Archive for October, 2011

It’s the Gospel, Stupid

October 30, 2011

Today we celebrate Reformation Day.  On October 31st 1517, Martin Luther asked to have a discussion group on a few things that had been annoying him lately.  Ninety-five of them, precisely.  

That discussion group took a long time in coming and eventually showed up more in the form of an inquisition than in a theological coffee outing.  The fact that I’m married with three small children and still preparing to lead God’s people in worship this morning is a small and largely irrelevant testimony to the course of history from 1517 to this day.
I’ve had the opportunity to preach to a variety of folks this week, and Wednesday was sort of the banner day.  I had chapel with the young kids from the Christian School next door first thing in the morning, and I closed the day by preaching to and leading in worship about 25 homeless people at the Rescue Mission.  It’s a stark contrast of sorts on the surface.  Young lives full of promise and hope and excitement.  What did I talk with them about?  Well, about gentleness.  But also about the Gospel, and that gentleness never requires that we step back or away from the proclamation of the Good News that the Son of God became a human being to live, suffer, and die for us.  And that in doing so, he buried all of our sins and brokenness with him so that his resurrection became both the assurance that who He was and what He did was real, and the promise that one day, we will share in that new life.
What do you talk with people 30 or 40 or 60 years down the road from those bright, scrubbed children?  Oddly enough, you talk about the exact same thing.  You tell these people whose lives have been broken through drugs and alcohol, through sickness and disease, through mental illness and abuse, through poor choices or just poorly thought out choices that there is a God who created them and loves them and died for them.  You tell them that regardless of what well-meaning Christians might say to them, God is not waiting for them to get their act together, clean up their lives, get a haircut and a job and a shave and a house, and then He’ll come and love them.  He loves them here, and now.  And while someday there may be a time to talk about new directions and choices, anytime we preach new directions and choices as conditional for or the evidence of God’s love for us, we are not preaching the Gospel.  We are preaching law.  Law with the ugly end of a big 2 x 4 aimed directly at people’s head.
That’s what today and tomorrow are about.  It’s not about how great Lutherans are.  It’s not about how awful Catholics are.  It’s not about what a swell guy Martin Luther was – I tend to think he was probably an ass a lot of the time (but then my wife likes to assure me that this is true of most pastors in general, so not to be too hard on him).  It’s not about division or cultural heritage or theological pride.  
It’s about the Gospel.  About a message so simple that it turns the world on it’s head.  A message that drives people to extremes in order to reject or embrace it.  It’s a message that has altered history, saved lives, destroyed livelihoods, influenced economic policies, shattered empires, and that one day will bring everything in creation back to perfect order and harmony.  It’s a message that is centered not in ourselves, but in God.  It rests not on what we’ve done or what we must yet do, but on what Christ has done.  It asks nothing and demands everything.  Once we hear it clearly and truly it changes our lives forever.  It is nothing short of the power of God active in the world and in us.  
That’s what today is about.  We need to remember the Reformation because the Gospel is always being edged in on by the law, by our well- (or ill-) intentioned additions and accretions and epilogues.  Because we are damnably determined to design criteria to know just how truly someone has heard and accepted the Gospel.  Because we’re constantly confusing tradition with theology.  Because the Reformation needs to occur every single day in our hearts and in our congregations and ultimately, in the alleys and ghettos and Wall Streets, in the Rescue Missions and Christian schools and Walmarts of this world.  And it does, and it is – and that’s cause for celebration.  


October 28, 2011

A fascinating (and short) lil’ editorial with an interesting comment on the current social climate of outrage against those perceived as having too much money.  

Why aren’t there protests against celebrities and sports figures?  How is it that these people – who make an equally obscene amount of money (or technically, an even more obscene amount of money) than top corporate leadership.  Why is it that there is no cry for redistribution of the wealth of these people?  Why aren’t people occupying the entryways to film and television studios?  Why aren’t they picketing outside of major sports venues?  
Is it because they haven’t thought to?  Haven’t been prompted to?  What might people who prompt want via the outrage of the unemployed?  What does corporate leadership have that celebrities and sports figures don’t have?  Hmmmm….

