenario again. Jonalyn's cycle was at 35 days again. We figured the previous explanation for the tardiness on the Jeeping trip was due to lots of stress. We did travel a lot speaking last Spring. And this Fall, it was the busiest speaking season to date.

So on day 36, Jonalyn tested again. She didn't tell me this time. We had been talking for over a year about having children and my reluctance to just jump in with both feet. Many options and ideas were weighed. With major decisions, I'm often one that either needs to be pushed over the edge or I have to ease into it. It's kinda like getting into a jacuzzi on a cold January evening: it looks exciting, but it's not going to be comfortable for a while, especially if you have to step barefoot in the snow to unlatch the cover.

Because of my reluctance for children, this time she tested alone, without my knowledge, to see if anything was brewing within.

An hour later, she placed a picture of a motor home on the table at breakfast. It read something like, "We may be needing one of these in August." In three seconds, I put all the pieces together. I caught my breath.

We had been talking about getting a motorhome if we continue to be itinerant speakers as a family. It seems like one of our only options since we are both speakers in our own right. When I saw the picture, I knew what was going on. But I felt sad that I was left out of the initial discovery process. Jonalyn did this, in part, because she knew I wouldn't be as excited as she was. But it still saddened me.

And there it was, a positive result. I recommended we not spread the word till we saw the doctor and had it 'officially' confirmed. We had another couple of weeks before the doctor could see us. In the meanwhile we waited, telling no one, snuggling the secret between ourselves.

Then I noticed that as the little life made space in Jonalyn, a small emotional space started to open up in me, as if someone had suddenly appeared in the doorway with their bags and said, "I'm moving in!" and I without a choice in the matter. At first it felt like sand in the oyster, an irritating, but not bad, something that confronted my personal, mapped out world. The space grew. I paid attention to it, daily, like getting used to a piece of new furniture in a room that seemed okay without it. And the surprise, yet happy invasion of love was underway.

Monday, January 7, 2008

The Gospel and Culture and Wesley's Tradition

I came upon Philip Yancey's article today reflecting on Wesley's view of culture. I agree with Yancey that we need to order our desires and not exclude legitimate ones. And it is exactly these kinds of pieces that need to be written in an evangelical sub-culture that excludes the entailments of Scripture, excludes nature, and narrows the love of God by disdaining the life and home and history he's given us--not our choosing and often broken, but significant nonetheless.

Wesley's views of culture have been deeply influential to many in the modern conservative church.

While progress is being made to correct the theological misunderstanding and attitude in the church, it is slow--as reflected in the comments under the article. Humans, especially those who love and know their Maker, aren't merely to engage culture, but to create it. It can't be helped. Are we creating quality or poor culture? Those are our only options.

Read Yancey's article: Traveling with Wesley.

And if you'd like to grow more culturally savvy as a Christian, whether you are a teen or an adult, check out my book, Living with Questions.

And then check out Dick Staub's website and his book, The Culturally Savvy Christian.

And then consider subscribing to the Mars Hill Audio Journal with Ken Myers.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

2007 Look-Alike 'Compliment' Winners

Reflecting on 2007, many memories come to mind (maybe I'll post some up in the coming days). One was the dichotomy of look-alike 'compliments' I received this year. It happens frequently, but two stood out in my mind, and each of them were new characters.

The winner of the worst look-alike 'compliment' came when standing in a food line this summer. A kindly gentleman who had seen me speaking the day before went out of his way to tell me:

Has anyone told you you look like Richard Simmons?

Is that a compliment? I chuckled back to him.

I mean a younger Richard Simmons, he said.

Uh, thanks?!

The winner of the best look-alike 'compliment' came in November from a school teacher after speaking three days to their students. With my hair growing longer (better do it while I can!), he noted in an email that I reminded him of Eddie Vedder, lead singer of Pearl Jam.

That's better!