Thinking Out Loud

November 30, 2009

Switzerland Votes to Prohibit Minarets

I never knew when I wrote my original post on this subject on September 18th, that when the vote took place two months later, it would generate so many new visits here.

According to traffic on this blog on the days leading up to and after the Swiss voted on the weekend to prohibit Muslim mosques from constructing minarets (the spire shaped towers) that are used to call the faithful to prayer, this is an issue for which there is intense interest, most probably because it  has a bearing on religious freedom not only in Switzerland, but also where you live, and around the world.

To see a short 2-minute report on the issue as it made news in Canada, you can watch this one at CBC News.  Although the post is quite sweeping in its coverage of the vote, the title — not fully explored — is intriguing, “Could a Minaret Ban Happen Here:  An Examination of What Might Happen if Canadian Tolerance Weakens.”   Did Swiss tolerance weaken?  Or was it never truly there in the first place?

Here’s a commentary at Beliefnet that also summarizes what happened if you’re coming to this for the first time:

All Muslims are Taliban, Islamophobia is the new anti-Semitism, and Shari’a is the new Protocols of the Elders of Zion. That’s the operational reality that Muslims in Europe must acknowledge, in the wake of a referendum to ban the construction of minarets in Switzerland:


In a vote that displayed a widespread anxiety about Islam and undermined the country’s reputation for religious tolerance, the Swiss on Sunday overwhelmingly imposed a national ban on the construction of minarets, the prayer towers of mosques, in a referendum drawn up by the far right and opposed by the government.

The referendum, which passed with a clear majority of 57.5 percent of the voters and in 22 of Switzerland’s 26 cantons, was a victory for the right. The vote against was 42.5 percent. Because the ban gained a majority of votes and passed in a majority of the cantons, it will be added to the Constitution.

The Swiss Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, but the rightist Swiss People’s Party, or S.V.P., and a small religious party had proposed inserting a single sentence banning the construction of minarets, leading to the referendum.

Civil Libertarians were quick to decry the results.  Even The Vatican condemned the loss of freedom of religion.   One political writer and talk-radio host suggested that the vote will have both a cause and effect influence on Switzerland’s future immigration dynamics.   Another writer suggests that the vote now introduces a whole new set of problems.

The Muslim blog, Islam in Europe, notes reactions from several different countries.    A gay Canadian blogger suggests that Islamophobic and Homophobic groups share a common strategy.

As you can see, there is no end of coverage on this over the last few hours.   So I contacted our anonymous correspondent in Switzerland from the September blog post for a grassroots reaction, which gets the last word:

It seems that the result of the referendum came as a surprise to everyone.  I think even people that voted in support of the ban were surprised that it went through.

The media here has gone crazy of course, saying it shows that the Swiss are afraid of Muslims, that the vote was decided by fear.  I personally don’t think that’s true.  It’s not like the Swiss are going to tear down the minarets that are already built, mosques have not been forbidden and the Muslims are not being expelled from the country.  They have the right to meet, to practice their religion and to have their mosques.  It’s been said in the media that a lot of them meet in old warehouses or industrial buildings, but so do most evangelical Christians.  (The only Protestant churches here are state owned and run.)  And it’s not like Christians are allowed to go into a Muslim country to build a cathedral.  I feel like that’s more the point.  It’s not a vote of fear, but of fairness.  If people want to move to another country and integrate into that country, there needs to be a bit of give and take.  Like I said before, they are still allowed to practice Islam, still allowed to build mosques.  Religion is not a building.  A church is more than four walls and a spire with a cross on the top.  It’s not a vote banning Islam, it’s a vote banning towers.

The other interesting thing is that, in our canton (province) only 52% of eligible voters actually voted.  It would be interesting to know what everyone else thinks…

And in the wake of all this, people are not talking about the fact that the Swiss also voted to keep exporting arms to other countries.  Why is everyone so concerned that we can’t build a tower, and not concerned about people killing each other with Swiss army material?  Sometimes I wonder about the media’s priorities…


Robert A. Schuller Returns to Television in a Different Format

This is an item that’s over 18 months old as of July, 2011.  If a search engine directed you here, consider using the search tab at right to look up more recent info on “Crystal Cathedral” or “Robert Schuller” including this recent piece.

