Thinking Out Loud

October 18, 2014

Catch a Falling Star

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I started immersing myself in the Christian blogosphere at least a year before beginning to write my own, so I’m guessing it’s been at least nine years now. During that time I have unfortunately been made aware of the different tribes that exist among my fellow believers, and the degree to which tribal convictions isolate us from each other. While I enjoy the exchange of ideas that can pleasantly take place among those of divergent views, I have also seen firsthand the dismissive attitude that plagues attempts at conversation between people of differing doctrinal positions.

Despite this, there has been another feature of my personal ‘Christian internet story arc’ that involves people of all stripes, and that is the world of Christian publishing. Regardless of rapture views, Bible translation preferences, opinions on predestination, or positions on a variety of gender issues, popularity online usually precedes a book deal.

I have the luxury now of sometimes receiving books unsolicited, but most of the review books I get are things I have specifically requested. For that reason, my library is filled with authors who, at the time, I had enjoyed reading online and wanted to be in a position to promote their published works to others. Always, the books fulfilled expectations since the writing in question was already a known commodity.

Often it is the case that an author’s first book is the best. It says all the things they have most wanted to say. It is often birthed in the heart of the writer before any deal has been signed and there is any sense of deadline. At minimum, the author is offered a two-book deal, and while some authors just keep getting better and better with each new release, with others, the second book now imposes a commitment that must be met, a homework assignment that must be completed.

At the same time, the author is now devoting more of their attention to the book writing and dealing with the enhanced profile that has come with having a title in print. So the blog writing, the thing that brought them to the attention of publishers, often begins to suffer.

In other cases, to paraphrase Andy Warhol, their fifteen months of fame run out, and the attention has turned to newer voices. If they are pastors, their church growth possibly plateaus, if they are musicians, their new album doesn’t generate the same sales.

As a teenager I had one particular nerdy hobby: I would compose my own music charts. Working from the charts of other radio stations with a bias toward the music my friends and I liked, I sat the keyboard weekly and compiled my own Top 40 that was seen by a very select few each week and stored in a number of 3-ring binders. There was no direct benefit to me or anyone else, though I must say that I was faithful to it, just as I try to be faithful here on the blog on a daily basis.

I quickly learned the dynamics of charts. As the “last week” position was typed next to the “this week” ranking, it was obvious that some songs were still gaining traction while others were starting to wane. This of course, was in the days before SoundScan where titles now enter the chart at #1 and then begin a slow descent.

Today, I don’t bother trying to track book sales with the same diligence, though I do compile a chart for the Christian retail store I am involved with at least twice a year. But it is clear that there are always rising stars and falling stars both in micro terms of individual titles and the macro career of certain authors.

As I type this, we’ve watched another development take place in the plummeting of a particular pastor’s influence and credibility. While it saddens many as it should, there are others waiting in the wings to take his place.  Whether you get 15 months of attention, or only Warhol’s 15 minutes, the celebrity hunger in all of us keeps us scanning the horizon for the next big thing.

In Psalm 75 we’re told it is God who doles out promotion, honor, exaltation, lifting up. I don’t know why certain church plants go from zero to ten thousand in two years while others never receive the attention that results from significant metrics. I don’t know why great books languish on the shelves and end up in the remainder bins while others seem to crack the bestseller lists effortlessly.

I also know that within me is a desire to jump on the bandwagon only because sometimes that seems consistent with the idea of coming alongside where the Holy Spirit is moving. But is that always the case, or does human effort dictate what becomes Christian celebrity?

In show business there is saying that “The people you meet on the way up are the people you meet on the way down.” (The original suggests kindness to those people you meet, because of the eventual re-acquaintance.) It’s exciting to watch stars rise, it is sometimes painful to watch them fall. Both are taking place all the time, and sometimes there is a comeback or a second career.

The current chart status of a Christian celebrity is in no way a measure of their spiritual life, but their changing relative influence is part of watching an endlessly shifting landscape.

 

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March 14, 2012

Wednesday Link List

Some weeks the link list is more a collection of bizarre news stories and other weeks it’s more a collection of solid items promoting deeper Christian thought and growth. This week is one of the latter; more than dozen excellent pieces which all could have landed here as their own blog post and discussion. Get a coffee and come back to the computer for a longer stay.

