Thinking Out Loud

November 15, 2018

This is For All the Lonely People

Lorne Anderson is a Canadian living in Germany. This appeared on his blog earlier today.

Lonely People

Guest post by Lorne Anderson

As an introvert, I try my best not to overload on people contact. I need space and solitude.

I’ve come to the realization that is one of the reasons why learning German is difficult for me. It is not just that the language is hard, but I was also thrown into a classroom with a bunch of people I didn’t know and expected to interact. Tough to withdraw into your shell in a such a situation.

Despite my preferences, I understand the need for human contact. Living a solitary life isn’t healthy, no matter how appealing it is. When my wife wants to invite someone over, I usually agree. And enjoy myself.

I am introverted, but not shy. I have no difficulty standing on a platform speaking to thousands of people at a concert, as I have had to do from time to time in my radio career. But that is something that comes with the job, not out of my desires.

Most people, I think, crave human interaction far more than I do. And with the social changes of the past 50 years or so, people are getting far less of that interaction than they want or need. As a result, many people are lonely.

I suppose it was inevitable that government would step in to deal with the loneliness problem. The United Kingdom now has a Minister of Loneliness. I seem to recall hearing that other jurisdictions are introducing similar positions. To say I have mixed feelings about that is an understatement.

I applaud that the problem has been recognized, while at the same time decrying the solution. I don’t believe government has the answers to our problems; nor do I believe government is my friend. I’ve worked in politics; if I was lonely it wouldn’t be politicians I was turning to for companionship.

Dealing with loneliness may become one of the central issues of our time. We live in a world where it is increasing possible to be always connected to others through social media. In theory people should not feel lonely, surrounded as we are by so many others.

Yet social media does not bring with it intimacy. It may indeed discourage it. Your posts are there for the world to see. It makes sense therefore to hold back some of yourself rather than let your personality show, warts and all. After all, others may be judging you. Better to put your best face forward. But is your best face your real face? Do you trust people with the real you? And if not, does that holding back take a toll, isolating you and increasing the chances of being lonely. Just because there are always people around doesn’t mean that you have anything deeper than a superficial relationship.

Which is why I doubt that having a Minister of Loneliness can have positive effects, aside from providing jobs for some otherwise unemployable social science graduates (full disclosure – I am a social science graduate.).  Government no matter how well-meaning, isn’t going to find friends for me, or anyone else who needs them. If it tries, I suspect it would fail – despite data mining, it doesn’t know me that well.

At this point I could make some theological observations about human nature and being created in God’s image, which would be relevant but would also make this post longer than it should be. So, I’ll hold back on that thought, maybe for another day.

One basic observation though. I wonder if the cure for loneliness starts with cutting back on or even eliminating electronic communications? Maybe we would be less lonely as a society if we spent more time fact to face and less time face to screen.

It couldn’t be that easy, could it?

 

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April 14, 2018

When Religion Capitulates to the Broader Culture

We often encounter discussions under the general category, “Women in Ministry” and even the most staunch complementarians have to agree that in Christianity as a whole, changes are certainly afoot. While I lean more egalitarian, I do believe there are God-ordained differences between the sexes which could manifest themself in differing church leadership roles depending on the dynamics of the local church.

So it was with great interest this week that I came upon two different articles revealing that similar changes are happening in other faiths.

The first one was in our Wednesday collection of news stories. Mayim Bialik, an actress who played the lead in Blossom and also acts on The Big Bang Theory, is Jewish. She asks the question, “Ever heard of an Orthodox woman who holds a clergy position?” She then proceeds to profile “B’nai David-Judea, the only Orthodox synagogue in Southern California which employs a female clergyperson.” She speaks of “Using our evolving sense of obligation to modernity to find ways to let in more voices.”

Read that last sentence again. You don’t need to be Jewish to see the parallels between that perspective and what’s taking place in Mainline Protestantism and Evangelicalism. You can watch Mayim’s video at this link.