Robert A. Schuller returned to television this week in a vastly different format to what we’re accustomed to seeing.   Everyday Life on the American Life Network was, well, here’s the bullet points:

  • 23 minute — online anyway, broadcast version may have had commercials — narrative story with RAS as the narrator, popping in and out to talk to the audience
  • High quality film production; more like H2O than Nooma with credible acting and a realistic story line; and a mystery character a la books like The Noticer or Bo’s Café.
  • Not preachy, which is what they were going for; your unchurched friends, relatives, neighbors and co-workers would watch this; there’s no sermon at all, but sometimes a story can ‘preach it’ better than a sermon can.
  • Nonetheless, some thought provoking concepts: “The thing about ‘destiny’ is, only the soul sees it coming, when it arrives it always seems like a surprise.”    Chew on that one.
  • Not actually very Christocentric or even ‘religious’ at all; that may draw some criticism,  but you have to remember this is the first episode of a series; a relationship with the audience will be built over time and the storyline will continue.  There’s a bit of foreshadowing of that at the 14:50 mark.

Verdict:   Too soon to tell.  Generally an affable program that will take several episodes to fully define itself.

Posture:   Encouragement.   Looking forward to the next installment.   Is this weekly?  Monthly?  Not sure.

Anything on this blog concerning Robert Schuller has generated a lot of comments on a site that is usually fair on readership but low on comments.   However, most of these comments have been directed to RAS, which drove me nuts once or twice.   That’s not normally how blogging works.  However, I’ve figured out a channel whereby I will get those comments to Robert and Donna; and I know there is large outpouring of love that people want to post online.

So…are you ready to watch the first episode?  Here’s the link to American Life Television; Everyday Life is the first video that starts rolling as soon as you arrive.

The next broadcast airing is Friday, December 4th at 4:30 PM

Bonus: Here’s a 4-minute interview Robert’s daughter Angie did concerning the new series.   (Where you can also leave comments after watching the show.)

November 29, 2009

“I Hate Winter” and Other Things Your Pastor Can’t Say

Today I got to be the guest speaker at a church in the big city.    It’s not unusual for me to play “substitute teacher” at churches on Sunday mornings when the pastor is away.   As an untrained, un-ordained guy, I treasure these opportunities.

But this time the lead pastor (or senior pastor, if you prefer) was there.   For the first time ever that I can remember, I was a true Guest Speaker, complete with being taken out for lunch afterward.    And it went well, other than being told that I ran too long.   Mind you, I always do.   He was rather blunt about it, though.

These opportunities to me are always ‘echoes’ of another path my life might have taken.  Reverberations from another life in a not-so parallel universe.   As I’ve written before here, I’ve been at the crossroads of vocational ministry many times.    Including the reiteration of an earlier offer today.   I’ve often wondered “What if?”   Days like this answer this question.

But there’s a lot more to doing the pastor thing than just preparing messages for Sunday morning.   For many pastors, the sermon preparation — while it does mean you have the equivalent of a term paper due every Friday — is the least of their weekly worries.

I was reminded of that this week when one of our regional pastors invited me out for a two hour coffee.   Actually, he had coffee, I chose a cold drink after deciding to also try the french onion soup.    Or at least, one very popular Canadian coffee shop’s version of french onion soup, which bears only a slight resemblance to the real thing.

For pastors, it’s not just the Sunday thing that matters.   It’s their whole comportment; the way they can be judged on every little minor thing they say or do or places they go.   The key to this was when we were getting in the van to drive back to where my car was parked.

“I hate winter;” my pastor friend said.   But before the last word was barely out his lips he added, “But I can’t say that too publicly.”

Knowing this pastor, his denomination, some of the people in his church, and the way certain people can shoot back with, “But God made all the seasons;” or “This is the day the Lord has given us;” I understood exactly what he meant.

He prefers weather and seasons that are not winter.   He prefers to not experience the frigid cold we get in the north.   He does not rejoice to see the summer days coming to an end.   He really doesn’t care for it.   To “hate” here is to put it succinctly, and it gels with what a lot of other people — myself included — would think.   But he can’t say it out loud without risking getting preached at by his congregation.

And that would drive me nuts.

What do you think:   Are pastors that “set apart” that they don’t get to be real?   Should a pastor be able to say exactly what he’s thinking, or does the job require that every idle comment be carefully weighed or filtered?     Do you think you could do the job?   Do you think 40 minutes was too long this morning?