  • Because the wearing of crosses isn’t a requirement of the Christian faith, the European Court of Human Rights will be asked to rule that no Christian has a religious right to do so. It’s that position versus two British women who want to argue for the right in a case with wide ranging consequences.
  • Not related, but this week I happened on a January blog post by John Voelz explaining why his church forgoes having a cross in exchange for a variety of other Christian symbols.
  • Ed Young cites Willie George Ministries’ article 18 Lessons in 20 Years. A must read for pastors, executive pastors and church board members.
  • Relevant Magazine reports that the sexual revolution is hitting singles in the church just as hard as those outside the faith circle. Whatever happened to True Love Waits?
  • Also at Relevant, Jim Henderson shares an excerpt from his new book, Resignation of Eve: What if Adam’s Rib Is No Longer Willing to be the Church’s Backbone? The chapter asserts that women are the church’s most wasted resource.
  • Michael Lawrence revisits the issue of “belonging before believing” that is popular today in many faith communities. He says the concept is just creating confusion on both sides of the equation.
  • How well do you know that person who sat next to you last Sunday? Russell D. Moore says that “imposters love the church.” This begs the question, “But why, when there is so much opportunity for debauchery out there in the world around us, do such people choose the church?” Sample answer: “..I think it’s because deception can look a lot like discipleship…”  Take some time working through this one.
  • At Church Central Leadership Community, Mitch Todd challenges the whole notion of creating comfortable environments for those who attend. He suggests that it simply isn’t working, and you would do better to hold your next worship service in a sewer. Well, he almost says that.
  • A well known sect that began alongside the Jesus Movement of the ’70s is slowly moving from a cultic to more orthodox profile. Canadian cult-watcher James Beverley reports on the Children of God.
  • In a major in-depth piece, CNN’s Belief Blog reports on the Mormon crackdown on proxy baptisms, the practice wherein a young person is baptized in place of a deceased person. Certainly, they want to stop the attention currently being drawn to this peculiar rite in the wake of media reports of proxy immersions on behalf of confirmed Jews.
  • Cate MacDonald writes at World Magazine that Bear Grylls and Justin Bieber both say they are Christians but don’t go to church: “The contemporary aversion to church membership is a common response to secular criticisms, but these high-profile Christians might be doing more harm than good. …America’s youth need examples of people who live vibrant Christian lives in the public eye, and encourage them to do the same.”
  • Henry M. Imler hauls out a 2007 study on how heading off to college affects a student’s faith. If you’ve got kids heading off this fall — or there already — this is a must read.
  • Rev. Bob Larson, where have you been? Well, he turns up on Anderson Cooper last week with three teenage girls in tow, who have been trained by Larson to perform exorcisms by the thousands. But Cooper thinks their answers are far too rehearsed, and it’s hard not to agree with him.
  • Two vastly different links from author Karen Spears Zacharias. The first, rather mundane, finds her and husband Tim cleaning up after Wal-Mart
  • …The second one — a book excerpt — is much more sobering. Karen visits a family where a young single mother, now wheelchair-bound, returns to her son and parents after eight months of therapy following being struck by train. Her father sees it all as an answer to prayer. You’ll need to read this twice, and with a box of tissue. You’ll also think of someone to forward this to, I’m sure.
  • Can you stand one more article about ABC-TV’s GCB? This one is worth checking. Are we upset about what the show says about us, or upset about what it says about God? Pastor Jeff has met all kinds of Christians, but says the people in the show are strangers to him.
  • Finally, on the lighter side, Tim Stafford has decided, in the interest of balance I’m sure, to list ten reasons why men should not be ordained. Yes, it says men.

A younger Robert H. Schuller preaches on the roof of the snack bar of the drive-in theater on the site that years later would house the Crystal Cathedral. This Orange County Register photo appeared marking the announcement last week of Schuller's resignation from ministry. Click the image to read the whole story at OC Register.

December 7, 2010

The Schuller Family: For Greater Contrast, Skip a Generation

See info below re. these pictures

This blog has already been both a news source and sounding board for the continuing drama at the Crystal Cathedral that I am in two minds about this particular blog post.

However, Nicole Santacruz at the L.A. Times has written such a definitive article — even after it seems so much has already been written — that I cannot help but link to it here, and also respond to it.

The article begins not with the juxtaposition of Robert H. and Robert A., but skips a generation and looks at the contrast — and perhaps a few similarities — between Cathedral Founder Robert H. and grandson Bobby, who pastors The Gathering, just a few miles down the road.

The third-generation Schuller hopes to do what the landmark — and now bankrupt — Crystal Cathedral has apparently failed to: evolve with the times.

Bobby’s church, The Gathering, takes a low-key approach to worship. Sunday’s services aren’t in an opulent church. Young band members open the service, and it’s intimate — people don paper name tags and shake hands. All of these elements represent a “post-boomer” style of worship popular with 20- to 40-year-old Christians, said Richard Flory, a sociologist of religion at USC.