The second one was at Religion News Service, Jana Riess reporting on the Latter Day Saints (Mormon) Annual General Conference.  Among the takeaways she noted, “Sister Bonnie Oscarson, the outgoing Young Women president, gave a heartfelt plea for the Young Women to have important responsibilities in church and to feel that their contributions are valued;” and “Women spoke in three of four sessions…In the April 2017 conference, which featured thirty total speakers over four general sessions, only one woman—Primary president Joy Jones—spoke. One LDS viewer suggested on Twitter on Saturday that it would be great to hear from one woman during each general session, bringing the ratio of male to female speakers to something more like six or seven to one. For this modest entreaty she received significant hateful pushback from some on Twitter as well as support from others.”

The rest of Jana’s article is at this link.

…So returning to Protestants and Evangelicals, inasmuch as we see a broader trend taking place, we have to ask ourselves if we move with those trends simply because we are caving into societal pressure.

For Evangelicals, the bottom line is always, “What does the Bible teach?” But with, for example, the Apostle Paul’s statements on women, some will easily prefer to choose the interpretive analysis as the reason for opting out of traditional teaching. ‘Yes;’ we will say, ‘This is what the church has commonly understood this passage to mean, but we now understand the Greek word [insert Greek word here!] actually meant something in that time closer to [insert different meaning here!].’

This same reasoning is used with the very same apostle when it comes to homosexuality. Without taking sides on this, presently it’s clear that many contextual studies and word studies are brought forward which suggest that Paul was speaking to something other than that which is usually assumed and, Voila! We suddenly find ourselves in a different paradigm.

But that doesn’t mean everyone buys in. These issues can be quite divisive.

In the Roman Catholic Church, change is more stringently created and applied. The Pope merely needs to publish an encyclical redefining the role of women (or other such issue) and the new guidelines would be in effect overnight, but basically there would also be an appeal to a newer, higher understanding of the original Greek or Hebrew texts. He cannot just change the rules out of nothing — out of thin air — there would need to have been significant study.

So again, it’s interpretive.

But how does the book on which we base everything so important and so vital to our faith lend itself to so much interpretation? When absolutes are crumbling? Is this what Jesus means by “knowing in part and understanding in part;” or what Paul himself means by “seeing through a glass darkly;” the still-used KJV rendering of a metaphor in 1 Corinthians which has a variety of expressions.

Are we capitulating to the culture? Or is the culture a catalyst for an awakening of sorts?

The related question: While the deity of Christ and his death and resurrection are absolutes, are there other things which are negotiable?

 

March 22, 2018

Marriage and Marijuana: When the Rules Change

Changes in the law are often viewed from a variety of vantage points.

I often wonder what happens when someone who has done prison time for pot possession thinks as they see state after state making weed legal. Or the person who was persecuted by family or friends for their homosexual cohabitation watching gay marriage legalized.

I realize that most of the people reading this fall into neither category. You may not directly know people who do. However, such individuals would have a rather different perspective on changing legislation in various states as well as Canada.

The end result of what pilots call a “graveyard spiral.”

Then there are those who will simply use this as an example of how society is going downhill; to use an aviation term, the graveyard spiral of society. It’s great sermon material if you want to get people revved up; what Skye Jethani would call pandering to the Fear-vangelical mindset.

But there’s another viewpoint I was considering today: The youth.

In particular, what does all this look like from the point of view of a child who is too young to smoke weed and too young to enter into a marriage relationship?

In some ways, it sends this message: If you wait long enough it — whatever it is — will eventually be made legal.

I know you’re thinking, ‘Yes, but some things are absolutely wrong and not subject to discussion.’

Really? Take the commandment, “Thou shalt not kill” and then consider euthanasia, abortion or (for some) even war itself.

“Thou shalt not bear false witness.” What about lying where it is expedient, or situation ethics, manipulation of statistics, or the popular term today, fake news?