Sue Le Monde

October 26, 2011

In the ever-evolving world of political tactics, I think we have a new contender.  A defeated  representative, Steve Driehaus, is suing a political action group because he lost his bid for re-election.

One of 14 Democrats up for re-election who lost their bids, Driehaus voted for Obama’s health care legislation, despite the fact that the legislation offers no binding means of preventing taxpayer dollars from funding abortions, and despite Driehaus claiming a pro-life stance.  Voters appear to have equated his vote for health care reform to be in conflict with his pro-life stance (the one Democrat up for re-election who won his seat again voted against the health care measure).
There could be a lot of reasons why Driehaus and his colleagues were not re-elected.  But the fact that he has decided to sue the pro-live advocacy group Susan B. Anthony List seems to make it clear that at least in Driehaus’ mind, the issue was abortion.  This organization has made it practice to publish voting records of candidates or incumbents who claim a pro-life stance, but their voting record does not back it up.  While this issue has frighteningly little press coverage, the few voices out there seem to be unanimous in their disdain for Driehaus’ tactic.  
Driehaus is suing for “loss of livelihood”, and the courts are allowing his suit to proceed.  As noted in the US News article, this seems rather curious on many levels, not the least of which is the fact that the judge that allowed the suit to progress and will be presiding over it is a former President of a Planned Parenthood Association chapter.  Seems to be a rather glaring instance where the personal views of the judge interfere with the reasonable expectation of impartiality.  
What will happen if this suit is successful?  What already are the effects simply by allowing such a ludicrous tactic to play out in court?  The issue is not libel or slander (neither of which the organization is guilty of, by all accounts), but rather the fact that Driehaus lost his job and therefore his livelihood.  Isn’t the very nature of elected political office that you are constantly at risk for a loss of livelihood in the next election cycle?  Is there to be an expectation that once elected to office, a public official is entitled to keep that job as the source of their livelihood?  
Frankly, Driehaus’ suit is misdirected.  If he wants to sue for loss of livelihood, the appropriate defendant would be his electorate.  All the Susan B. Anthony List did was to make his voting record crystal clear.  It is his (former) constituents that decided that his vote for health care reform equated to a pro-abortion vote.  They are the ones who voted against him and selected a new representative that they thought might more adequately represent them.  If he wants somebody to sue, he should go after them.
The only problem being (other than bad PR), that given the state of the economy today, he isn’t likely to wind up recouping much monetarily.  

Bullying II

October 23, 2011

I wanted to make further comments on this topic.  A former colleague of mine shared the following videos on Facebook, and I thought they were helpful in this discussion.

This first link is to a video trying to raise awareness of the serious of cyber-bullying.  I’m not sure how some of the statistics are arrived at – particularly the one regarding cyber-bullying victims being twice as likely to attempt suicide as victims of more ‘traditional’ forms of bullying.
The thing that strikes me here is that nowhere is technology questioned.  It’s assumed that technology is and must be a part of every young person’s life, so that truly there is no place where they are safe from bullying.  As I stated yesterday, I disagree with that fundamental assumption about technology and youth, and the fact that videos like this don’t even deal with that question is negligent, to say the least.
The second video features the father of a teenage boy who killed himself after suffering from cyber bullying.  It’s compelling, and I salute the father for taking this message on the road.  Children need to hear this, and his point about the importance of bystanders refusing to be idle spectators is crucial.  Bullies generally want an audience.  If the audience evaporates, I believe the impetus to bully will – more often than not – dissipate as well and attention will be sought in other ways.  However I don’t know if he questions the adoption of technology by youth in his talks either.  But I hope that he does.  
Bullying is a serious issue.  Given human nature and the particularly volatile nature of youth, I doubt it can ever be fully eliminated.  But it can be reduced for sure.  Parents can play a role in this in how they decide to allow their children to interact with technology.  If you’re a parent, talk to your child about bullying.  Grandparents can and should do this as well – and may even have a greater opportunity for a child to confide in you.  

Bully for Choices

October 22, 2011

That is without a doubt perhaps one of the tackiest titles I’ve used for a post – and that’s saying a lot.  But bear with me all the same.

