Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Short rant, just to keep things alive

Sorry I haven't posted. I offer no excuses.

Today, a brief rant about Christmas. I heard a fellow say on the radio about gift-giving: "Or you can just ask for what you want. That's what adults do."


No, that's what toddlers do. "Here's what I want, Santa!" As my grandaddy used to say when I was a child, "You've got your 'wanter' stuck out." Again, the spirit of giving turns into the spirit of getting. I'm such a curmudgeon, I have a hard time telling anyone that I want something for Christmas. Ask me any other time, and it's just a kindly question. But around now, it makes me feel like a co-conspirator in the Great Gift-Getting Gala. Those who ask me such questions are entirely innocent. So this is not a criticism of them at all. But honestly, it makes me uncomfortable. It unconsciously feeds this spirit of getting that leaves such a bitter taste in my mouth.

Now, I will admit that I do this holiday dance a bit as well. Still uncomfortable; makes me feel like I don't know a loved one well enough to think of anything she might enjoy. Hurts my feelings. And maybe I'm splitting hairs in my view. But I don't mind my friend asking another friend what might bless me. That leaves me out of the loop and leaves my "want list" on the shelf. I don't want to think about what I want-- I have that disorder without feeding it further.

I've told my family this story: one of the best Christmas gifts I ever got was small and fairly cheap and utilitarian. It was a pair of inexpensive mechanical pencils. Many years ago, my sister-in-law apparently noticed that I passed a lot of my time during in-law visits sketching architectural plans. That observation made for a nice gift. Since then, others have done similar things for me, I know -- my framed map of Tolkien's Middle Earth is really cool-- but that first one just stuck with me.

I like giving. I like getting. But I like THINKING about giving a lot more than about the other side of the coin.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Be True To Your Clergyman

A Scottish friend sent this message: "I was listening to a Mark Driscoll sermon today. There are things I like about him, and things I don't care for so much. But he said this:

Comparing your pastor of his little flock to the great preachers of the like comparing your wife to another's an act of betrayal.

My take on it?

The prophet Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys said,
Be true to your school
Just like you would to your girl
Be true to your school
Let your colors fly
Be true to your school!

Now, replace "school" with "pastor" and you have the basis for Driscoll's statement.

This all goes back to this exclusive ownership thing that local clubs (and their professional staff) need in order to survive. (A different antecedent for the term "MY sheep"...) I do know this, that fellow who is suffering from comparison to Charles Spurgeon or Robert Schuller or Charles Stanley or whoever needs to look hard at his relationships with the "little flock". In my experience, a true pastoral relationship does not suffer from the sheep hearing a good sermon from somebody else. In fact, that shepherd is usually the first sounding board for what the sheep hears elsewhere. But if that club manager is mainly connecting to people by his Sunday sermons and his management of club programs, he deserves to suffer by comparison. And he should probably develop some more secular job skills, because he may need 'em.

Driscoll is trying to help protect the small club manager's salary. Sort of a fraternal favor, and maybe to a lesser extent, defending his own turf. This is from the same playbook as the sermons which claim that God commands you to tithe to your local religion club. Again, we find a system of clubs trying desperately to hold onto the exclusive rights to a believer's resources so that the club may continue.

It's almost like finding a counselor who stirs up fear and anxiety in his client so that he can maintain his practice of helping the client deal with fear and anxiety. The client stays in the therapeutic process for life and the counselor makes a decent living off of him. When that client dies, get another one and repeat the process. A client who actually gets well enough that he no longer needs the therapist, well that's to be avoided at all cost.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The New Patriarchs

I continue to be amazed at the durability of simple pride among believers. Many have left Christian denominations and clubs after tiring of being ruled over by men and traditions rather than God. And some of those same folks are finding themselves in the latest version of just what they left, only with themselves as the ruling class.

The fashion now is to ask a believer, "Who is your father?" in an effort to find out if he has submitted himself to another man's rule, and if not, to determine his availability to be ruled. While the construct of spiritual fathers is both biblical and IMO a necessary part of our spiritual development, this current twist seems more intent on bringing people under submission to human authority and to cement those relationships-- often with regular cash payments to "dad" as part of the equation. I'm not so sure this is healthy spiritual parenting. A good father holds most precious the day his child is mature and free. Some of the new patriarchs I am seeing are gathering to themselves "children" long past the age to be asking their daddy for permissions and instruction. Jesus warned us not to call anyone "Father", as we have but One. This admonition is ringing in my ears again, for the first time in a long time.

