Archive for March, 2010

More to Chew On…

March 31, 2010

A couple of food related links.

First of all, a short essay on the benefits of cooking for your family (or for yourself).  I’d add to the benefits enumerated by the authors here the benefit of time together.  In a culture that increasingly separates family members into separate activities almost every night of the week, eating together is a touch-point relationally.  A time to ask questions and hear answers, to demonstrate love and care and concern and respect.  In my growing obsession over the age-old but currently all-but-forgotten idea of ministering to your family, I’d be hard pressed to suggest anything more important initially than in establishing predictable, reliable times to gather as a family, and mealtimes seem to be the perfect opportunity.

And just as a reminder that how we do things isn’t necessarily the only way to do them, a list of some things that are fine here in the US, but which are not allowed in Europe.  Food for thought, so to speak. 

On a More Personal Note…

March 31, 2010

It’s been a month since my last day of pastoring in Southern California.   A month since I joined my family on the road.  Rootless for the moment, making our way across the country and a panoply of friends and family.  After a two-week sojourn in Arizona, we’ve been through seven states and stayed in five different homes.  On Friday, the statistics bump up to nine states and six different homes. 

It’s not totally a foreign experience.  We’re known for taking long-ranging, month-long trips to see the people God has blessed our lives with.  The difference this time is that normally by now, we’d be home or headed home.  This time, there’s no home to head to yet.  And no telling when there will be.  The economic recession that has affected so many people is not unknown to the realm of ministry.  People are hurting all over, and we hear stories of it everywhere we go.  We see the closed shops as we drive down once-familiar streets.  Constant reminders of how richly the Lord has blessed our family in the midst of all this uncertainty.

So in this week when I turned 41, developed a head cold, anguished over the right decision to make in terms of accommodations for my family outside of Washington D.C., and face more decisions in the coming weeks, it can be a bit…overwhelming.  I’m assuming that at some point, I’ll transition into this new mode of being and some of that angst will dissipate.  In the meantime I’m grateful for the blessing of my family – who loves me and puts up with me even when I’m grumpy.

The challenge I know I’ll have to face is staying the course when necessary, as opposed to diverting us into the first port in the storm.  Faith and trust in an all-knowing God is all well and good until there really isn’t anything else tangible to lean on, and then it gets pretty disconcerting pretty quickly.  The important thing would seem to be to stay focused, take deep breaths, and exhale them regularly.  To take this chance to enjoy the downtime with my kids and wife.  To actually develop some guitar skills.  To keep reading.  To keep thinking and writing.  To exercise more.  To continue moving towards the me I want to be but always have excuses for not being. 

I’m sure all of that is enough to keep my brain and body busy enough to not get worked up over what tomorrow will or won’t bring, or what May will or won’t bring.  It’s not so much that I worry that God won’t provide.  It’s just that more and more I realize how deeply I need and want to know what’s coming.  In my quest for uber-competency, I find that not being able to accomplish what I set out to do is deeply irritating.  I realize how much of me is wrapped up in my ability to make things happen, to figure out solutions, to come to the rescue.  It’s so much easier to preach faith and trust when you have your own ducks in a row and there isn’t much need to listen to your own preaching. 

But God is good – always.  Even when the future is uncertain to me.  Even when He has to work a little extra on kneading and molding one of His more dare I say obdurate subjects into a form better able to receive, to give, to serve, to embody, to encourage.

Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.  (Matthew 6:34)

Till Death Do We Part – Or Until the Economy Picks Up

March 29, 2010

A few interesting articles related to marriage – or more particularly, divorce.

The first is pretty interesting from a historical perspective.  A woman has successfully sued her ex-husband’s mistress for “alienation of affection”.   It’s an old North Carolina law.  I’m sure this will get mangled somehow in the appeals process, but I still think it’s fascination, and a reminder that once upon a time there were repercussions not just for those with wandering eyes, but those who encouraged or abetted (a-bedded? Sorry, couldn’t resist the pun) the wandering.

The next article I think is far more curious in terms of what it might reveal about how decisions to divorce are sometimes made.  The article simply notes that national divorce rates are down, and that there are some who attribute it to the dire economic situation.  It points out in some ways that divorce might be a function of affluence.  When there’s disposable income and the likelihood of being able to re-establish yourself comfortably, divorce is easier.  When that sort of leeway disappears, people resort to a lot of mechanisms for putting it off, even if it’s uncomfortable.

I would think it would be fascinating for some mega-churches to start offering marriage counseling free of charge to some of these people.  After all, if they’re able to claw out a living arrangement under the same roof, who knows what else they might be able to improve upon?

