Archive for the ‘Blogging’ Category

Good News?

May 4, 2020

Readership of this blog has increased since March, and is higher than it has been on a sustained level for the last year.  I blame that mostly on people with a lot more spare time on their hands and an  apparent scarcity of quality reading material.  This site included!

St. COVID’s Day

April 6, 2020

March 17th.  St. Patrick’s Day.  This was the first year the BCA moved the annual world tournament from July to March.  The first year as well that my teammates were all able to attend, and so the first time we’d be competing as a team in several years.  We’ve been anticipating this time for months, saving and preparing.

I imagined St. Patrick’s Day in Vegas to be something certainly worth observing.  In a city so  obsessed with consumption and excess, I was certain there would be plenty of good people-watching to be done.  And of course, a few Irish whiskeys along the way perhaps.  But not too many, as the team competition would be starting the next morning and we would want to be sharp and ready for the the already formidable task of having to start shooting pool at 9 am instead of in the late afternoon or evening as most of us were more  used to.

But instead, as the sun was going down over the Nevada desert I was hightailing it out of Las Vegas instead of celebrating.  The team event was cancelled as of Sunday evening.  We had remained in Vegas through Tuesday for my teammate who was still competing in the individual’s tournament (and ended up winning 3rd place in his division – not bad being able to say you’re the third best player in your division in the world!).  But as of 5 pm or so he had finished, gotten his check, had his picture taken, and it was time to leave.

I drove up to Vegas the previous week alone, knowing I’d be driving two teammates and their gear back.  But now I was also driving our league president and his wife back.  The hotels were shutting down and kicking everyone out.  Rather than wait another day for their flight back to Santa Barbara they squeezed into my SUV and I used my Tetris skills to fit their gear in as well.  It was a cozy bunch headed into the sunset.

We were maybe half an hour out of town when the classic rock station interrupted their playlist for a live broadcast from the governor of Nevada.  For the next 20 minutes or so we listened to him talk about what the state of Nevada would be doing immediately to respond to the threat of COVID-19.  Yes, the hotels would be shut down by noon the next day.  All gaming machines in the state would be turned off in a matter of hours at midnight.  People were being ordered to stay at home as much as possible.  It was clear an entire state was essentially closing, hunkering down and hoping that by doing so the spread of COVID-19 would be slowed, and fewer people would get sick and die from it.

We sat in stunned silence.

Good zombie movies often center around an unlikely collection of people forced to work together to survive.  That’s all well and good for a movie, but as we raced towards the sinking sun I couldn’t  help but think that this isn’t the group of people I would have hoped to be my apocalypse survival squad.  Not that there weren’t some good skill sets here.  Our league president served in the US Navy.  One of my teammates was good with his hands.  Another had experience in caring for people with disabilities.  It was a good, gritty crew to some extent.  But I couldn’t help but lament, as we drove by mostly empty gas stations and restaurants and Motel 6’s with their lights turned off that I would have preferred to be facing the apocalypse with my family, even if we weren’t quite as gritty and our survival chances might not be as good.

That ride, and listening to the speech from the governor is likely something I’ll never forget.  Unlike any experience in my life.  Unlike 9/11.  Unlike housing busts and recessions, presidential assassination attempts or even the vague background threat of nuclear war as a child and young adult.  This was something different.

Three weeks later it remains something fundamentally different.  How long can a country shut down?  How long are people expected to shelter in place and avoid one another?  What are the long-term costs to our country not just economically but socially and politically?  We don’t have any road maps for these sorts of considerations.  As competing models and evolving models of how the infection will play out in our country shift and change, something seems clear.

COVID-19 will have to be a pretty big deal.  If it turns out to be a smaller issue than anticipated, if it turns out to have the overall impact of a really bad flu season, there’s going to be hell to pay.  Or at least there should be.  There will need to be some very specific repercussions against a government ordering people to shut their businesses down and destroy their livelihoods rather than guiding people but allowing them to make decisions that seem to make sense.