Rackafracka image from (click on cartoon)

November 28, 2009

Salvation Army Kettles Go High-Tech

It had to happen sooner or later.   The contribution kettles manned by volunteers in our communities — some still with audible ringing sleigh bells, but most silenced by city ordinances and mall requests — have gone online.  The program is called iKettle.    Any of my Canadian readers can host a kettle with a few clicks of the mouse.

I found out about this from fellow-Canadian blogger Rick Apperson, and after mulling it over for several weeks, decided that if we could raise nearly $4,600 to sponsor my oldest son’s summer working at Camp Iawah, using our mailing list alone, we ought to be able to raise at least that much for the Salvation Army.

After a disastrous start where I actually gave the wrong e-mail address, my kettle was off and running.   I set the goal modestly at $1,000 figuring we would surpass that by the end of the weekend.  Within a half hour of the e-mails going out, the total started increasing, and then it came to a sudden halt.

Which is where my Canadian* blog readers kick in.   You can’t toss spare change in the kettles anymore because you pay for everything with plastic cards, and you don’t get change.   Any bills in your wallet are probably there for emergencies.   Besides, this year, with so many unemployed or underemployed, the SA needs significant contributions to meet the needs in local areas.

So here’s where you go to contribute*.

BTW, for what’s worth, I don’t like the whole “sponsor me” script on the webpage.   You’re not sponsoring us at all.   Some web designer got that one past them before it could be thought through more carefully.   How about, “Make a Difference;” or even “Contribute”?    Then there’s the liability with the button that allows you to read the text I wrote.   I ended with “Please give generously.”   But the more/less button after the paragraph means your brain sees, “Please give generously less.”   Not good planning, but it’s their first year doing this.

*For my U.S. readers — and there are lots of you — I couldn’t find a direct link to the U.S. program, and their regional websites are a bit of a dog’s breakfast;  but it’s probably better for you to contact the SA in your local area to find out ways an online donation can serve your own community.

This Christmas our giving can meet the needs both in overseas relief and development and in the cities and towns closer to home.   This is an opportunity to do something on the domestic front in a year that’s been rough on many people.

November 27, 2009

Zondervan Fighting Fires on Several Fronts

If there’s a copy of the NIV in your house, or even a copy of Purpose Driven Life, you know  Zondervan, the Grand Rapids company founded in 1931 by Pat and Bernie Zondervan, now owned by HarperCollins.

But even if you don’t, you would have a hard time escaping mention of the company online during the last 90 days, as it’s been a wild ride for company executives, and especially company president Maurine (Moe) Girkins, pictured at right, who seems to be making a public statement on one front or another every week.    Imagine dealing with all this:

