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
If the man doesn’t believe as we do, we say he is a crank, and that settles it. I mean, it does nowadays, because now we can’t burn him. –Mark Twain
In the midst of my reading Thoreau’s Walden, I get my income tax refund. That’ll keep me from splurging…
Now, where are those bills? Fuel, kids’ teeth, and kids’ trips to the doctor. Hoping to wedge in a new pair of glasses for me onto the expense list, profligate wastrel that I am. I fear this is the year when I can’t fake enough of the letters on the driver’s license test and have to start wearing my specs to drive.
Which raises the question: with all the people texting while driving, shouldn’t some of ’em be wearing bifocals for that?
My son did his first tax return this year, took him all of thirty seconds to understand that the government was giving him back the money they borrowed from him, not sending him a gift. Why does it take other people so long to figure that out?
I only work on this excuse for a blog when I happen to have the convergence of a WiFi hotspot and my handy laptop and a power outlet, as my handy laptop’s battery lost its will to live some time ago. In a bow to Moore’s Law, the battery which my Compaq needs costs more than the whole computer is worth. SO… since any fool would know this means I need a new computer, I do NOT get one. No, contrarian that I am, I hold stubbornly to this increasingly obsolete folding magic box, hoping to wring every last bit of use out of it before we both wind up in the landfill. Ken and Brent and Alison, I’m getting all I can out of your investment!
Such a curmudgeonly attitude has at least once made me the master of my technological superiors. About a year ago, a virus ran rampant which would allow me to open any application,but then would freeze the application and not allow it to function or close! Including my version of Firefox. I borrowed a computer, and found out that there was a fix available online. However, since the bug had seized control of Firefox, I could not download the patch. Enter our hero, unrecognized obsolescence. I don’t use IE, and so the version of IE I had was elderly… so elderly, in fact, that the bug did not even recognize it. I s-l-o-w-l-y downloaded the patch, rebooted, and voila!
Age and treachery win out once again over youth and skill.
The pepperbox revolver was a little pistol with six barrels which was intended by its creator to fire one barrel at a time and then rotate to the next. Interestingly, it would as often as not fire all six barrels en banc, astonishing the shooter and inconveniencing passersby. Very effective, as “if it didn’t get what it was after, it would fetch something else”. This little adventure in firearms was, in Mark Twain’s words, “confounded comprehensive”, which suits the purposes of this blog to a “T”. Here you will find religion, politics, rants on the sublime and the mundane and what may be most honestly described as a transcription of things said to my car windshield as I drive. I refuse to repent if you are offended, and will promise no specific performance except to apologize if you get bored…
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.”
“I sometimes despair of getting anything quite simple and honest done in this world by the help of men. They would have to be passed through a powerful press first, to squeeze their old notions out of them, so that they would not soon get upon their legs again; and then there would be some one in the company with a maggot in his head, hatched from an egg deposited nobody knows when — for not even fire kills these things — and you would have lost your labor.” –Thoreau, Walden
I’m reading Thoreau’s Walden, and in so doing I am being reminded of the value of reading things which are not altogether as I think, and yet of value. It is the sorting out, the reaching through the bramble to collect the blackberries, which is of almost as much value as the fruit itself. To incur the minor scratches of impiety, even the more painful cuts of blasphemy, on the part of another, is not a fatal disease to be avoided like typhoid. Rather, taken in the context of what we do know, it builds the intellectual immune system, for it allows us to consider folly, to reject it, or more worthwhile, to understand its fault better. And best, to understand the basis for it, to recognize its wrong turning, that we may avoid a similar turning in my own track some distance down the road.
We should not be so quick to distance ourselves from writing not “Christian” in nature, from philosophy which may at points find itself disrespectful of — if not in precise opposition to– our faith. To do so is to hothouse ourselves, to remain in an intellectual cloister. A tree which grows up thus staked against the breeze will be bent double in the eventual high wind.
At times I fear we see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil at the expense of becoming blind, deaf and dumb in the process.
Thoreau reminds me of the value of impertinence, of challenging the status quo, of fearlessly questioning the unquestioned. Not for the mere purpose of challenge, mind you, but to make room for truly unfettered contemplation.
“There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.” -Thoreau
For those of you who are part of the migration of believers out of the institutional church, you are likely seeing a tremendous shift in the operation of your personal relationships. Friends who were at your side every Sunday drop off your scope. What you thought were strong long-term relationships seem to evaporate. The Spirit gave me a picture recently of what is happening to us.
I was reminded of shopping for vegetables in the supermarket. There, I simply rolled my cart down the aisle and selected whatever cans suited my taste. They were all labeled and displayed for my convenience. I did not concern myself with where the food came from, who grew it, who picked it, or what chemicals and processes were involved. It was easy for me to get food in this way, as I did not have to do much except bring my checkbook. Others in the background assembled the cans on the shelves, kept the lights on, and kept store hours that fit my schedule.