Either COVID-19 is devastating to our nation as an actual health crisis, or it will be devastating to our political structure and the people who sacrificed untold small businesses out of fear or paranoia.  It’s possible that both things could happen, though I pray not.  But understanding whether COVID-19 is ultimately dangerous enough to very possibly destroy an entire economic and political system is something we aren’t going to know until after the fact.

It’s popular to compare COVID-19 to the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918-1920.  The Spanish flu killed 675,000 Americans in less than two years.  We’re currently at not quite 13,000 deaths.  This is, of course tragic, but also confusing, as an undetermined number of deaths attributed to COVID-19 are also strongly related to underlying and pre-existing health conditions.  At the same time, there have been an estimated 24,000 deaths from the flu through the end of March, and I assume that some number of  those deaths also involve compromised health situations.  Depending on what news reports you choose to believe, we may already be seeing the COVID-19 infection rate slowing in the US.

It will be painful and fascinating in the coming years to understand better whether we reacted appropriately to COVID-19 or not.  Whether the economic and political damage incurred is something we can recover from or will lead us into new economic and political realities couldn’t  have foreseen.  Most zombie movies never play out the long game of community and state and nation and world rebuilding.  Nobody has the attention span for that.  Or  at least, we didn’t used to.

Hopefully we do now.  Because we’re all in this together, an unlikely group of people thrust together and required to work together to survive.  I pray we’re up  to the task, and careful about the precedents that are knowingly or unknowingly being set right now.  I hope our skills, Tetris or otherwise, are up to the task.  And I hope people are willing to work together towards these ends rather than continuing to isolate and scream at one another through their face masks and social media masks.  There are challenges ahead but also opportunities, if we are wise enough to discern enough and brave enough to take them.  Hopefully the darkest part of this night-desert-drive is over, and we’ll be seeing the sun coming up shortly.

 

Strike 1

March 24, 2020

Although I’m not overly happy with the technical qualities of the first sermon I posted to the Internet, given the last minute rush to figure it out at all I don’t consider it a strike.  But I was very disappointed today.

I’m a Windows user, as far as computers go.  Though I dabble in Apple products (such as their early generation computers were the norm in high school and college labs, and I use an older model iPhone) my daily work for decades has been done on Windows-based PCs.  Although I enjoyed brief experiences with UNIX and Linux, I never considered them reasonable replacements for Windows.  And more and  move I’ve migrated from proprietary software options (such as Microsoft Office) to freeware solutions (such as OpenOffice).  That is also the case for the software I’ve used to generate audio files over the years – Audacity.

So I hooked up the mixing board and mics to a new computer I had installed Audacity on and put together my first Internet-destined audio file.  The only problem is that when I went to upload it to YouTube, it was rejected because it’s an audio file rather than a video file.  Now I have to figure out if there’s a way to fold the MP3 data into a video file that YouTube will recognize and accept.

Some might ask why I don’t just film me doing the Bible study and post said video.  It would be much simpler, ’tis true.  But I’m a rather cantankerous person at times.  I naturally resist the cultural obsession with visualization and our predilection to juding everything by looks rather than content.  As such, I take opportunities to kick against these goads , resulting in the predicted discomfort (such as losing a District election several years ago by one vote, in no small part because I refused to provide a photo to be used with my bio).

The current example is not wanting to film myself.  Go online and you’ll find scads of preacher videos.  What’s the first thing you notice before you hear a word out of their mouths?  What they look like.  Old or young?  Hip or outdated?  Liturgically vested or skinny jeans?  This is how we’re trained, but the Word of God encourages us to move past these surface level things to examine what’s underneath.  Oftentimes a nice exterior hides rottenness within.  Likewise, if we can ignore how someone looks, we might find they have something valuable to say.