  • The fall announcement that the TNIV translation would be discontinued in favor of a revised NIV.    This re-sparked old debates over the TNIV’s use of gender-neutral language, with some discussion shifting from the anthropos=mankind argument, to the plural vs. singular argument and the translation vs. commentary challenge of Bible translation.   In the process, very few people considered that the much better-loved NIV — as it currently exists –was also being scrubbed in the process.
  • The hiring of Flickering Pixels author Shane Hipps by Mars Hill Bible Church in Zondervan’s hometown, brought Hipps under fire from the discernment ministries who already had their guns aimed at Rob Bell.   It also showcases Zondervan’s willingness to promote next generation authors and give a platform to younger voices — bloggers Jon Acuff and Anne Jackson come to mind — and Emergent church, social justice and missional voices like Brian McLaren, Shane Claiborne or Dan Kimball.   But the downside of this is going to be inexperience at minimum, or more severe controversy as in the next item; and even the hint of heresy from some extreme sides could diminish the value of the Zondervan brand in the eyes of conservative Christians.    The company is caught in the race against other publishers to sign “the next big thing in Christian writing” on the dotted line.   With that comes risk.   While there are more and more authors in the marketplace, Donald Millers don’t grow on trees.
  • The decision to pull Deadly Viper Character Assasins by Mike Foster and Jud Wilhite was probably not easily made.    Taking a title of out distribution is costly and suggests the company wasn’t carefully considering the full ramifications of the book’s content before the presses started rolling.  Most people agree.   Others would say the company got caught in the tide of political correctness and that the book’s Kung-Fu imagery was a valid literary device to express the authors intent.
  • The sale of Youth Specialties to Youthworks was the buzz of the recent National Youth Workers Convention, and it follows the release of Youth Specialties head Mark Oestreicher.   Zondervan will continue to hold the print rights to current and future books and resources.
  • The downward spiral in the marriage of Jon and Kate Gosselin.   Zondervan is the publisher of Multiple Blessings: Surviving and Thriving with Twins and Sextuplets. The story of a young couple who trusted in the ever present hand of a faithful God to provide the strength and courage they needed to face seemingly impossible challenges one day at a time” no doubt pales in the light of their recent separation and Jon’s excesses.    Such is the world of celebrity.   Just ask Thomas Nelson, whose biography of Lynn Spears was put on hold a few years back when Britney’s younger sister became pregnant at a young age.
  • The lawsuit filed last week against Zondervan by Thomas Nelson, alleging copyright infringement in its I-Can-Read series book, The Princess Twins which they say is ripping off the Gigi: God’s Little Princess book and series by Sheila Walsh.  The similarity in the visual appearance of the characters is complicated by — but also somewhat explained by — the fact that both books used the same illustrator.  It also raises the issue of lawsuits among Christians.
  • The September decision to jettison the company’s Pradis Bible software and instead work with other software developers such as Logos, with the result that pastors and seminarians don’t have to have a separate Bible program to utilize Zondervan content.
  • The shunning of the Christian bookstore market in favor of developing an entire series of specialty Bibles for retail giant Wal-Mart may have been the last straw for those stores.   The backlash could continue for several years as customers bring those copies to the Christian stores looking to buy “another one like this one” which store staff will have never seen before.   To further complicate things, the Wal-Mart series piggybacks on several existing Zondervan NIV brands.
  • Uncertainties as to how many copies of the new Glo Bible software will be returned after Christmas.   With four computers in the house — two of them recent — there’s a little concern in our home as to whether or not we can install the program which requires a dual core processor and 18GB of free hard disc space.  My youngest son, who is into gaming, offered me space on his, but it’s hard to find time when he’s not using it.
  • While it’s not a Zondervan title, the company’s sales reps are promoting parent HarperCollins’ release Going Rogue by Sarah Palin in the Christian bookstore market, because of Palin’s unabashed faith commitment.   But Palin is a wild card, and the company can’t afford any backlash from the independent Christian bookstores that still remain.
  • Stuff Christians Like blogger Jon Acuff’s book of the same name is due out from the company in the new year.   The blog is somewhat tame at times — he refused to print two comments by this writer, and I’m not known for being edgy — but takes risks in others.    One of the edgier sections is called “Booty – God – Booty” which frankly discusses the North American penchant for compartmentalizing our lives into the sacred and the profane.    But readers may have to read the section twice to get the illustration, and speaking of illustrations, at least one blogger is upset over this one.

And that’s just a few major items.   I’d love to be a fly on the wall in the Zondervan conference room.  It’s hard to imagine one Christian publisher dealing with so many varied issues at the same time.

I can’t wait to see what surprises the company has in mind for 2010.

Now,  more in the spirit of blogging:  How significant is the name on the spine of a book to you?  Do you note who the publishers are?   Do publisher imprints matter?   Do you have a favorite publisher?

Pictured below, some graphics from the now off-market Deadly Viper Character Assassins:

November 26, 2009

Brennan Manning’s Patched Together

Filed under: books, Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:01 pm

First, a confession.   I have not read Brennan Manning’s signature title, Ragamuffin Gospel. So I didn’t really know what I was getting into when I was sent a copy of Patched Together: A Story of My Story releasing in February by David C. Cook.

Second, another confession.  I tend to associate Cook with the very white, very Protestant Sunday School curriculum content of my youth.   So I wasn’t expecting the Hispanic, Roman Catholic flavor found in Patched Together.

Finally, a last confession.   Usually the hardcover books that are light on page count but heavier on price escape my notice.   Even more so when the book is a combination of two much smaller titles previously released in such fashion; and the last dozen or so pages are actually a teaser for Manning’s other book with Cook, The Furious Longing of God.

Having said all that, you probably would think I didn’t like the book.   Wrong.   I actually enjoyed reading it.   Brennan Manning writes of a loving, heavenly father with word pictures that are emerging currently from a variety of voices.