The only problem was the quality of the food in the cans. The nutritional value was almost nil. I sometimes found a can which declared that it had been “fortified” with vitamins, but that only underscored the reality of the empty calories to which I had grown accustomed. I could not judge this by the cans, however. I could only look at the labels and make my selections based on the external appearance.
When asked where I got my groceries, I would say things like, “I go to Albertson’s”, or “ I normally go to Kroger, but I go to Safeway when they have specials.” Nobody asked me what I bought, because the products are essentially similar no matter where you go. I just used the store I liked best, or the most convenient place to pick up what I needed.
Thus it has been with our church relationships. We regularly go to a building built for our shopping pleasure. Organizations build and remodel and design their operations to get me to shop with them. Everyone in the neighborhood tries out the new outfit with the fancy brickwork and the espresso bar and the attractive circular in the newspaper. These organizations pique our interest with massive advertising, and spend much of their effort trying to woo customers who normally frequent other establishments. The goal is simple: to bring in as many consumers and as much revenue as possible.
It is so convenient for us. We drop off our children at their managed department, getting a receipt so we can pick them up later. We cruise that building, picking out people we want to connect with, generally based on our personal preferences and outward appearances. We get with the “youth group” or the “ladies group” or the “people-too-old-to-be-in-college-but-not-yet-married-with-children group”. We sign up to rub elbows with folks who have things in common with us: the “Single Again” folks, or the weekly “Lose Weight for Jesus” support group.
We have become religious consumers. And as such, we are prey to every marketing ploy, every free offer, and every bait-and-switch tactic known to those who are selling what we buy. But it is only the darkness of our own hearts that makes such schemes effective. After all, we have proven that we are eager for the convenience of one-stop God-shopping, easily conditioned to the weekly shopping trip, satisfied with the quality of what we are sold. To criticize those who give us what we want is to ignore the beam in our own eye.
But what of those who have become disenchanted and have abandoned the spiritual supermarket? While I applaud their action, my experience tells me that they often begin to get hungry. And the reasons are not hard to see.
First, one cannot eat the fact that he no longer has religious canned goods in his pantry. Even if those canned goods had limited nutrition, simple abstention does not replace those nutrients. We must cultivate our own garden. We must find those individuals with whom God would joint us, and we must nurture and develop those relationships ourselves, without the artificial stimulus of required group meetings. We cannot leave the supermarket and expect to find canned goods along the side of the road to sustain us.
The first hard reality of this new, organic Christian lifestyle is that it requires work. Instead of dropping the can in the cart, we find ourselves on the end of a hoe in the summer sun, weeding and cultivating our relationships. This does not fit into our “busy schedules”, and it cannot be left to others when the weather gets too hot. In point of fact, any gardener can tell you that before the harvest, comes the hard work. Many believers simply do not want to do this. It is a discipline they have not yet learned. The time and effort required is much more than the hour-and-a-half-every-Sunday to which they are accustomed. As they look over their patch of struggling green beans, the enemy whispers, “Those are three cans for a dollar at the supermarket. What are you doing?” There is a powerful temptation to trade in the hoe for that familiar shopping cart.
Unfortunately, some believers who refuse to go back to the supermarket will also not accept the responsibility to cultivate their personal gardens. These become worse off than they were before, returning to consumerism (this time through books, tapes, and television) but getting even less nutrition than before. They become emaciated, having a few scattered conferences and seminars to talk about, but lacking that strong net of local personal joints through which the life of the Spirit primarily flows.
Sometimes, we trade the religious supermarket for the corner store. That is, we move from the religious institution into homes or offices, but never relinquish our consumerism. We are still consumers, but we now get our sermons delivered from a living room sofa. We still operate scheduled store hours, only they are on a weeknight instead of Sunday. We still want our “cell pastor” or “home group leader” to fill our shopping cart, generally at a discount in required time and money. We replace the ordinances of the supermarket with our own localized practices. We become “bigger fish in a smaller pond”, gaining more control over what goods the store offers us. This is “getting out of the box”, only to climb into a smaller box.
We are called to the backyard garden of personal relationships in Christ. God gives the grace to build these relationships, and provides the people for that purpose. As we learn to do this, we will focus more on meeting than meetings. More on service than services. Less on scheduled events and more on Christ-life itself. If you are standing in the hot sun in your garden, do not be weary in well-doing. You will have a harvest if you don’t get tired and quit. Keep watering and weeding.
There is a world of difference between corn-on-the-cob fresh from the garden and those aluminum cans with the green giant on the label. Anyone who has tasted the difference can tell you it is well worth the trouble to grow your own. Happy gardening!