My congregants already know what I look like (and I feel bad for them in that regard!), but those who don’t know me (and who aren’t compelled by a divine Call to listen to me on a regular basis!) should judge me not by what I look like or how I dress but rather by what I say and whether what I say is in line with what God says to us in his Word, the Bible.  If I’m going to reach a larger audience, I want to reach that audience not with me, but with Christ.  And while I’m sure there are plenty of preachers who can upload videos of themselves without a hint of pride, I’m not sure I’m as immune to the temptation to value what I’m doing  by the number of views or likes or whatever other means of cultural approbation we come up with.

So I kick, and it hurts.

I’m hopeful I’ll figure it out, but it’s a learning curve I’d much rather not have to be climbing at the moment!  I’ll keep you posted.

Praying for Your Pastor

February 6, 2020

Self-improvement is hard.  Mostly because it is rarely something imposed on us.  Perhaps pastors are unique in this to some degree.  Once they’ve run the gauntlet of seminary (assuming such a gauntlet is necessary to their ordination), they graduate, are examined, ordained, installed, and then pretty much left with the assumption they are doing the right thing.  Continuing education is something encouraged and exhorted to in seminary and by ecclesiastical supervisors and leaders, but at least in my denominational circles, it’s not something that is enforced.  It could be, but it isn’t.

For those of us with an acute awareness of our faults and shortcomings, self-improvement and continuing education are necessary.  I can’t avoid it for very long because I’m so dreadfully disappointed with who I am.  Perhaps this is a unique function of making the Word my vocation.  That I can never get away from the reminder that regardless of how the world perceives me and even how I’d like to think of myself, God knows better, and when I am honest with myself, so do I.  Perhaps another seminary will help.  Another book.  Another degree.  Another experiential sort of thing.  There is always so much more to learn.  So much more to master.  So much more to become, that who I already am pales in comparison.

So it is that I ordered a couple of books on preaching this week and have begun reading both of them.  The first is Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy and Fairy-Tale.  While there are places we differ significantly theologically (particularly in regards to what Scripture is), he has already breathtakingly demonstrated what a woeful story-teller I am through a breathtaking character development of Pontius Pilate just prior to asking Jesus What is truth?  (John 18:38).

The second book is One Year to Better Preaching: 52 Exercises to Hone Your Skills.  I’m not sure how helpful it will be (I’m only on the second exercise).  The first exercise was to create a group to pray for me as I’m working on  the sermon through the week.

At first, I wanted to skip over this.  I know my people pray for me.  I’m grateful for this.  But it’s hardly an exercise for me to hone my skills.  The author suggests a small group who covenant to pray for me through the week, and each week I send out reminders to them on a daily basis of how they can specifically pray that week.  It’s a good reminder that pastors need prayer and sermons need prayer and even though I balked at first, I’m going to ask my prayer group for some volunteers to take this on.

But he referred to a great little essay on the topic of How to Pray for Your Pastor on Saturday.  And while I don’t know much about the author of this article, at  the very least he does an admirable job of describing the issues a pastor faces on Saturday and also on Sunday morning leading up to worship and delivering a sermon.  In particular, his description of what it is like to step up into the pulpit and survey the congregation and how that can impact the pastor powerfully in those final seconds before opening his mouth and starting to preach is noteworthy.

I do need prayer.  So do pastors everywhere.  Speaking the Word of God to the people of God is risky business.  It’s risky when they all love you and risky when they don’t.  So if you don’t already, pray for your pastor, that he do his job well and faithfully whether you like what he will say or not.

 

Poverty Colored Glasses

April 30, 2019

An essay which recognizes the narrative being pushed in certain segments of our culture and society isn’t just divergent, it completely ignores reality.  It has to, otherwise certain economic and political aspirations can’t possibly succeed.

There’s a good reason for that, but we’re in danger of being lulled into a false depiction of reality.