Again, I’m not talking about the “moral decay” itself, but about the appearance all this must present to young people who see nothing as absolute. Rules regulating behavior and lifestyle appear as in flux or in transition with no fixed reference points.

I’ve noted elsewhere on the blog that rules are often created at one time or for one group of people or in one particular place; whereas principles are timeless and transcend the limits of who they apply to or where they apply. The rules derive from the principles.

So in a world where alcohol is in common use, the addition of marijuana to the recreational mix may not appear to reflect a change in principles, but a kid or young teen doesn’t know that.

To children and youth, as things are subject to constant revision and updated legislation, all bets are off when it comes to whether anything is truly wrong.

August 22, 2017

Church Life: Special Music

In a majority of the middle part of the last century, a feature of Evangelical church services was “the special musical number” or “special music” or if the church didn’t print a bulletin for the entire audience, what the platform party often logged as simply “the special.”

While this wasn’t to imply that the remaining musical elements of the service were not special, it denoted a featured musical selection — often occurring just before the message — that would be sung by

  • a female soloist
  • a male soloist
  • a women’s duet
  • a men’s duet
  • a mixed duet
  • a mixed trio
  • a ladies trio
  • an instrumental number without vocals

etc., though usually it was a female soloist, who, in what would now be seen as an interruption to the flow of the service, would often be introduced by name. “And now Mrs. Faffolfink, the wife our beloved organist Henry, will come to favor us with a special musical number.” This was followed by silence, with the men on the platform party standing as the female soloist made her way to the microphone. (We’ll have to discuss ‘platform party’ another time.)

While the song in question might be anything out of the hymnbook, these were usually taken from a range of suitable songs from the genre called “Sacred Music” designed chiefly for this use, compositions often not possible for the congregation to sing because of (a) vocal range, (b) vocal complexity such as key changes, and (c) interpretive pauses and rhythm breaks. These often required greater skill on the part of the accompanist as well.

A well known example of this might be “The Holy City” which is often sung at Easter, though two out of its three sections seem to owe more to the book of Revelation. “The Stranger of Galilee” and “Master the Tempest is Raging” are two other well-known examples of the type of piece. Sometimes the church choir would join in further into the piece. (The quality of the performance varied depending on the capability of soloists in your congregation.)

By the mid-1970s commercial Christian radio stations were well-established all over the US, and broad exposure to a range of songs gave birth to the Christian music soundtrack industry. More popular songs were often available on cassette from as many as ten different companies. Some were based on the actual recording studio tracks of the original; some were quickly-recorded copies; and some of both kinds were offered in different key signatures (vocal ranges.) Either way, they afforded the singer the possibility of having an entire orchestra at his or her disposal, and later gave way to CDs and even accompaniment DVDs with the soundtrack synchronized to a projected visual background.

Today in the modern Evangelical church, this part of the service has vanished along with the scripture reading and the pastoral prayer. If a megachurch has a featured music item, it’s entirely likely to be borrowed from the Billboard charts of secular hits, performed with the full worship band.

This means there is an entire genre of Christian music which is vanishing with it. This isn’t a loss musically — some of those soloists were simply showing off their skills — as it is lyrically. The three songs named above were narrative, which means they were instructional. They taught us, every bit as much as the sermon did; and were equally rooted in scripture texts. The audience was in a listening mode, more prepared to be receptive. Early church historians will still despair over the passive nature of listening to a solo, but I believe the teaching that was imparted through the songs was worth the 3-4 minutes needed.

My personal belief is that this worship service element will return, albeit in a slightly different form, as congregations grow tired of standing to do little more than listen to pieces they can’t sing anyway because of vocal range or unfamiliarity. This may be taking place already in some churches.

We’ll be better served when that happens.

 

May 28, 2017

If This is Hipster Christianity, The Church is in Trouble

Filed under: Christianity, culture, media — Tags: , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:12 am

I will be the first to admit that not everything that appears on my computer screen in the course of a year is G rated. A few things might not even be PG-13. I tend to censor violence more than sex, but the latter has its limits; too far and we’ve crossed the line into p0rn0graphy. As for swearing, I find 99% of it unnecessary.