In case you have been living under a rock, my prediction of a year ago has come true – bullying is the rallying cry for all sorts of social re-engineering efforts, bolstered by select, highly publicized suicides of young homosexual people.  Suddenly bullying has become the cause celebre for all manner of people, and Ellen appears to have just been one of the first to climb on the bandwagon of demanding a stop to this pervasive cruelty.  
I speak as a former bully-ee, or victim, or whatever the proper term is.  I know firsthand the pain that bullying brings.  I agree that we should stop bullying, even while I disagree with the social/sexual agenda that is being pushed through the anti-bullying juggernaut.  Nobody should be bullied.  Period.
One of the interesting aspects of the bullying topic at this point  for me is the issue of technology.  I’ve seen several television pieces and numerous print articles that talk about the relentlessness of bullying, now that children are no longer safe from bullying even in their own homes, thanks to the pervasiveness of the Internet.  There is no safe haven any longer, and so the pressure increases exponentially until some decide that death is a better option.  
A few thoughts to parents and grandparents out there about the Internet and your kids/grandkids. 
Contrary to popular opinion, you can maintain a somewhat safe haven in your home for your kids.  If the threat of cyber-stalkers and the pervasiveness of pornography weren’t reason enough for you to seriously consider how you allow the Internet into the lives of your kids, bullying ought to be another wake up call.
First off, you don’t have to allow unfettered, unmonitered access to the Internet in your home.  Whoa.  I know, what an amazing concept.  You’re the parent.  You’re the owner of the home.  You pay the bills.  Your child doesn’t need ubiquitous, 24-hour access to the Internet.  I’d like to strongly suggest that providing this is actually detrimental to your child’s well-being, and quite possibly to your family’s as well.  The fact that you don’t routinely hear people saying this in the midst of all the attention on bullying is rather disturbing to me.
In the dark ages when I attended school, I saw my friends during school.  On special occasions – at least until I was old enough to get around on my own somehow – I’d have friends over or join them at their house after school.  But that wasn’t an everyday or even every week arrangement by a long shot.  Sure, we had telephones.  Strange, bulky things that were anchored to the wall or tethered on leashes that limited our options for where to talk.  But those were not utilized much in my house.  Not till I was in the latter part of high school.  
When I was home, it was expected that I was home.  Not just physically, but to as great an extent as my parents could contrive, mentally and emotionally as well.  I was part of a family, and regardless of my budding social life, my family life was of primary importance.  
So why is it that we assume our kids need to have 24-hour access to their friends – or that their friends need to have 24-hour access to them?  It makes no sense.  You can write me off as just out of touch with the times, but by the way our media is screaming to us about the dangers of limitless Internet access, perhaps I’m not the one that’s really out of touch!
Let’s look at the most common technologies through which bullying is likely to occur.
Cell Phones:  These are ubiquitous.  It seems like everyone has at least one, and some people have multiple ones.  Even babies.  I still have a very old-fashioned one without a data plan.  I only added texting as an option in the past couple of years because I know a few people under 30.  
  • Cell phones for our kids are often pitched as safety devices.  Now you always know where your child is.  Now you can get a hold of your child any time you want.  Boy, that sounds like a nice theory, but I’m betting that this isn’t how it works a lot of times.  I have no doubt that on more than on occasion I would have resorted to the old my battery must have died or I had the ringer silenced still from class excuses.  In other words, they may not be the perfect tool for keeping track of your child that salespeople would like you to believe.  My oldest child is nine.  He does not have a cell phone.  He will not have a cell phone any time in the near future, despite the fact that we know people with children his age that do have their own phones.  He doesn’t need it.  

  • If and when I do get him a cell phone, I will endeavor to not allow texting.  Because I’m cruel and evil, yes.  That’s my job.  I’m a father.  

  • Whether we have texting enabled or not, he will have cell phone hours.  He may have access to it at certain times during the day.  If he gets calls or texts outside of these hours, he can respond to them the next day.  I’m pretty positive there is no call so important that it can’t wait until tomorrow for him to respond to, and just because he’s not keeping me from making a phone call is no reason I have to let him talk indefinitely, whenever he feels like it.  At this time I see no reason to get my child a data plan on their cell phone so they can access the Internet at school.  I know, I’m an ogre.