And in a far less (or completely un-) related vein, Disney has announced that it is not using actresses with breast augmentations for the upcoming installation of the Pirates of the Caribbean movie franchise.  Whether it’s an issue of changing tastes, more discerning eyes, or as the article also speculates, reflective of fewer augmentations surgeries (and smaller ones) in general, due perhaps in part to the economy – I’ll leave to your discretion, dear reader(s). 

What is Church?

March 27, 2010

For a long time, I’ve suspected that there are some fairly serious things wrong with our conceptualization of church.  What we spend our time worrying about, our money attempting to accomplish, and our reputation attempting to ensure in some, if not many cases, seems to be significantly different from the relatively non-prescriptive nature of church as depicted in Scripture.

To begin with, we  need to make a distinction.  A distinction between The Church, with a capital C, and church with a lower case C.  The first is a divinely ordained entity that spans time and space and consists of all believers in Jesus Christ, regardless of location or period in history or outward demonstrations of such a faith or not.  The Church was instituted by Jesus Christ Himself (Matthew 16:13-20) and empowered by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 1:1-11, Acts 2-4).  The Church is not defined by any specific instance of church (small C).  A congregational entity may profess to be a part of The Church,  and yet Biblically we don’t speak of organizations or local entities as part of The Church.  The Church is comprised of individuals – not denominations or congregations.  Thus, a Christian church is not itself a part of The Church, but hopefully every member of that congregation is.  A church does not determine the membership of any individual in The Church. 

The Church is sometimes referred to as invisible.  This refers to the nature of The Church.  You can’t point to a building and say “That’s part of The Church”.  We don’t know for sure who is a member of The Church, regardless of their standing or membership in a church.  These things give us an indication, a reason for hoping that a person is a member of The Church.  But only God Himself knows who is actually part of His Church – The Church.  I imagine there are going to be a fair number of surprises for us when we reach heaven and see who is or isn’t (was or wasn’t?)  part of The Church.

A church is a local entity or organization.  It may be a small house church or a huge mega-church.  The defining aspect of any individual church is that it exists to facilitate the entrance and continuation of as many of it’s members as possible as members in The Church.  Biblically, we would say that the purpose of any church is to continue the Great Commission that Jesus gave to His disciples in Matthew 28:16-20.  A church is never able to know authoritatively whether any particular member is a member of The Church or not.  But everything that a church does should be focused towards that end.  We might even go so far as to say that the ultimate criteria by which we may judge a church is the extent and consistency and Biblical faithfulness that a church brings to bear on the acts of baptizing and teaching so that as many people as possible might be counted as members of The Church, whether or not they ever take the time to confirm their membership in a church or congregation.

This is the only distinctive role of a church – to prepare and equip people for membership in The Church.  Nothing else that happens in a church matters, and everything that a church does needs to be focused towards this end.  There are secular organizations that provide an education to children.  There are secular organizations dedicated to the alleviation of suffering due to poverty or injustice or natural disasters.  But a faithful Christian church is the only organization with the total and express raison d’etre of creating members in The Church. 

How am I doing thus far?  Is this an adequate description of the distinction between The Church and a church?  Am I missing something?  It’s important to have this distinction adequately fleshed out before we try to think further about the implications of this on what a church looks and sounds like.  And I think that there is a fair amount of confusion about this distinction – a confusion that churches often foster themselves, whether explicitly like the Catholic Church’s doctrine that nobody outside of the Catholic Church will be saved, or implicitly by denominational squabbling or pridefulness. 

Looking forward to some good constructive feedback.  No pressure

Student Loan Reform

March 27, 2010

If you hope for your kids to someday attend college, and also recognize that you aren’t going to be able to foot the bill for this personally, you might be interested in a less-talked-about aspect of the recent legislation that was passed reforming health care.

Included with this legislation was legislation overhauling the student loan program.   Some people think this is a bad ideaSome people think this is a good idea

I’m all for streamlining things and reducing waste and not having taxpayers guaranteeing the profit of intermediary financial institutions dispersing government dollars for tuition.  On the other hand, I’m very leery of the government being the only option for obtaining student loan monies.  Firstly, I’m completely disbelieving that our own government can actually effectively eliminate waste, corruption, or other bad business ideas.  Secondly, it makes me itchy that the government directly is going to assume responsibility for determining who gets the aid to go to college and who does not.  

I understand that essentially nothing has changed other than the elimination of middle-men.  The theory sounds good.  Only time will tell whether theory and reality have anything to do with one another. 

Random Health Links

March 26, 2010

I ran across these a little while ago. 

One article talks about how they’re suspecting that the acids in many fruit juices leach out higher concentrations of the icky chemicals in the plastic bottles.  Meaning it’s even less healthy for the little ones than they already are (high concentration of sugar, etc.). 