But nudity, sex and coarse language were what was on offer in the first episode of a 32-minute HBO series we tracked down and watched on Thursday night.

Why did we watch it?

It was the subject of a four-page spread in the current print of Relevant Magazine.

Of interest to Relevant were two things. First the setup: The key character is a former youth pastor who gets into stand-up comedy who discovers his wife is having an affair. Right away we see a conflict between the guy’s still-Christian worldview contrasted with what his wife has become and what the people in his profession already were. The second thing the magazine found interesting were a couple of clips where the same person is driving in New York listening to audio sermons by Joel Osteen.

I can see that from Relevant’s perspective the latter was a bit of a curiosity piece. It deserved one of those one-paragraph mentions in a sidebar toward the back, where the magazine offers a large variety of reviews of books, movies and music from both mainstream entertainment and Christian subculture.

But not four pages.

Furthermore, because the series is based on the actor’s real life, my wife wondered what the real life cheating spouse in the story would have to say about the manner in which she is portrayed. I trust the producers got her to sign a waiver.

I like Relevant. I often will check out their music reviews and then go to YouTube and listen to the solo artists and bands they feature. From that, I get to listen to some trending new music I might otherwise be oblivious to. I appreciate the book and movie reviews as well.

This was not that.

It was a four-page feature.

I really hope that in subsequent episodes of the series, there is something redemptive here that justifies the opener. I just would hate for anyone to be watching this because of a perception that Relevant had “recommended” it to readers.


I contacted Relevant Magazine online early Friday for a response but they did not reply.

 

 

June 14, 2016

What Every Conservative Christian Needs To Know About The Pride Flag

Today’s post needs a three point set-up. First of all, our friend Martin D. at Flagrant Regard broke radio silence with his first blog post in eight months. Second I believe he posted this before the news from Orlando hit; there is no direct connection as to the timing. Third, this begins with a distinctly Canadian perspective, but I think the rest of it is fully accessible to readers in various countries.

We wanted to share this with readers here, but I’m going to close comments so that you can respond directly at his blog. Click the title below, and then scroll down to “Comments Most Welcome.”

TRUE COLORS: What Every Conservative Christian Needs To Know About The Pride Flag

In light of two recent events; one being the declaration by mayor John Tory that June 2016 is ‘Pride Month’ in Toronto, and the other, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s hoisting the pride flag at the house of commons in Canada’s capital just over a week ago, it’s understandable why traditional or conservative Christians are a tad ticked off.

Most evangelicals and Roman Catholics continue to maintain that homosexuality or same-sex partnering/parenting is not God’s default design for men and women and believe it to be an outworking of the sinful nature. And because of that, they are annoyed at how much attention the pride movement gets. We’ve gone from years of having an entire week dedicated to pride celebrations to a month long event and hey, the way things are headed, 2017 is setting up to be Pride year and 2020 ‘ll be ‘Pride Decade’.

Since the early days of gay activism, the Pride flag has stood as the primary token for anyone celebrating the movement that declares ‘we are separate and different in our sexuality and are not going to stay quiet about it’. The proponents of the movement claim it’s about the freedom to love whomever they want, but let’s be real here – it’s about being fully open in regards to what kind of sex you want to have and with whom.

Stretching from the last quarter of the 20th century and up to the present day, conservative Christians have been angered that the pride movement ‘stole the symbol of the rainbow’ from God or God’s word and that their using it in their parades or as decorations for their front porch was blasphemous and highly disrespectful of the religious community.

But is that really what’s happened? Is the Pride flag even what we think it is?