  • I will also require my kids to program the numbers they receive calls from into their phone with the actual names of the people calling.  Sure, my kids might lie to me about it, but they’ll have to take that extra step in order to deceive me, and I’ll pray that my kids won’t feel they need to resort to that.  I will have weekly check-ins where I review their phone logs for the week to see who they’re talking to.  
The Internet:  Yes, the Internet is a powerful tool that can be a great learning opportunity.  It can also be an opportunity for my children to encounter material that will scar them for the rest of their lives.  If you don’t think I’m going to watch that like a hawk – and if you don’t watch it like a hawk – you’re crazy.
  • Computers will be kept in common areas.  Not in their rooms.  Not behind closed doors.  Whatever they do, will be done so that anyone can see.  

  • Computers will have hours of operation and availability as well.  While there are times and circumstances where extensions will be necessary, those will be requested and scheduled.  

  • While we don’t do this yet, we *will* install software to try and block objectionable content so that our kids don’t stumble across it accidentally.  You’d be amazed at what comes up in a simple image or word search on Google.  We will keep this software updated, just like our anti-virus software.

  • We will talk with our kids about what sorts of things they might run across on the Internet, and hopefully have a good enough relationship that they’ll talk to us if they come across something inappropriate.

  • We will limit our children’s access to social media.  While you wouldn’t necessarily know it, there are age limits (13) on Facebook.  Some parents seem to feel it’s ‘cute’ or ‘cool’ to provide their kids with a page in violation of this rule.  I don’t.  

  • When our kids are old enough for social media (which I’m sure *won’t* be Facebook by that time!), then there will be rules and regulations about how they use it and when they use it.  Just like the phone and the computer itself, social media will not be available 24/7.  I’m toying with the idea of requiring a password to their account, that I’ll agree not to use unless I think their behavior is taking a turn for the unexplained.  If I find the password doesn’t work, I’ll ban access at home and everywhere that I have control over until they get me a password that does.  Thoughts on this?

  • Before we allow our children to begin using social media, we will talk with them about the importance of being selective with who they allow into their network, and at what levels.  With any luck, this will build on similar conversations we will have had with them about friends and discernment and the importance of choosing wisely.  Yes, we are bad parents because we have not yet begun having those conversations with them.
Is this idealistic?  Of course.  Am I unrealistic?  Perhaps.  But I hope that I will at least be thinking about the interaction of technology and my child before my child starts thinking about it, and before they start making decisions on who to interact with that might have profound impacts on them.  And I’m not going to assume that my children must dictate to me how and where and when they have access to the Internet, and through what means.  I am not going to assume there’s nothing I can do to protect my kids.  There are things I can do.  There are things you can do as well.  And I’d love to hear other ideas on this.  Or at least respectful observations about why I am an idiot.
On this particular subject only, please.

Book Review: 23 Minutes in Hell

October 21, 2011

A parishioner recommended 23 Minutes in Hell to me, and I have to admit I was fascinated just by the title.  Having recently read and reviewed the enormously popular Heaven Is for Real, I wondered how a book on the Other Place might fare.  