Domain Name Change

April 29, 2019

For the second, and hopefully last time in 13 years, the domain name/web address for this blog will be updated.  Technically, it’s reverting to the original name that I had to forego when I migrated to WordPress a few years ago.  Actually, nearly five years ago, which is hard to believe.

So if you’ve been used to reaching this site through livingapologetics.wordpress.com, please make note of the domain name that may be replacing it (or may be working alongside it) living-apologetics.org.

The changes should take place sometime in the next few days if all goes well.  Thanks for your patience and perseverance!

 

 

Movin’ On Up

April 22, 2019

Perhaps not exactly to a deluxe apartment in the  sky, but an improvement all the same.

I’ve bit  the bullet (paid) to upgrade my blog site from free to a paid plan through WordPress.  The annoying advertisements are now gone.  I intended to do this much sooner but, well, life and money and what have you.  Look for some tweaks and changes to roll out as I explore the options I have available now as a paid user of the site – including possibly a change back to my original domain name (livingapologetics.org) instead of the WordPress name.

All in good time, but at least it’s the first step.  Perhaps a step up?

Who to Promote

September 20, 2017

I was raised with solid middle-class, middle-America values.  Children should be seen rather than heard.  Or maybe it was heard rather than seen.  Frankly, the preference was probably that we were neither seen nor heard.  In any event, the idea of self-promotion of any kind has always been anathema to me.  It isn’t that I don’t crave recognition.  I do.  But perhaps as a means of controlling that monster inside of me I’ve tried to avoid the spotlight as much as one can do from the front of a classroom or the front of a church.

I dreamed of being a writer but have abandoned that in a post-literate age where anybody can get published inexpensively.  Some of the folks that follow this blog seem to do so out of a concept of mutual self-promotion that eludes me.  I hope for fame, but expect that I won’t have to be the one telling people how awesome I am in order for that to happen.  It will just, someday, but broadly recognized and I won’t have to push for that recognition.

Is that too hard to ask?

My job is not to promote myself –  my job is to promote Christ, to make him known to as many people in as many different facets as He gives me time and opportunity.  But in order to put his name out there, it can be easy to be put mine out as well.  Given time and a bit of temptation, the desire for my name to be glorified can quickly eclipse the desire that his name be glorified.  On the flip side, excessive self-deprecation and equally result in his name not being shared as broadly as possible.  I’m wondering how to put out his Word without necessitating the inclination most people have (not entirely incorrectly) to want to know more about the messenger.

I’m being asked more and more to share my preaching and teaching with expanding audiences, particularly via the Internet as well as more localized outlets such as pre-recorded and live radio options.  It’s something I’ve been hesitant to do  because crafting a message for an audience unfamiliar with me, my congregation, my theology, etc. is a lot more complicated than just videoing a sermon and putting it online.  In a day where it’s customary to take things out of context, I want to think carefully about what I say before facing criticism either from those who don’t share my belief, or those who think they share my belief to a greater/stronger/more accurate extent than I do.

It’s also a lot of work, and being basically lazy, the idea of taking on additional work is unattractive.

But more and more I’m being led to see that this bears investigating further.  I went to lunch today with a gentleman who had the main intent of convincing me to think more seriously about radio and podcasting and other means of speaking to a larger audience.  Of course my ego loves this, and I have to try and put that down while still hearing what is being said and considering it as objectively as possible.  We have such Good News to share with a world that is so incredibly hungry for good news.  If we need to be reconsidering and reevaluating how we do Church in a rapidly changing culture, I can’t simply say that I’m not willing to consider other avenues for sharing the Gospel and helping people to understand it better.  Prayers are appreciated!

Wet Bar Wednesday – Expanding

August 10, 2016

Well, sort of.

I’ve been invited to become part of a blogging team of pastors and other sundry folks over at The Jagged Word.  While I’d love to say that the invitation was occasioned by my deep theological observations and my skill in finding Gospel themes in current events, it turns out that they like my drinks.  Which is good, because I can’t stand the way they’re dressed in that photo.  No worries, I won’t be emulating that *any* time soon.