Here’s a little bit of history:

According to Wikipedia, gay icon Harvey Milk encouraged homosexual activist Gilbert Baker to come up with a symbol of pride for the gay community. His original design was a flag consisting of 8 colors, starting with pink at the top (not a big surprise there!). Apparently, due to fabric unavailability, pink was dropped from the design between 1978 and 79. The flag’s design was left with the 7 colors that corresponded with nature during the formation of a rainbow or when pure light is refracted through a clear glass prism. Those colors are, in case you wondered,

Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, and Violet.

But then something interesting happened. By 1979, the Gay Pride Flag (as it was referred to back then – there was no LGBTQIA) was reduced from 7 colors to 6! Indigo and turquoise (turquoise is not a colour natural to rainbows, per se) were dropped in favor of Royal Blue.

Since then, this 6 colour combination has represented the pride movement and has been presumed by most, to represent the rainbow – an atmospheric phenomena and symbol that the God of Judaism gave Noah after the flood. For those rare few of you who don’t know the history – the flood – a world-wide event referenced by many cultures throughout the planet via writings or oral legends – was a real event. The Jewish or Old Testament take on it was that the earth was full of wickedness and had to be purged via a one-off deluge that would wipe out humanity save for one family that would afterward be responsible for repopulating the planet with hopefully less evil than had gone before them. At the end of the flood, and at God’s bidding, the rainbow appeared in the sky to Noah – patriarch of the rescued family – and represented the promise made by God to never fully waterboard humanity again.

Even though this information is out there, there will nonetheless be a lot of religious folk who get bent out of shape whenever they see the pride flag, believing their cherished faith or perceived symbols of their faith (namely the rainbow) are being flouted.

Maybe a different perspective here will help.

ONE: The pride flag doesn’t represent a real rainbow! It isn’t reflective of what occurs normally and naturally in the physical world. It is a banding of 6 – NOT 7! – colours that have absolutely nothing to do with God’s promises or the bible.

TWO: Even if the flag WERE a real rainbow and LGBTQIA folks were deliberately ripping it off from the bible to annoy conservative Christians who don’t acknowledge the pride movement or who don’t wish to give ascent to their sexual proclivities, they shouldn’t be surprised!

Committed Christians are told in Scripture that:

“At the end of time, some will ridicule the faithful and follow their lusts to the grave.” These are the men among you—those who divide friends, those concerned ultimately with this world, those without the Spirit.”
Jude, v.8

“Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you.”
1 John, chap. 3, v.13

“In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted…”
2 Timothy, Chap. 3, v.12

Bible-adherent Christians should expect to be called out or persecuted by those who don’t like them because of their stance on the Truth of God’s word and the healthy, holy direction God wants His children – his people – to follow.

If you are a conservative Christian who is annoyed by the pride-Nazis (those in-your-face proponents of the alternative-sexuality lifestyle) and their influence on society or the pride movement parades – grow a backbone!

Throw a heterosexual pride parade, write a blog-post about your beliefs or write your local politician stating that you are not standing with them if they decide to ride the Tranny-float down the main drag in your fine city. There are probably many things you can do but kvetching isn’t really one of them. Nonetheless, if you’re going to speak out against or attempt to hamper the pride movement’s influence through legal, worthwhile means, remember this one thing: GOD HELP YOU if you don’t love with all your heart every single person – gay or straight – that wants to attack you for what you believe and WHO you believe in.

We’re told to BLESS those who persecute us* – ‘Bless and do not curse’. Love and be ready to serve any and every LGBTQIA soul who does not love you and your reward in the next life is great! Don’t forget that.

Lastly – relax when it comes to the rainbow. It’s still yours … all 7 colors. It was never really taken from you. It’s still there echoing God’s promise to not super-soak humanity in a watery death. I think it’s more important that we realize that through Jesus, we all have been offered the waters of life. Waters that if imbibed of deeply and consistently – will alter us from the inside out and ensure His true colors come shining through – in our every word and every action.