But I’m not sure who I would recommend this book to, as parts of it — one particular plot twist especially — would have the discernment ministries people out there blowing several gaskets at once.

Unless there is more to the allegory than I’m getting.   After all, if this really A Story of My Story, there are a lot of things and places in this book standing in for something else in Manning’s life.

Still, it’s hard to see this finding a home at David C. Cook, or that some who follow that publisher imprint would be comfortable reading it.  Sorry about that.  I really tried hard to figure this book out.

Perhaps I’ll return to this after its release in February.

November 25, 2009

On the Links

Here’s some places a mouse click or two took me this week:

  • I really hesitate to post another link to Pete Wilson because every time I do, he writes a personal note of thanks, and he’s a busy guy.  But I couldn’t ignore this one.   Pete had the thrill of baptizing his son Jett last week, and wrote him a note on the blog.    Here’s the part I don’t want you to miss:  God has an amazing adventure planned for you and I want to encourage you to trust Him at every turn. Over and over again you’ll face situations where you’ll be tempted to give into fear but I pray you’ll choose faith. You’ll be temped to control but remember freedom comes in letting go. You’ll be drawn toward comfort but I pray you’ll choose sacrifice. You will feel all alone but remember God promises that He will never leave you nor forsake you. Read it all here.
  • This video has been up for a year now, but if you missed the Protestant Reformation and want to catch up, this rap video, 95 Theses, should fill you in.   (Click on more info below the advert to see the full lyrics.)  Also available at this homepage.
  • Sadly, Philip Yancey marks his final regular column with Christianity Today this week with a look at the Evangelical movement.   “Perhaps we should present an alternative to the prevailing culture rather than simply adopt it. What would a church look like that created space for quietness, that bucked the celebrity trend and unplugged from surrounding media, that actively resisted consumerist culture? What would worship look like if it were directed more toward God than toward our entertainment preferences?”
  • Jim Henderson, of Jim and Caspar Go To Church fame, has an excellent article on his site, “What The Black Church Has That The White Church Needs.”   He writes, They’ve never had power or influence over the majority culture; They’ve always had to do more with less;  They have experience with being ignored; They’ve developed practical gospel that brings heaven to humans (as well as humans to heaven); They produced the most significant Christian leader of the 20th Century Martin Luther King Jr… ” You might find it hard to see the first few of those as being things they have.   Read and comment at Off The Map.
  • A long time acquaintance of ours, Brian McAuley, has written a book on an encouragement celebration that parents can do with their children.   The Family Gold Plate meal is similar to other red plate rituals some families have, but adds a lot of extra details.   It’s sold as a book only, or with the gold plate itself.    I don’t endorse a lot of commercial ventures on this blog, but am making an exception for this one.   To learn more, click here.   (It’s also linked in this blog’s sidebar from now to year-end.)
  • USAToday’s religion page notes the proliferation of student atheist groups on college campuses in this article. “At Iowa State, most of the club’s roughly 30 members are “former” somethings, mostly Christians. Many stress that their lives are guided not by anti-religiousness, but belief in science, logic and reason.”
  • In a 7-minute video, author Stephen K. Scott, author of The Greatest Words Ever Spoken, discusses The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived.   Scott went from failing in nine jobs to starting over a dozen multi-million dollar companies.   Read the book promotional vid here.
  • Time Magazine discusses the “helicopter parent” syndrome in a 4-page online article titled “The Growing Backlash Against Over-parenting.”   Strongly recommended for parents, grandparents, daycare workers, educators, etc.   Click here to read.
  • This one’s a bit dangerous, since the website WTFDIB stands for ‘What the Flippity-Flop Do I Believe?’  I know that when most of you see WTF in an acronymn, that’s not the first thing that comes to mind.   That may explain the rather slow traffic on this doctrinal discussion site.  Maybe you can spark a few of the discussions.

HT re. Time Magazine article goes to Zach Neilsen at Take Your Vitamin Z

They’re golfing.  On the Links.   Get it?   Okay, I’ll just put the cat up again next week like we usually do.

November 24, 2009

Another Look at Shoeboxes

For many years now, I’ve been a huge fan of Franklin Graham’s Operation Christmas Child project.   To see the look of ecstasy on the faces of the children in the promotional videos is to really know the joy that comes with giving even something small.

