Faith. And church.

Rants, inspirations and in-between

Emily Post and the Earbud

I like technology, but it confuses me.  Not how to use it, but how to handle the users.  If a man is wandering through Wal-Mart talking to the atmosphere in an agitated fashion, is he a psychotic maniac waiting to explode, or a guy arguing with his ex-wife on his Bluetooth?   Is that kid in the third row of history class really just looking down deep in thought, or is he Googling answers on his I-phone?  When the cell phone with the 1812 Overture ringtone goes off in the theater right in front of me, should I be thankful that neurosurgeons are so responsive to human need, or smack the rude beggar whose Twitter feed just went off?

Today, it’s office etiquette.  Our clerk is staring at her computer, muttering softly, earbuds in place.  Is she [a] working on that project I asked her to do, [b] talking down an irate parent on the phone, or [c] just listening to the Grateful Dead?  I need to talk to her.  Do I interrupt?  I simply don’t know!  I was reared not to interrupt another person’s phone call, except by polite visual signalling and waiting until she hangs up.  I also hate to interrupt the concentration of a person hard at work.  And Human Resources has convinced us all that touching another person in the workplace will result in our immediately being shot, jailed, and fired, in that order.  But if all our clerk is doing is grooving on Jerry Garcia, I need her attention.  Trouble is, I can’t tell which is really going on, so I just stand there with my elbow halfway up my arm at her cubicle, hoping she’ll psychically sense my foreboding aura.  What is the etiquette for dealing with the earbud-isolated? 

I asked a college student for guidance, and he offered the following: if a person is staring down at his phone, but his lips aren’t moving, you are allowed to speak to him.  If his lips are moving, he’s in conversation.  Or dictating to his blog.  Or making notes.  So, it would be only polite to wait.  Unless he’s just singing along with YouTube.  Then you can butt in. 

So it has come down to this– with all the communication technology at hand, the only way I can politely communicate with a person who is standing next to me staring at his phone is to stare at him myself… and read his lips.  Which seems quite invasive and not a little creepy.

Or I could just pull out my Blackberry and call him myself.

 

 

 

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Travelogue

Six American Airlines hops in 36 hours. After years of Southwest Airlines and its egalitarian herd, American was a different experience entirely. When the gate agent announces boarding is to begin on your flight, he reveals the multi-layered caste system of which you are now a part as an American passenger. “Now boarding first class, uniformed military, people with babies and pushy old ladies who ordered a wheelchair which currently holds their giant handbags and Neimans’ sacks.” Next, we get the Gemology Department Catalog: “Now, we will board our Emerald Class, Sapphire Class, Ruby Class and Executive Class members, at the red “Priority Gate” only, please. By this time, there is a large milling flock of ticketholders scanning their boarding passes for some clue of their social status. I had the sad task of explaining to a nice lady that her pass said “Group Four”, which was formerly called “Leper Class”. I boarded in Group Three, feeling vastly superior to those poor benighted souls who had not built up enough karma to ascend into Group Three with me.

The apparent reason for this carefully-orchestrated and generally-demeaning process was to seat the people up front first, allowing each aisle passenger to be elbowed, butt-swiped and baggage-whipped by their fellow, if lower class, passengers, as that poor semi-human cargo wended its way to the back of the aircraft. If there has been a better method created to exalt, then debase, people who think too highly of themselves because they have an AmericanAirlines-Plutonium Class credit card, it has escaped my attention. It was almost worth being sneered at by the airline staff for being a lesser passenger. After this foray through American’s premium-caste system, I will hurry forthwith to join American’s marketing barrage, if not at “Emerald level”, perhaps beginning with something more humble, like Plywood Class, or even becoming a Cubic Zirconium Member.

I will say that this constant reminder of my lower-class status did not rob me of the perks of American service. Six flights, two of which were delayed by hours, one long enough to make me miss my connection altogether and earn me a free additional four-hour layover at Chicago O’Hare. I sprinted to one gate which was actually manned, and asked the lonely agent to which flight they had converted my cancelled one. He assured me that any agent could find that out for me– except for him, because he was going on break.

My thanks to the State of Texas for arranging my travel from Waco to Toledo. Meeting time: 150 minutes. Travel time, airplanes and airports: 25 hours. Had they just flown me from Dallas to Detroit, I could have spent a quarter of the time and half the money.

Your tax dollars at work.

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Two dangerous types…

One type is the politician, who tells us “this is what is best”.  The redeeming feature here is that politicians often contradict one another, so a healthy and educational discourse can ensue if we will just pay attention and sort facts out of the exchanges of verbal artillery.  Two opposing politicians each tell us the other is just flat wrong, and we get to sort it out for ourselves.