© 2016 Flagrant Regard; Used by permission


* Paul’s Letter to the Romans, Chap. 12, Verse 14 &
Luke’s Gospel, Chap. 6, Verses 28-36

 

March 14, 2016

Untitled*

Filed under: Christianity, culture, parenting, Religion — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:41 am

*Because of the large amount of traffic this blogs gets from search engines, I did not want to add to the frenzy described below. I’ve deliberately left this article completely without tags and without a title, which means perhaps only subscribers will initially see it; but we’ll also link to it on Wednesday and on Twitter.

img 031416

This article started out as part of my weekly scan of blogs and news sites looking for material for the Wednesday Link List, a process which usually starts late on Sunday afternoon and continues right up to Tuesday evening. In the process this week I discovered that much has been written lately about the suicides of gay Mormon teens, youth who are part of the LDS Church who are also LGBT, or perhaps LBGT-friendly.

I started to type the link item:

  • Trend-Spotting: Suicides among LGBT Mormon teens under-reported?

Preston Sprinklewith the link, and then realized I had a much bigger subject to wrestle with. Coincidentally, last week I picked up a title in a recent review book box, Living in a Gray World: A Christian Teen’s Guide to Understanding Homosexuality which I have to assume is the youth edition of People to Be Loved: Why Homosexuality is Not Just an Issue released the same week in December by the same author, Preston Sprinkle, and the same publisher, Zondervan.

I’ve been reading the chapters a little out of order, though I did listen to the interview Preston did on the sometimes irreverent Drew Marshall Show (scroll down to February 13) which discussed the adult version.

I realize that for everyone this is the biggest social issue facing the church right now. It’s to the present generation of Christians what divorce was in the 1960s and ’70s. And for a variety of reasons, it impacts tweens, teens and twenty-somethings in a major way, though many of those reasons have either a direct or indirect connection to the social changes that have been brought about because of the internet.

Recognizing that much has already been written on this elsewhere, I want to return to the present item, the impact on Mormon teens. Here are just a few stories from January and February and some opening paragraphs.

The first is a general news story that has been reproduced in various forms in various media over the past two months:

Unraveling the Truth Behind Gay Mormon Youth and Suicide

While there are conflicting reports regarding numerous suicides involving LGBT Mormon youth, there’s no question that there’s been an increase of suicidal teens and twenty-somethings following the Church’s new antigay policy.

Instituted in November, the new rules label any Mormon in a same-sex marriage as an “apostate,” which could include excommunication from the church, and bars children of all same-sex couples from being baptized. Reaction to the new rules was swift, with thousands severing ties from the Church of Latter-Day Saints in response.

Three months on, the mental effect on Mormon youth is becoming clearer. “Therapists have seen an uptick in clients who reported suicidal thoughts,” the Salt Lake Tribune reported recently. “Activists have been bombarded with grief-stricken family members seeking comfort and counsel.” …

[…The substance of this article also appears here and here.]

The second piece introduces the official change that took place in the church that has triggered the present situation.

How the Mormon Church can (and will) overturn its new policy and embrace LGBTIs

[Note: This article is from a gay website]

I’m not your typical gay man – but I’m also not your typical Mormon.

From 2011 to 2013, I served as executive secretary in the bishopric of my home congregation in San Francisco as my authentic self – an openly gay man.

A major emphasis of what I’ve worked to accomplish over the past several years is mending the fences between the LGBTI community and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the wake of the Church’s misguided and damaging involvement in California’s Proposition 8.

And progress was indeed being made…

…But that took an abrupt turn in November of last year, when the church announced a new policy making apostates (people who renounced or abandoned their belief) of any LGBTI individual married to someone of the same gender.

…If that wasn’t bad enough, in January this year, a talk given by Russell M. Nelson, president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and next in line to be prophet and president of the entire church, pronounced the administrative policy a revelation from God, elevating it to near doctrinal status…

The third item indicates the problem is very widespread and goes beyond the number of kids who resort to suicide.

“Safe and Sound” seeks to get LGBT teens off the streets

A disproportionately high number of homeless youth trying to survive on the streets in Utah identify as something other than “straight.”