Not terribly well, I’m afraid.  It would be easy enough to focus on the limitations of the writing style.  It’s very straightforward, but not particularly eloquent.  As is my wont, I find myself thinking of an old Bloom County comic strip where Steve Dallas is an astronaut circling Earth.  He takes on the responsibility of describing how Earth looks from space, and he makes several rather lacking efforts, capped off by the insight that it looks just like a “great big globe”.  The strip ends with Opus lamenting that we need to get a poet up onto a space shuttle – and quickly!
Bill Wiese struggles to try and convey what he experienced during his 23-minute trip to hell.  It is not a terribly victorious struggle.  While I have no doubt that our language truly lacks adjectives sufficient to describe the horrors he witnessed, I think he could have worked with someone a bit more adept with language to try for a more compelling narrative.  What he describes never really hits home, and he doesn’t seem to describe things fully.  He later in the book shares that he never saw children or heard a child’s scream in hell, but this wasn’t part of the initial sharing of the experience.  It comes off as though he is remembering other things as he goes.
I didn’t find anything in his description contrary to Scripture.  It was clear that he sees Scriptural backing as absolutely necessary – sort of the proof that what he experienced was real and from God rather than the result of, say, too many anchovy donuts the night before.  Many times his use of Scriptural referents seemed to ignore context and genre, so that he pulled verses as proof that, to my reading of them, weren’t necessarily intended as literal depictions of specific aspects of hell.  I can’t go so far as to say they aren’t, they just don’t look that way in context.  
My main frustration with the book is that the amount of time spent actually describing his experience in hell is a minor portion of the overall book.  Granted, it’s only 23-minutes.  But I imagine it ought to take a bit longer than 43 of 160 pages to describe it.  The effect of immediately jumping into things without pretext is very effective in grabbing the reader’s attention.  I just wish that, once he had mine, he had been more effective at holding it.
The remainder of the book is a theological primer on the Biblical Christian view teachings on hell.  Some of this teaching his helpful.  Some is not.  His main point is to convince people that hell is real, and that without Jesus Christ, hell is really our eternal destination.  Towards this end, he does a good idea of conveying what is often left out of discussions about hell – that there are dark spiritual forces who actively seek to waylay, confuse, and otherwise prevent people from responding to the Holy Spirit’s working of faith in their hearts.  So many people who object to hell do so on the grounds that a loving God could never have a place like hell.  What they don’t take into account is that there are other forces that necessitate and perpetuate it.  Christians need to take this seriously without becoming paranoid about it.
What I appreciate about the book, unlike the Heaven Is for Real book, is it repeatedly stresses that our confidence ought not to rest on the author’s experience, but on the Word of God.  Over and over he directs the reader to contextualize what he experienced in Scripture.  He provides a great deal of Biblical quotes to back up what he experienced.  Some of these are great stretches of interpretation and application.  Others seem dead on.  But the point is that he isn’t telling us anything we haven’t already been told.  That’s an important thing to remember.  
I’m grateful for having been pointed to this book.  I recommend it not because it’s a particularly well-written book, but because it boldly addresses something that the Church in America has grown more timid about speaking on.  

Dragon Parenting

October 21, 2011

Some of you might have seen this opinion piece in the New York Times a few days ago.  If you haven’t yet, take the time to read it.  It’s poignant and well written in addition to thought-provoking.

I pray that Ms. Rapp finds hope for Ronan’s future, because there is much hope.  Not necessarily in the limited sense that we think about the future, but in a much larger, eternal sense.  In many ways, I think it would be healthier if all parents – regardless of the health or life-expectancy of their children – bore in mind the realities that Ms. Rapp does not have the luxury of ignoring.  None of this is forever.  Let that shape how you choose to live this day you’ve been given.

Easy Peasy

October 19, 2011

Once a month or so I lead the weekly chapel for the kindergarten through sixth grades that comprise the Christian school that leases space for their campus on our church’s property.  Some of you who are already laughing at the thought of me relating to small children need to just simmer down.  I’ll admit, it’s a lot different than my interactions the rest of the week.  Other than the three children that currently occupy my house and that my wife insists are mine.  I interact with them quite a bit, but somehow that seems different.