But the article goes beyond mere color commentary; here’s a take on the big glass church in Garden Grove:

“They are totally outdated,” Flory said. “They are so committed to a plot of land and a building, and they’ve got a problem.”

And this look at the annual “Glory of Christmas” pageant:

The Christmas production would begin to signify a culture of extravagance within the church: More than a dozen angels in white chiffon flew overhead, professional singers replaced volunteers, and live camels and donkeys took the stage.   (Emphasis added.)

And this interesting sidebar, a revelation about a production few of us had heard of:

[I]n 2005, Carol Schuller Milner, the third Schuller daughter, produced a multimillion-dollar pageant called “Creation,” which was poorly attended and never staged again.

Robert A.’s daughter provides some good insight:

“When you have a dynamic where faith, fame and family are all involved, it becomes difficult to prioritize faith,” she said. “Instead it becomes part of this mixture of family dynamics and fame dynamics.”

And the article also raises another issue, one being dealt with by multiplied numbers of churches:

“I think it’s true that any congregation has to figure out how its style of ministry affects more than one generation.” said Wes Granberg-Michaelson, general secretary for the Reformed Church in America, the denomination to which the Crystal Cathedral belongs. “You see evidence of that in Bobby’s service.”

Bobby, who’s now 29, gets the last word:

Bobby Schuller is an innovator like his grandfather, but the way he delivers his message of Christianity is drastically different. The stereotypical church, he said, is about a perfect building filled with perfect people, music and a perfect preacher.

“In other words, it’s not like life,” he said…

…Volunteers set up for the service each Sunday and take down the chairs and tables that afternoon. When the work is done, they all go out for pizza. More than 90% of church funds go toward social justice issues such as homelessness and domestic violence.

“Our goal is to make big Christians, not big churches,” he said.

There’s more to the L.A. Times article.   I’ve excerpted a few sections here only because many of you don’t take the time to click the link, but hoping you will, here is the story link again.

Recent coverage here of the Crystal Cathedral saga:

…and also…

  • Wednesday Link List from a few days ago, with the link to a very recent, unscheduled TV interview Robert A. did with 100 Huntley St.

About the photos:   I decided we needed a different kind of photo of the big glass temple, and in searching for an arial photo, came across this one from Google Earth that had been posted at the site Sacred Destinations, and decided to take a chance on the copyrighted photo as well.  (If it’s not there, I lost that battle!)   I got to visit the original Garden Grove Community Church in 1979, and then my wife and I did the larger facility in 1989.  There are additional photos and story at that website.

September 29, 2010

Wednesday Link List


Another mid-week pause to look at some reading I did this week.

  • Our upper and lower comic selections this week are some Christian themes found at the daily newspaper comic, Pardon My Planet.  (Click the individual images…)
  • Here’s a controversial youth ministry concept:  Killing off the youth group as a separate entity within the larger church.   Links to video.
  • In the wake of the whole Glenn Beck thing, Parchment and Pen dusts off the classic question, Are Mormons Christians?
  • Even back in Augustine’s day, the church wrestled with the issue of celebrity conversions, and you may be surprised by his conclusion.
  • Here’s a trade review (for bookstore people) of a little 300-word title for kids and parents titled Our Home is Like a Little Church, a local-church publishing project that got picked up for national distribution.
  • If you found late-night TV Bible teacher Gene Scott quirky, you’re gonna see a similarity in these video clips from corporal punishment advocate Mike Pearl.
  • Another HT to Zach at Vitamin Z:  What constitutes “regular” church attendance?   This is a real issue both for families and for church leaders.    Here’s a comment from a pastor at one of Mark Driscoll’s satellite campuses.
  • Speaking of Mr. D., here’s a sometimes heated 12-minute discussion between him, Mark Dever and James MacDonald on the whole wisdom of multi-site churches.
  • Zac Hicks looks at the lack of spiritual warfare themes in modern worship in a piece on Why the Devil Hates “A Mighty Fortress is our God.”
  • Pete Wilson introduces Stephanie, who is willing to step out and share her story in a five-minute video, highlighting how so many of us have a need for approval.
  • On the occasion of the 25th Anniversary of RZIM, Ravi Zacharias appoints Rick Pease as the new president of the apologetics ministry organization.   Link opens direct to an mp3 file of their radio broadcast.
  • Yes, as a matter of fact some people have updated Bishop Eddie Long’s Wikipedia page.
  • Was it atheists and agnostics or Evangelicals who scored the highest on the ABC News response to the Pew Forum religious knowledge test?  Watch the video or read the story.

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