Homeless youth counselors say a large number of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender teens also come from Mormon homes — kicked out because they are gay.

“It’s awful. The stories we hear are just terrible,” said Marian Edmonds, the director of Ogden OUTreach, an LGBT community center in northern Utah.

At a panel discussion Tuesday night, Edmonds and others who work with these children spoke out about the problem — noting that as many as 40% of the estimated 1,000 homeless youth in Utah identify as LGBT…

I do not for a minute believe that the problem is limited to the LDS Church. I think it is a microcosm of what’s taking place when we extended the broadest definition of Christian, but that the recent Mormon pronouncement simply caused rapid acceleration of a trend that was already there.

img 031416aFor the rest of us, the issue is fraught with complexity. We don’t want to drive kids away from the church or from Jesus. Condemnation does that. On the other hand, we want them to see God’s ideal for family life. I often discuss this people in terms of

  • good
  • better
  • best

It avoids the use of “wrong” and is in fact closer to the Biblical definition of “missing the mark” (sin) which I touched on briefly in this article.

But we also don’t want to see parents, grandparents, siblings and extended family go through the pain and loss caused by suicide; or live with the knowledge that their son or daughter’s perceptions of the Christian message drove them to that act.

It’s easy to dismiss this as a “Mormon problem” when in fact I believe we haven’t yet seen the full impact of today’s Junior Highs and Middle School children who daily face social realities that are 180-degrees opposite to traditional Christian teaching.

I don’t — and I hope you don’t — believe for a minute that the intention of Jesus is that the standards set in Leviticus or in the Sermon on the Mount or in Paul’s writings were ever intended to drive children to live on the streets or even end their lives.

Compassion, not condemnation is what is needed at this stage.


title slide: Patheos

 

 

February 6, 2016

Can Internet Tirades Accomplish Any Good?

img 020616

It started with an article on Huffington Post. In A Tirade For The Trendy Church, writer Jack Levison described a field trip — he’s a professor at Seattle Pacific University —  to a hipster church where his non-conforming band of visitors was somewhat ignored by the regular attenders.

You don’t shake our hands.
You don’t smile.
You don’t tell us your name.
And admit it. You know we’re not one of yours…

And then:

I’m angry.
I’m bored by hipster inhospitality.
I’m irked by Bohemian indifference.
I’m annoyed by trendy aloofness.
No, that’s not right.
I’m sad. Disappointed that a church which, on its website, claims that thousands have been touched by its members, couldn’t greet strangers in their midst.

which I condensed and posted to Twitter with a link to the HuffPo story.

And then a longtime acquaintance replied:

I am bored of complaints about Churches, bored of complaints period, but I guess positive blogs don’t get noticed as much.

Which really got me thinking.

It got me thinking because the same thing happened to us, not once but three times as we occasionally frequented one of the more “cool” churches in another city. A church where the welcome time happens in the middle of the service with many types of beverages and snacks including fresh strawberries in February.

And we didn’t know anybody. And nobody wanted to know us.

So I Tweeted back:

I hear you. But the ignoring of visitors is a recurring theme in the modern church; something that needs to be addressed.

To which he replied:

I agree – but I still think to people who are not Christian it all sounds like whining and bickering.

I give him the last word:

Maybe instead of a blog post – they should request a meeting with the Pastor. This blog post doesn’t achieve anything.

It doesn’t?

So as I said I kept thinking about this for nearly two weeks. Here’s what I’ve concluded:

First, the airing of issues affecting the church on various forms of social media has helped bring about much positive change. Thanks to the whistle-blowers, the watchdog websites, the survivor blogs, the abuse confessionals; we have a handle on church life in North America, Australia/New Zealand, and Western Europe as never before. It’s now difficult for a pastor, or Christian author, or televangelist to act anonymously, secretly or with impunity. From megachurch pastors to shepherds of congregations that are lucky to get 50 people on a Sunday morning, everyone is subject to scrutiny; everyone is under the microscope.