The far more dangerous fellow is the scientist, who tells us “this is utter inarguable fact” and “here is what must be done about it”.  This fellow then conflates his empirical fact (or his approximation thereof) with his conclusions and cannot sort these apart any more than he can sort out the salt he accidentally dropped in the sugar bowl.  Today, I listened to reports about how science has been telling us to prevent fires in our forests when at all possible…until now, when different scientists announce the conclusion that the resulting unchecked undergrowth is currently fueling wildfires of incredible dimension.  So, the news report said, in essence, “We thought we were right, but now that the whole thing has blown up in our faces, perhaps we were wrong all along.”  In the very same report, these same scientists insisted that today’s wildfires are the result of global warming.  How long will it take them to back away from their position this time? What foolishness will we undertake before the next “oops”? 

The scientific community is more dangerous than the political community because if you disagree with them, you are not thus merely wrong, but an ill-educated superstitious savage to boot. Non-conformity is considered proof that you are not intelligent enough to contribute to the discourse.  There is only one prevailing view allowed at a time, riding its popularity until it is brought crashing down by the next observation which proves things to be different.  What science tells us is the not-to-be-questioned truth.  Until it’s not. Science builds its cities upon the ashen ruins of the cities come before, but refuses to look at the history under its feet to instruct its further efforts.

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C S Lewis, revisited

I just finished re-reading CS Lewis’ “The Screwtape Letters” and his later magazine article “Screwtape Proposes a Toast”. If you can shake off the dark concept of the book, it offers a great deal of insight, not into the demonic, but into human beings with their foibles and their unexpected strengths. Too many people can’t read this through the “ick” factor, which Lewis readily admitted was an issue for him as well.

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On the decline of Christianity

Jay Guin, in his blog, One in Jesus, opened the topic of the observed decline of Christian observance. My take on this:

I agree that the answer is in the church… it’s just not in the churches. I cannot say I see any solution which lets organizations which are less than the church continue to claim to be what they are not and continue to try to carve out a larger segment of the religion market, all with divine unction. It is not the church which is in decline, my friends, it is “Christianity”, the hydra-headed religion we have built with a variety of admixtures of the ethics of Jesus and approaches to scripture.

Our challenge is neither to save this passing form, nor to tear it down because of its fatal flaws. Our challenge is, for lack of a more elegant term, to shed our skin. We are called to be disciples of Jesus, the younger siblings of the King of Glory, the sons of God. We have become something far less, the faithful keepers of shrines– historical, cultural, theological, doctrinal shrines. We have attached ourselves to buildings and bibles and beliefs, to symbols rather than substance, to places and purposes rather than to a Person, to that which is revealed more than to the One Who Reveals. For about 600 years, God has continued to bless this form, knowing, as we have not known, that it is just that– a form.

But the limitations of that form become more and more apparent, all the more for the desperate attempts by its current custodians to caulk all the cracks, to alternately armor it and remodel it in an effort to save it. While we have been absorbed with perceived threats which are actually just intramural squabbles among the shrines, the sons of God have been quietly leaving those shrines. Some, certainly, in selfish seeking, but more because what has been advertised on the label has not been that which we have found in the box. “Sir, we would see Jesus,” will not forever be answered with, “Come and sit here under my feet. Pay for our shrine and we will let you serve her.”

My brothers, the new theses of Christ’s disciples will not be nailed to the Wittenburg door, but will spread both behind and far beyond such doors. This is both incredibly encouraging and troubling. Undoubtedly, wolves will come in among the turmoil. These seeking saints have courage, but this does not make them invulnerable. So much the more need for true shepherds of the Great Shepherd, not just managers of a local sheepfold. So much more the need for mature believers whose faith transcends doctrine and tradition; so much greater the call for grown-up believers who will cease gathering into their own barns and who can see the Kingdom of God as reality.

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Quote O’Day 8

“John Donne said, ‘No man is an island.’  But with the growth of virtual connections and the explosion in social networking, we are rapidly becoming a large archipelago.”
Actually, that one is from me.

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Now, or sooner

Debate today is about increasing the interest rate on student loans. If you listen to the news morons, you will believe this is about people being able to get a college education.  This is the rhetorical equivalent to suggesting that if the credit system collapses, we will all starve to death because nobody will be able to swipe his VISA card at Safeway.  Arghhh.

When did college education become a constitutional right?  Was it before or after student loans became a constitutional right?  And was that before or after we were told that anyone who does not get a degree will be left to feed the rats for medical researchers at $1 an hour?

Here’s a totally out-of-the-box concept: if you want to go to college, get a job first, save your money, get started and then work your way through school.  Before you say it’s not possible, I have kids who have done just that.   How about the idea of buying something you actually have the money for?  I know, Stone Age, right?  Not at all modern like these 20-somethings who are racking up $100k in debt to get an education that trains them for a $30k job, which there are only two of in the entire country.  And why are they doing this?  Not because they are stupid–well, not all of them– but because they have been mal-educated by their parents and teachers, and by the marketplace.