Years ago, I was separated from my children by distance and circumstance, and I was worried sick about my inability to be an active father to them over the miles. I was complaining rather bitterly about this state of things to a dear brother, who looked me in the eye with unaccustomed sternness and said from the Lord, "How dare you think that I am not their father?" In that single sentence, I found myself re-oriented by the Holy Spirit into my right place with my children. God is their father just as he is mine. While I am called to serve them as a father, both physically and spiritually, that role is merely a small reflection of the glorious reality of their True Father. The measure of my success as a father will not be how often my children call me for advice-- or how much they take it. It will not be even in their expressions of love and respect for me. It will be, rather, in how well my children are able to connect with their heavenly Father, carrying their connection with me as a model and an encouragement and a help in walking as eternal sons.

Good fathers raise and release, rather than collect and keep. They save up for their children rather than seeking to have their children support them. They decrease as He increases. They rejoice more in their child's divine sonship than in their own fatherhood. I am blessed in hearing my own natural father, who introduced me to Jesus, refer to me often as "son", but just as often as "brother".

For those of you spiritual fathers who are working hard to lay your lives down for your spiritual children, may God bless you. And may you see those children blossom as true sons of the Most High. For those who are embracing fellowship in your households and neighborhoods, may your table be full! But for those who would in the name of fatherhood gather people to themselves so that they may rule over them, may God eventually make this plain as well.

Saturday, September 11, 2010


A friend posting on a discussion board referred to Jesus as our "Radical-in-Chief".

I like this a lot. Sometimes, we lose sight of just how radical Jesus' teachings are; instead of the confusion and outrage experienced by Jesus' listeners, we seem to have filed the sharp edge off the sword and allow ourselves to nod agreeably with Jesus' words. Perhaps we should look at just how radical our Master is, and how radically different he calls us to be--

Love your enemies.
Well, I don't have anybody really trying to hurt me right now, and if I do, I just get away from them. What do you mean, I should mow the lawn of my next door neighbor, whose kid just beat up my kid?

If someone asks something of you, give it to him without expecting repayment. Well, everybody knows better than to ask to borrow on those terms, so I don't have a problem there. Except for my ungrateful brother-in-law who continues to try to sponge off me and won't get a real job, and about whom I complain regularly to my friends. Technically, I don't "expect repayment", as he never does pay me back, so I think I'm good here...

If a man takes your coat, give him your shirt, too. If a man takes my coat, I let law enforcement handle it. At the very least, I lock up everything else so he doesn't get to me again. I call that "being a good steward".

If a man compels you to travel one mile, go two. As long as the government gives me a tax loophole, I'm taking it. As long as the cops won't ticket me for doing 75 in a 70, I'm setting the cruise on 75.

Lay not up for yourselves treasure on earth.
You're kidding, right? My 410k is not really "treasure", not after that last market crash, anyway. What about my retirement? My kids' college? Who's gonna take care of me if I don't do it myself? Jesus had to be talking to rich people, not me.

Ever wonder why Jesus had enemies? If you hammered away on these things in the church today, I think you would find someone ordering wood and nails for you, too.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

There's Fish, and There's Bait

Announce to the family that tonight's dish is fish, and the response is, "Okay."

But announce instead that you are serving minnows, and the response will be even less enthusiastic. Why? Because even your grade-school child knows the difference between food and bait.

A brother on a discussion board was asking the most common question known to organized Christianity: "How do we get more people to come to church?" And it got me to thinking, even as I was quick to recommend some form of service to the community. Question: If we choose to do good for our neighbors, is our intent important? If we offer to feed the neighborhood, does it matter whether we are using this as an inducement to church attendance or as simple altruism?

In a word, yes. It's the difference between serving fish and serving bait.