Each year the school chooses a theme that binds all of the chapel services together.  This year the theme is “Christian Character Traits”.  As some of you may be surmising by now, chapel happens on Wednesdays.  Today is Wednesday.  Chapel takes place about 8am, and it’s currently about 7:45am.  So, rather than further refining and preparing my chapel, that’s right gentle reader, I’m blogging about it in advance to you.
Because this one sort of threw me.  My assigned trait today is gentleness.  How do you define gentleness?  I think culturally we associate it with a soft-touch.  Norman Bates at the end of psycho trying to fake out his observers by insisting that he won’t even kill a fly.  Non-resistance.  Pushover.  Easy mark.  Maybe I’m just cynical, but I think gentleness all too often gets taken for a ride in our culture.  If nice guys finish last and nice is a synonym for gentleness in our culture, then maybe gentle isn’t something I’d like to be – Christian or otherwise.  
I scanned the Hebrew and Greek words whenever gentleness is used in a translation.  There is some variation in the words, but they do tend to generally stress humility.  But contextually, I think that perhaps a good translation and way of thinking about gentleness is appropriateness.  Deuteronomy 32:2 talks about a gentle rain falling on tender grass and we can appreciate that this is a good kind of rain, an appropriate, nourishing kind of rain.  Rain that destroys instead of nurtures is not what we would call appropriate rain.  We may have to deal with it, but it’s out of the ordinary.
Jeremiah 11:19 talks about a gentle lamb.  What is the contrast to this?  A violent lamb?  A Rambo-style lamb with a bandanna around its head and a bandolier around it’s shoulders and a massive machine gun?  A ninja-esque lamb eviscerating the wolves that come for it as well as those who would shear it or slaughter it?  Lambs are gentle.  Lambs that aren’t gentle we suspect are diseased.  Or at least need more caffeine in the mornings.  It’s appropriate for a lamb to be gentle.
On the contrary, we talk about Jesus as being gentle, but Jesus threw a fit in the Temple and scared a bunch of people off with his wild-eyed crazy-talk about what was appropriate for the house of God.  We talk about Jesus as gentle but he made it clear that his gospel, the good news of the Kingdom of God that he came to proclaim was going to be the source of all manner of division and conflict, even within a single family.  These aren’t gentle things.  But Jesus’ righteous anger in the Temple was appropriate in the midst of sinful human opportunism, and in a sinful world, the appropriate response to someone who calls sin for what it is is to shut that person up.  It would seem that one can still be gentle even if one is not always what we casually call nice.  
How would you describe gentleness to a bunch of five to ten year olds?  I could go down the easy path of legalism to describe being polite and generous and all manner of other poorly matched synonyms.  I could contribute to the overall association of gentleness as some sort of sign of weakness or pansy-ishness, but I think that’s misleading (though we certainly are called to embrace our weakness when necessary).  
But today  – in about 10 minutes, actually – I’m going to take the tack of appropriateness.  I’ve brought my guitar, and I’m going to ask them which is gentler – me strumming my guitar, or me banging on the drum set in the corner of our sanctuary.  Is gentleness associated only with calmness, or can one be gentle while playing the drums?  Or is exertion antithetical to gentleness?  Gentleness is how we are, not necessarily and only what we do.  Gentleness is ultimately a recognition that God has created everything and everyone around us, and so we need to deal with everything and everyone around us appropriately.  It wouldn’t be appropriate for me to tap on the drums so lightly that they couldn’t be heard, as though that was somehow gentleness.  Nor would it be appropriate for me to play my guitar with drumsticks.  But I treat each instrument – and each person – as an extension of God’s creation, and deal with them in an appropriate way that demonstrates the love of Jesus Christ in me and for them.  
Not perfect, but it’s early.  I think the kids will deal with it well.  It’s time to go.
As I walked towards the sanctuary with my guitar & stand, I heard singing coming from our parish hall on the other end of the building.  A quick check with my schedule verified that I was one week off.  Which means that I’m really uber-prepared, since I now have my chapel message all worked out for next week.  Oh well.  I’ll try to handle my stupidity in a gentle way.

Not Adding Up

October 19, 2011

So, the government admitted this week that a major portion of the health care legislation passed by Congress as pushed for by President Obama won’t work.  CLASS, intended to provide for voluntary low-cost, long-term care insurance, can’t be made to work fiscally, according to the Congressional Budget Office.  The administration’s Health and Human Services department has admitted that they have no way to make the numbers work.

One of probably many problems this creates is that this particular piece of the health care reform legislation was intended to off-set the costs of the other portions of the legislation.  To the tune of $86 billion dollars over the next ten years.  Now that CLASS is not going to work, that means the price tag on the health care reform just jumped by $86 billion dollars.
Again, I don’t profess to be a political expert.  But it seems to me that what was included as a way of making the health care reform legislation more balanced and less costly has now, after the fact, been demonstrated to be the stuff of fairy tales.  That seems like rather an egregious error.  And an expensive one as well.  At least for you and I.  

Church Culture

October 15, 2011

Conversations have continued this week on what the culture of the Church is.  This is a tricky question, because so much is bound up in terms of both tradition and theology.  Can these two things be separated?  Should they?  What would that look like?  I don’t think many people (at least within my faith tradition) have a clear idea about that, even though we have people all over the map on the subject.  As usual, I can ask questions, but I hardly know that I have any good answers, which is frustrating.