The other article notes some changes in the way that food packagers in the US will be able (or not) to label something as organic.  Just as another reminder that you can’t believe everything you read on a food label, before you reach for that extra-pricey package of ‘organic’ meat, note that previously, such a label just meant that the animal had ‘access’ to pasture.  Now it means that 1/3 of their diet has to come from grazing and that they must be grazing on pasture for at least 1/3 of the year.  

Makes you wonder how ‘organic’ the other 2/3 of the year and the other 2/3 of their feed is. 

Be Vewwwwwy Qwiet….

March 26, 2010

In case you weren’t sure of my bona fide status as a strange person, this should do the trick.

I think it’s interesting that it’s only one or two generations since more people had to directly process their own food.  Our parents and grandparents were more likely to be familiar with the intricacies of raising animals for food, not simply companionship.  Yet this has been almost completely lost among my generation and younger.  I don’t know anyone my age who has actually had to kill an animal for their own food – with the exception of fishing or hunting.

I’m not sure if I’d like to do this instead of raising hens, or concurrently with it. 

Decisions, decisions.  We’ll see what happens when we actually have a place where we could conceivably do either of these things!

Rocket Science?

March 25, 2010

This is an old article, but worth mentioning late rather than never.

Some 45 years or so into the sexual revolution (or after it?), researchers begrudgingly admit that abstinence-only educational programs might indeed have some value after all. 

Considering how long opponents have been attempting to deny this basic reality, this survey in and of itself is notable.  I just find it mind boggling that people can forget that only 50-60 years ago, cultural expectations were that teens should *not* be having sex.  And it would appear that it worked.  Particularly considering that contraceptives were not nearly as widely available, and options were decidedly fewer.  Yet somehow, we culturally understood that it wasn’t proper or appropriate for teens to be having sex.

This could happen again.

But we’d have to change the culture.  Again.

Just like we’ve changed it over the last 45 years through the explicit marketing of sexuality to young children – even pre-adolescents.  And unlike some proponents, this needn’t be a religious argument.  Pretty much everyone agrees that underage pregnancies are bad.  Perhaps not quite as many people – but still a stunning percentage, I’ve got to believe – would agree that underage sex in general is bad, whether or not it leads to pregnancy.  Pregnancy is hardly the worst thing that can result from sex – regardless of the ages involved. 

So if we think it’s unhealthy and dangerous in a variety of ways (and yes, I’d include spiritually in there along with physically, psychologically, and emotionally), we just have to start acting like it is indeed inappropriate.  And as consumers, demanding that manufacturers and media reflect our commitment.

Maybe that’s rocket science after all – at least for some people.

The Residue of God

March 25, 2010

It’s popular in American culture these days to discuss the concept of separation of Church and State as the concept of how Christianity should have nothing to do with politics or public life.  This is, of course, the exact opposite of the Founding Father’s intention with this phrase, which was to protect Christianity (and other religions) from the machinations or intrusions of any political authority.  They understood that Christianity influencing the world is a good thing, whereas politics influencing Christianity, such as the state religions of Europe and England, was a negative thing.

But this decidedly warped interpretation of separation of Church and State is being extended, so that now, anything with any sort of religious connotation, influence, or history can be deemed inappropriate for public, strictly secular events.   This may sound like a good and reasonable thing – until you begin to think about just how much of Western civilization’s art and culture has been influenced, informed, or based in Christianity.

This school determined that an instrumental performance of Ave Maria is inappropriate for a public high school graduation ceremony.  Of course, this school was extra gun-shy because of a controversy the previous year due to clearly Christian lyrics in a song that was performed.  The school’s statement that students deserved a graduation free from “controversy” seems reasonable to me.  However the goal of avoiding “controversial messages” is more problematic.  Isn’t part of the educational process exposure to controversial messages and learning how to interact with them?

What constitutes a controversial message?  And what sorts of lengths are we willing to go to in order to avoid any possibility of controversy?  And is what we’re left with at the end of this purging process worth paying any attention to?

Christianity has had a huge influence on the arts in Western civilization.  Bach, anyone?  How about Johnny Cash?  Should we ignore Michaelangelo’s David because it’s a Biblical person?  Is excellence only worth admiring or listening to so long as it’s not inspired by or based upon anything that anyone might take offense at, or any religious source?  Should we ban from public consideration an artistic work from someone who is anti-religion or atheistic?   In a culture that is so frenzied to promote the mistaken goal of tolerance, how is it that the intolerance of a vocal minority determines public policy for everyone?

What’s Worse?

March 25, 2010

I’m not sure which is worse – that terrorists might actually consider using breast implant technology to create a new breed of suicide bombers that would be very difficult to detect under current security techniques…

…or the fact that I actually had a conversation about three weeks ago where I predicted and described this very thing as not only a surgical possibility but a ideological likelihood…

…or the fact that I didn’t bother to blog about this conversation…

…or the fact that I’m disappointed by this fact now.

You choose.