Seriously.  I’ll be bartending for a second time for some of them in a month at our annual pastor’s conference.  Others have enjoyed them on other social occasions.  So every Friday I’ll be contributing a cocktail recipe to their web site.  I’ll try to sneak in some theology here and there, but really that’s a stretch I don’t think is too reasonable to make, generally speaking.  I’ll be revisiting many of the drinks I’ve posted about here over the years.  I’ll continue to post new drinks here as I enjoy them, but now there’s another place you can catch my recipes (as well as some very insightful and theologically rich articles by smart people).

My first post there should appear this Friday.

Enjoy!

Anticipating Change?

July 21, 2014

An old friend sent me the link to this blog post.  He’s not a church-going person, so it’s interesting that it caught his eye enough to send to me.  A few thoughts on each of the author’s points.

1.  Live, simultaneous viewing has been waning for decades.  With the proliferation of cable networks as well as VCRs (remember those?) over 30 years ago, people haven’t been watching the same things at the same times.  Our cultural attention has been shattered for a long time.  Granted, the Internet has accelerated this to an almost unimaginable level, bolstered by the ability to constantly surround ourselves with only exactly what we like or agree with at all times.  

The author then draws two conclusions, or questions.  He implies that Sunday worship is no longer an adequate offering of “content” for generations accustomed to having everything on their schedule.  Secondly, he stresses the importance of relationship.  

Firstly, if we continue to view worship (whenever and however it occurs) as content, we’re missing the point.  It is’t about content, although content is part of what happens.  It’s about relationship.  But it’s not the relationship that the author is emphasizing – human-to-human interaction.  It’s first and foremost about the relationship between God and his people.  Not you.  Not me.  But his people.  Which we are a part of.  Worship is inherently a communal action, something that stresses that my personal preferences and ideas are secondary to the shared beliefs of the community.

For people used to church, once a week worship isn’t an issue.  They ought to have this pattern well-established (although I maintain that this is the easiest faith behavior to be disrupted, and once disrupted, it can be the hardest faith behavior to re-establish).  For people not used to church, once a week worship isn’t an issue either.  They likely have no idea what to expect.  Either they’re looking to understand better and will accommodate themselves to this – like we’re conditioned (more or less) to turn our cell phones off during a plane flight.  During this period of transition, accommodation, transformation, is the time when the proper reasons for worship need to be communicated.  Relationship, yes.  But not relationship as we’ve grown to define it – me-centered, but rather Christ-centered.  

If we treat worship as content, our main focus will be production (something we control) rather than transformation (something that stubbornly remains firmly and exclusively the job of the Holy Spirit).  The point of church is not to “gather a crowd”.  The point of worship is transformation and renewal through the continued outpouring of the Holy Spirit through the Word of God and the Sacraments He has entrusted to his Church.  It’s a paradigm shift all right – but not the one that most church ‘experts’ are pushing.

2.  Yes, continued shifts from communal to individual.  However unlike the author, I would argue that this is a strength of the Church, not a liability.  In an era where nobody needs to be connected to anyone live, in-person, Church stands as a very visible and anachronistic organism calling us back to community.  This is our strength, not a liability.  The content is best received in this context.  

This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t seek to augment the material that we give to parishioners, making it available online and in a variety of formats.  But we need to understand that this is always secondary to our purpose.  Our main purpose is not to present the Church, but to be the Church.  That doesn’t require a crowd, it just requires two or three gathered in the name of Christ.  A crowd is only necessary if what you’re really trying to do (for whatever reasons, good or misguided) is to begin or continue a specific ministry model that demands crowd economics.

In terms of calling people to something greater, this is dead-on.  But it isn’t “mission-driven”.  It is first and foremost a matter of repentance and forgiveness, confession and absolution.  It is oriented around transformation.  Mission is something we control.  Transformation is something the Holy Spirit controls.  Transformation will, inevitably, lead to mission in one form or another.  But it isn’t necessarily something as neatly organized as a mission trip.