Ever since the advent of anonymous consumer credit, we have been told to buy now and pay later.  They never actually said, “Borrow a lot of money for crap you don’t like well enough to save your money to buy, and pay more in interest on the debt than you paid for the original crap. Repeat until dead.”  But that’s what they meant.  Same goes for student loans.  Except that student loans are like debtor’s prison.  They cannot be escaped, except through death.  Some day soon there will literally be Americans who are having student loans garnished from their monthly Social Security payments.

Okay, enough gripe.  Here’s an answer:  Go from high school to WORK.  Just because all your friends are drinking from Alices’ bottle so they can get small enough to get into the party, does NOT mean this is a good idea.  Young people, here’s some advice.  Humbly beg your parents to let you stay a while longer while you work to earn college money.  Take your meager paycheck, give Dad a fourth, use a fourth to pay your cellphone bill and car insurance, and save the other half.  When you have some actual money to buy some actual education, then go for it.

Parents, stop encouraging your kids to go into debt.  You are throwing the boomerang yourself.  In 2016, when little Maggie gets her degree and her first $600 student loan payment notice, she is going to do the math and find out her entry level job can’t pay the government AND the landlord.  So, she’s coming home to you!  (“Hi, Mom!  Here’s my laundry!  I’ll be in my room!”)  You better just hope she doesn’t bring her equally underemployed boyfriend and his kid.  So, instead of waiting five years to look at one another and say, “What are we going to do?” , look at one another now and say to your darling daughter, “It’s time to pay for what you want before you get it.”

She will have a light stroke, having never heard this concept before, but she has good odds of surviving the shock, and if she takes it to heart, a darn sight better odds making it in the real world after college.

 

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Quote O’Day 7

You won’t find a group with which you can agree on everything.  And even if you did, that just means that you are wrong about the same things.–kmv

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Quote O’Day 6

I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones. –Albert Einstein

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Church Growth for the New Decade

Here’s a collection of the latest in resources from the church growth industry:

“Pastor, are you sick of those sneaky sheep slipping out the side door of the sanctuary while you’re supposed to be sequestered with the Spirit?  Here at Locking The Sheep Gate Ministries, we’ll show you how to turn simple visitor cards into a database to track your flock!  Even your church secretary can round up those strays with our automated, software-driven “We Miss You When You’re Out” bulk postcard mailing system.   Visitation tickler-file option available, along with more-emphatic Holy Fire© message cards for repeat backsliders.  For Mac or Windows Vista.”

“Attention, church leaders: Your church attendance could triple in just one year!  Humble Church of Blister, Nevada did it with church growth tools from Bigger Barns Ministries! Says Pastor Delroy Blunt: “That’s right! Our quarterly ‘Bring A Friend If You’re a Real Christian Sunday’ program is packing them in!  We’ve had to borrow over a million dollars at junk bond rates to build a new sanctuary!”

“Church growth research shows that once your sanctuary fills to 85% seating capacity, people start turning away.   Help your parishioners avoid sitting so close together by adding pews from the Room For Every Heart Sacred Furniture Company of Swanee, Indiana. Call us at 1-800-MOVEOVER. Ask our sales rep about Slice O’ Heaven theater seating when you call.  Remember, just because we’re one in Christ doesn’t mean people want to touch each other.”

“Music Ministers: Are you losing members to bigger churches with big praise bands and big budgets?  Hold your sacred ground with our HymnTastic computerized synthesizer and synchronized PowerPoint Lyrics Display.  From “The Old Rugged Cross” to the hottest Christian country and rap, our Internet download service makes the preparation of heavenly worship as easy as reading your e-mail!  And add enjoyment to reading those song lyrics with our beautiful Creation Sings© series of background slides.  Your song lyrics are superimposed over fifty beautiful sunsets and landscapes, each guaranteed to inspire even the most lackadaisical worshipper.”

“Most people come to church because of the invitation of a friend or relative.  Think of the potential, Pastor, if your members would just invite all their unsaved friends.  You say it doesn’t happen at your church?  Then you need the FriendSaver© System from Big S Jesus Marketing.  You preach one special evangelism sermon (text enclosed), and pass out a FriendSaver© Evangelism Card to each member.  Encourage them to list the names of all their friends who do not come to your church.  Don’t worry about people feeling pressured, everything is voluntary.  If someone does not wish to provide a list of names, simply have them check the box on the card marked, “I want my friends to go to hell”.  You’ll be amazed at the level of participation!  Then, once the names of these infidels are entered into your church computer, our software creates exciting personalized letters about you and your church.  Our AutoMail feature sends these letters out every week over the machine signature of your own church members!  The impact is incredible!”

The preceding tongue-in-cheek paragraphs would be more humorous if they were not so true to life.  Each one is based on current practices or products currently in use out there in the church marketplace.  As the comedians sometimes say, “This stuff writes itself.”

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