Jesus castigated the Pharisees for doing good works "to be seen of men". And we readily join Him in that criticism. But really, how different was the Pharisee's motivation from that of the average religion club? Is it really all that different when we hold children's events at our club in hopes of attracting that prize of demographics-- "young families with children"? Here, we are certainly not doing our good works in secret, but are hoping that the recipients of our efforts will "reward us openly" with attendance and cash in the offering plate. But since we are concurrently blessing someone else, we excuse our self-interest.

I wonder if this is the kind of activity contemplated when Jesus told of people telling God, "Did we not in your name do many wonderful works?" only to hear Him reply, "I don't know you." Perhaps the people were telling the truth. But God sees through to the intents of the heart.

In Latin, the question is "Cui bono?" That is, "Who benefits?" When we ask how to get something WE want, and the answer is to serve others, this is charity in service to self. We are the intended beneficiaries, the people we serve merely participants who will hopefully help us get what we want. But it is quite easy to claim that we are truly being altruistic. Sometimes we even believe it. But here's a simple test:

The next time your group plans a service to others, ask honestly if you can do it without anyone giving credit to your group. Real service can almost always be done this way. If you find yourselves having difficulty imagining a work of service wherein you get no credit, that should be a serious warning sign about the intentions of your charitable endeavors.

Doing our good works in secret is hard because we are so accustomed to putting our faces - or the name of our club - on the front of everything. We don't even think of it as self-serving. It's so common as to be invisible. Individuals seem to be able to serve selflessly, but organizations find it almost impossible. Here's an out-of-the-box question to kick around in your group, as you look at working in your community: "How can we bless somebody and not get caught at it?" If you can do that, know that your Father will reward you openly.

A good question to ask about a work of service: Would you do this in a dark room, where no one could see, and where no one would ever know? And before you quickly say, "Yes!" to the question, examine how often your group has done such things in the past. Often, such an honest self-appraisal leads to a lot of prayer. And change.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Old Paths, circa 1680

I grew up in a religious tradition in which, when I had the opportunity to do the right thing, I would say, “I will obey God, as I should.” When I did the wrong thing, I would say, “Well, nobody’s perfect, and I am doing my best. I hope God will forgive me.”

Contrast this with this description of a 17th century Carmelite monk:
When an occasion of practicing some virtue offered, he addressed himself to God, saying, “Lord, I cannot do this, unless Thou enablest me,” and that then he received strength more than sufficient. That when he had failed in his duty, he only confessed his fault, saying to God, I shall never do otherwise if you leave me to myself; ‘tis You must hinder my falling, and mend what is amiss.” That after this, he gave himself no further uneasiness about it.

These days, I am slowly coming closer to the latter place than the former. There's more air here. And more of the presence of God.

Oh, the quotation is from Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, a Carmelite lay brother who died in 1691.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Sunday Sermons are Obsolete

A sister in Scotland suggests, correctly I believe, that the traditional Sunday sermon is obsolete.

The whole idea of a sermon-oriented meeting needs to be re-thought. The assumptions?

When you get people together, you need to teach them. Says who? The people who make a living doing those lectures, that's who. Getting together to learn is a fine thing, but assuming that this needs to dominate every gathering is simply not well thought out. First, you can more easily absorb a podcast than a live lecture. Pause, rewind, review, all these are important learning aids that live speech can't offer. You can also catch the message even if you're not ready to tramp down to the sanctuary, or if you can't. And you have access to lots more teachers and topics than you can get from that one guy who does your pulpit thing every week.

Second, technology renders the need to gather people for simple communication obsolete. It actually became such when reliable mail service became available, but the Internet has established this beyond doubt.

Third, gathering people together, only to forbid them to interact for over half their time together is a terrible waste. It's like buying a boat, towing it to the lake on Saturday morning, loading the family up in the boat, and keeping the boat on the trailer for half the day. It does not make sense. If I'm going to be with my family, I want to be able to connect with them!

Get together to worship, to fellowship, to testify, to pray for each other... all these are sound reasons for us to be getting together. So why do we spend most of our time together looking at the back of our brother's head, being fed information we could have easily have gotten at home?

Traditions are like crabgrass... ubiquitous and hard to kill. Best treatment I know is to shine really bright lights on them and talk honestly about them.