To critique the program would be unthinkable.   It would be like criticizing motherhood or apple pie or little kittens.   But I have some concerns about this that I haven’t seen heretofore in print or online.   So I thought I’d wade out deep into dangerous waters:

  1. A lot of people fill their shoeboxes with trinkets from the dollar store.   When these items break — which they will — how will third world children deal with the disappointment that Western kids are accustomed to?   Especially if they don’t own much else.
  2. Which begs the question, how are such items disposed of — sooner or later — in countries that don’t have an active recycling program?   What happens to all those boxes?   As barren and arid as some of those places are,  dotting the landscape with red and green boxes seems a bit irresponsible.   Maybe they can use the boxes for something.
  3. What’s the mileage on some of the trinkets and toys?    Check out the country of origin, factor in the purchase point in the U.S. as an example, and then plot the destination point.   We’re talking major carbon footprints.   And not the Margaret Fishback Powers kind of footprints.
  4. What about the inequities of what the kids receive?   One kid gets a cuddly Gund-type plush animal, while another gets socks.   I would be the kid getting the toothpaste and cheap sunglasses, while my friend would get some kind of awesome musical instrument toy.   Socks don’t make noise.  I would learn jealousy and covetousness all in a single day.
  5. Which begs the question, is there ever theft?   World wars have started over lesser things.    Do kids in faraway places take the inequities into their own hands?    Do they revere the licensed pencil case more than the one with geometric shapes and colors?   Is there trading?   If so, who sets the rules?
  6. Maybe not.   Maybe they share better than kids in the West do.   But somewhere along the line, it’s got to create a situation of personal private property.    I live on a street with ten houses where everybody owns a lawnmower.   We all could probably get by with one or two.   What I really need is access to a lawnmower.   But human nature being what it is, it rarely works that way unless you’re Shane Claiborne, or you live on an Operation Mobilization ship, or you’re one of the aging hippies living in the Jesus People project in inner-city Chicago.   (Apologies to Glenn Kaiser.)
  7. What about expectations?   If my kids don’t get what they’re hoping for there is always a great disappointment, and trust me, this year they aren’t getting what they’re hoping for.   Reminds of me that old song, “Is That All There Is?”   Some people get downright depressed after Christmas.   BTW, anyone remember who the artist was on that song?
  8. What’s the follow-up for the giver?   None.   Unlike sponsored children — which is another discussion entirely — the gift is really a shot in the dark, unless in next year’s video you happen to see a kid opening a box containing a rather unique action figure and a pair of furry dice which you know could only have come from your attic storage the year before.   (But furry dice?  What were you thinking?   The kid’s expression is going to be somewhat quizzical…)

Okay, so maybe the good outweighs any potential downside.   But it’s philosophy that I majored in, so somebody’s got to view things from outside the box — the shoebox in this case — once in awhile.    That’s why I call it thinking out loud.

December 1st update:  Don’t miss the comment here by Sarah and the link it contains.

November 23, 2009

Apologetics Come to Life in Drama DVD

As a huge fan of David Gregory’s book Dinner With a Perfect Stranger, I finally got around to watching the short film The Perfect Stranger which was made several years ago based on the book.  (Not to be confused with Halle Barry and Bruce Willis picture of the same name.)

No, I’m not one of those conservative Christians who is afraid to use the word movie, but with the main body clocking in at only 70 minutes, film seems the better word.   Interviews with the two main cast members and the director — curiously and awkwardly embedded in the closing credits — keep things running past the 90 minute mark.

Gregory’s book could be classified as fiction or apologetics, depending on how you read it.    It certainly incorporates a lot of teaching in the narrative; the kind of Socratic dialog that The Shack is now famous for.    If you’ve taken even the most basic course in personal evangelism, the content of this is nothing new.   However, for a friend, neighbor, relative or co-worker, this could be the ‘tract’ you’ve been looking for.

Basically, The Perfect Stranger is to any other apologetics video what the H2O Course is to the Alpha Course. It brings the issues of faith and doctrine to life in the form of Nikki Cominksy,  a young wife and mother; and her dinner companion who may or may not be Jesus Christ.   Yes, that’s Nikki — female — not Nick as in the print version.