The conversation has continued around the role of the increasing incursion of other activities and priorities into the space and time that was once sacred – Sunday morning.  In a relatively short period of time, we’ve gone culturally from a place where society and law reinforced the sacredness of Sunday as a Christian day – through Blue laws, businesses generally being closed, etc. – to a time when Sunday and even Sunday morning is fair game for scheduling pretty much anything.  No longer is it just the allure of a leisurely morning in bed or at the breakfast table reading the paper.  No longer is it just the pressing excitement of a football game starting close to the adjourning time for worship.  Now youth programs are routinely scheduling practices and actual matches on Sunday morning.  Attendance is mandatory.  
Parents seem to feel pressured to oblige.  Everyone else is doing it.  Which means everyone else’s kids will be able to put down on their college applications that they have been in competitive sports for 20 or 30 years.  Perhaps they’ll even get a scholarship – and Lord knows that help in paying for the skyrocketing costs of higher education is huge for parents these days.  And so more and more, churches that already struggle to attract or keep or bring up youth and young families in the church are losing them to these activities that are perceived as so vital to a youth’s development and future aspirations.
Pastors are understandably concerned.  Any time a choice is made for something else over and instead of Christian worship, there’s huge concern.  What prompted that choice?  What rationalization allowed that choice to be made?  How do parents justify it to themselves, to their children, to their Christian community and to their pastor?  Is this a sign of weakening or decaying faith?  Is salvation at risk?
Any of this is possible – and pastors have reacted with understandable passion.  As spiritual overseers, we are tasked with asking hard questions and delineating dangerous shifts in cultural norms and patterns, particularly as they impact and adjust the lives of our parishioners.  We have to give an account to God one day (Hebrews 13:17) of how we conducted our ministry.  That burden lies far heavier than the stole or microphone that a pastor may put on for Sunday worship.
The question in my mind is where the battle is in this example.  Is the battle over Sunday morning, or is the battle over worship?
In other words, are we reaching a point in time where we need to rethink Sunday morning as the preferred or only time when we offer Christian worship?  What would this mean for the Church?  It’s a difficult question.  No small number of congregations have experimented with worship on alternate times and dates in addition to Sunday morning worship.  Saturday evening, Sunday evening, midweek services – I’m sure there are lots of opportunities for worship if people will take them.
The challenge is that there probably isn’t a better time in the week than Sunday morning.  Not just because the Church demands it, but because our culture is still more used to that idea than not.  If there’s a time of the week that is lightly scheduled still, it’s Sunday.  Saturday is already packed with practices and errands and chores and all manner of other activity.  But I think that culturally we still hear a distinct echo of a time when Sunday mornings were for Church.  While that echo is fading quickly, it is not yet gone.  I can’t think of another time that would be more or even as convenient for as many people as Sunday morning.  
But that may change.  And so I tend to be cautious about arguing for the sanctity of  Sunday morning, and more interested in arguing for the sanctity of worship – the importance of this opportunity we have to receive in tangible forms the grace and forgiveness and love of God.  To hear His Word, to study it, to be challenged by it; to taste the goodness of God in with and under bread and wine.  This is what matters.  This is what is important.  Not when it occurs, but that it occurs, and that we continue to make this a priority in our lives.
I tend to think the burgeoning emphasis on children being scheduled to the gills in every conceivable form of after school and weekend endeavor is going to fall on it’s face.  I can’t imagine how families do it already.  The demands are incredible, and what began as a good and enjoyable outlet has now become a harsh taskmaster, demanding sacrifice after sacrifice in exchange for tenuously defined and unproven benefits both here and down the road.  Does the Church just ride out this cultural upswing, waiting for people to crash and burn and realize that the Law remains the Law whether it’s culturally driven or theologically?  That we can’t possibly do it all, and that we need to take time to be reminded that we don’t have to?  
I don’t know.  In the meantime, more young families are pulled away from Christian community.  More congregations with already strapped budgets and more pastors with already too much on their plate will see a need for additional services.  That may be a good shift, or it may not.  But that’s the nature of lived apologetics, lived theology – we’re always seeking to keep grounded on the essentials, while remaining pliable with the optionals.  But after hundreds of years of tradition and practice, optionals take on an essential look and feel.