As a result,we have unprecedented accountability. While this seems to reveal a horrid list of sins including financial improprieties, moral failures and control issues, I would argue that it also prevents a whole lot more from taking place. The walls have ears like never before. The internet makes it difficult for people acting inappropriately to do so in secret.

Second, with the internet there are few Christian-only websites, blogs and news feeds. Everything is open to the broader populace unless you go out of your way to restrict membership and require passwords. Even in those cases, there’s bound to be someone in the closed group who knows how to copy and paste. So my Twitter correspondent is correct, these things are seen by people who aren’t Christians.

To some, this probably does sound like bickering and whining; a tempest in a teapot if you will. But to me, it shows we’re willing to be transparent. It shows that our institutions, made up of people like ourselves, are fallible, fragile and fraught with failures. We, the church, are indeed the community of the broken. We get it wrong sometimes. And that hurts. We don’t meet our ideal targets.

Third, as a general rule, pastors are not interested in service reviews by people outside their community. As one church leaders said to me once in another context, “We’re here to serve our people, not the city of _______.” (Yes. Actual quote.) In other words, take it or leave it; we’re doing what we do, and if you come into it as an outsider, your perspective is irrelevant because we’re not here to serve you.

A meeting with the pastor is useless if you’re not part of the target demographic. It would be like me demanding to meet with my pastor to offer my opinions on having visited their women’s Bible study. (‘The leader didn’t make a single sports reference, and they served cupcakes instead of donuts.’) My opinion doesn’t matter in this context because I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

…I would definitely send the pastor a copy of the blog article after-the-fact though. Well, maybe. There are times you have to choose your battles. I’d like to think the pastor would think about maybe doing something to create a more welcoming church culture. But maybe he already knows. Maybe he’s satisfied with the status quo.

One more time, here’s the link to Jack’s article: A Tirade For The Trendy Church

 

April 12, 2015

Relevant Magazine and the Power of Print

Filed under: culture — Tags: , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:23 am

Relevant Magazine CoverAbout a year ago my church library started stocking Relevant magazine. As no stranger to the website, relevantmag.com, and having great familiarity with the parent company (Strang Book Group) that gave birth to Relevant Media Group, I could have easily passed the print version by, but decided to borrow one, you know, just in case I missed something. Since then I’ve been borrowing each one as Paul and Elaine, our church librarians, place it in the rack.

This article isn’t about the magazine per se, but rather about the appeal of the print edition. But as to the magazine, its target audience is Millennials and people like me who want to be younger, or at least think younger; and its distinctive is that as it reviews current culture (movies, music, books, television, YouTube, etc.) the writers are not afraid to blend together two worlds that some would call ‘the sacred and the secular.’ Their writer base is diverse as are their interview subjects, and many of the differences that create division between different tribes of Christianity are seemingly absent.

Back to print editions. The internet has been very kind to me, and I don’t want to bite the hand that feeds, but on Saturday afternoon I sat down with the physical copy around 4:30 and didn’t get up much before 5:30. Okay, maybe I’m a slow reader. And there was a short phone call. But there was something about getting lost in a magazine again that was, for lack of a better word refreshing not to mention that unlike the online experience, the print edition offers no off-ramps.

Relevant Magazine CoverI post this today simply to say I hope that Relevant does not go the way of other publications which have ceased print operations. At one time, CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) was the #1 Christian periodical, and now it is simply a web-only entity as is Discipleship Journal. Fortunately, Christianity Today and Leadership Journal (the latter of which employs me as a part-time writer) are also still in print.

As someone who is engaged in book sales, I obviously have a print-bias, but when you consider Relevant’s target market, and the presuppositions about that generation preferring to do everything online, the physical edition of the magazine is something I would hate to see lost to technological and economic factors. As the announcer says, “Available on fine newsstands everywhere;” I hope.

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