If you missed the novel, basically the lead character is given a written invitation to have dinner at a favorite restaurant, signed by someone claiming to be Jesus Christ.   Fearing a trick by people in the office — more so in the print version — but wanting to enjoy the free meal, the offer is taken up.   Having a female lead in the movie version just adds to the vulnerability.

But then it gets complicated.   In the print sequel, A Day With A Perfect Stranger, it is the wife who meets the same stranger on an airplane.   In a film version of that second novel; the couple’s daughter, Sarah, is now older and on her way to college when she encounters Another Perfect Stranger. That one, I haven’t seen yet.

Nikki is played earnestly and sincerely by Pamela Brumley, while Jesus Christ is played by Jefferson Moore, who is also credited as the writer of the “original” screenplay, though it appears to follow the heart and soul of the book rather closely.   The quality of the DVD is not bad, although stretching out the introductory scenes, so we could get to know Nikki better might have helped, as the picture advances rapidly to the actual dinner.

As stated previously, if you’ve got friends who have questions about religion in general and/or Christianity in particular, this could be the gift or witness item you’re looking for.   Watch it yourself first, and be prepared for the follow up discussion that will almost certainly arise.

Note: In the U.S. both movies are also available in a two disc set at $29.99 US; both films retail individually for $14.99 US each.  The books are still in hardcover only (and large print hardcover) and are also available in a set or individually.

November 22, 2009

Worship Service Order Written in Stone

Filed under: Uncategorized, worship — Tags: , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 1:54 pm

The church we visited this week incorporates a rather bizarre mixture of informality and tradition.    By that I don’t mean that they blend contemporary and liturgical forms; no, that would be welcome.    Instead, there is a very specific order of worship from which there has never — in the last 15 years — been and possibly never will be any variance.

It’s most evident in the arrangement of the worship songs which always consists of:

  • two songs at the beginning
  • three songs in the middle
  • one song at the end, which must be an upbeat song of celebration, not the more contemplative type of piece you might get after the sermon in other churches.*

Some of the worship songs can be engaging and give voice to the worship inside of you that you are longing to give back to God; but once you know the formula, it’s really like trying to put your worship in a box, when in your spirit you know it’s longing to break free.

Furthermore, in the middle set, just as the spirit of the worship may begin to be really moving, it’s time to sit down again.    Week after week, it’s the same;

  • two songs at the beginning
  • three songs in the middle
  • one song at the end

If we look at I Corinthians 14, we see a picture of the early church that incorporates orderliness and spontaneity.   It’s hard to imagine the enactment of something so formulaic, let alone the mentality that would even want to suggest such a thing.

In verse 26, we see worship originating in a variety of contributors, a kind of melting pot of ingredients that many of the house church proponents are quick to note works well in that setting:

26 So here’s what I want you to do. When you gather for worship, each one of you be prepared with something that will be useful for all: Sing a hymn, teach a lesson, tell a story, lead a prayer, provide an insight. (The Message)

26 Well, my brothers and sisters, let’s summarize. When you meet together, one will sing, another will teach, another will tell some special revelation God has given, one will speak in tongues, and another will interpret what is said. But everything that is done must strengthen all of you.  (New Living Translation)

However, in verses 33 and 40 we’re reminded:

33 For God is not a God of disorder but of peace. (New International Version)

33 When we worship the right way, God doesn’t stir us up into confusion; he brings us into harmony. (The Message)

40 But let everything be done in a right and orderly way. (New Century Version)

While their available worship repertoire was probably much more limited than ours is today, I believe they sang their hearts out.   Some of the songs were probably celebratory, but at other times, when they paused to remember Christ’s broken body and shed blood, I’m sure they sang softly and reverently.   At times, I’m sure they sang until their voices gave out.

There were probably a number of spiritual and cultural parameters that were different in their day than ours, but I think if those early Christians could somehow time-travel to our era, they would be both amazed and appalled by the 2-3-1 worship ritual.

I think that those set apart for worship planning and execution have to frequently ask the WWECD question:  What Would the Early Church Do?

* This is essentially what might be called George Costanza Worship, the philosophy of which is, ‘leave them on a high note.’  Instead of being a vehicle for allowing people to leave invigorated and ready to face the week ahead, it has the effect of allowing you to forget any application you might take away from the sermon you just heard.


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