3.  Again, beyond my earlier caveats about the role of content, this is fine.  But this also requires a level of discernment.  Not every congregation may be equipped to produce quality content.  A congregation needs to clearly understand what they are equipped to provide and why they are providing it.  This can be helpful for members, but remember that what goes online has a habit of showing up in unexpected places and ways.  I have a colleague who posted some of his Bible studies on YouTube.  He got into a theological discussion with a Roman Catholic in South America.  It was a fantastic opportunity for the body of Christ to act in a beautiful way.  But I’m not sure that his YouTube videos have resulted in dozens of new members.  To avoid frustration and irritation (particularly as budget resources are allocated), there must be very frank and deliberate discussion and consensus about why this content is being created, how it is being provided, and what the goals are.  

4.  I agree with this completely, though I think it needs to be focused further.  Don’t just tell a story.  Tell the story, and that fundamentally is not a story about us or me, but about God.  The story is essentially disruptive in that it short-circuits the dominant cultural story that is being told (at least in America), which is that everything is about my story.  Christianity posits that my story, insofar as it even exists, only has meaning (and possibility) within the story of God.  

I recently attended a great preaching seminar focused on story-telling in the form of narrative preaching.  Telling the story is important because it is not a story being told anywhere else in our culture.  The Church is the only one telling her story now, the story of God’s creative, redemptive, and sanctifying work.  Don’t assume your congregation knows the stories.  Don’t assume that they know how the stories function to link their personal stories into God’s meta-narrative.

5.  Money shouldn’t be an issue.  Money is an issue when a group of people insist on a particular model of ministry that requires economic resources.  This isn’t bad or wrong.  But look at the New Testament – the major exhortations regarding money come in regards to charitable giving to alleviate the suffering of Christians and Jews in other places in the midst of crisis and great need.  But this is rarely the focus of our congregational emphases on finances.  Missions are usually tacked on at the end, in the category of if-we-have-enough-left-over (regardless of whether this is a budgeted line item or not.  When funds are tight, watch how quickly missions get cut before staff salaries or facility maintenance line-items).  

People//members/congregations are not paying for something they use.  At least they shouldn’t be.  People are responding to the grace and gifts of God by offering back for his use part of what He has given them.  I’ve met with parishioners who had pastors decades ago liken tithing to paying membership dues.  This is faulty (regardless of how well-intentioned) information.  Giving in the Church is always first and foremost a response to the goodness of God.  

Failure to understand this properly will lead to financial issues (it’s one reason that financial issues might arise – certainly not the only reason!).  This doesn’t exempt “Mission-centered, mission-focused” churches either, unfortunately.  Why?  Because there are so many ways and places for people to direct their financial resources now.  Many of these are excellent.  The advent of micro-funding and crowd-funding has made it possible to raise money quickly and across a broad spectrum of givers, fueled by the ability to communicate the need and message quickly and inexpensively.

If Christians are conditioned to view tithing primarily as a means of directing their personal resources to worthy causes that they believe in, we’re missing the point.  Giving money to a needy family on the other side of the street or the other side of the world is not the same thing as tithing, according to Scripture.  Both are important and Biblical, mind you, but they are not interchangeable.  

Yes, the world is changing quickly.  The Church can and should adapt to a certain level.  But we also need to recognize that the Church is fundamentally different from culture.  Culture is transient, shifting, ebbing and flowing.  The Church is the Rock, the very Body of Christ in the world.  This should determine how the Church discusses change.  When we begin discussing change in terms of content and finances, we’ve missed the more fundamental issues that need to be not simply discussed, but affirmed and lived.  It’s a lot easier to talk about content than it is to talk about transformation.  Then again, being the Church has rarely been an easy thing.