Thinking Out Loud

November 5, 2018

Where Does the Broader Society Get Its Standard for Correct Behavior?

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:52 am

Megyn Kelly, Roseanne Barr, Matt Lauer, Brian Williams; the list goes on.

Why are the people on our television screens held to such a high standard of correctness, while politicians seem to get a free pass?

Rudi Guiliani famously told NBC’s Chuck Todd that “Truth isn’t truth.” The network loves playing the clip as a Meet the Press promotional teaser. It sounds like a license to say anything. It doesn’t have to be rooted in facts. Why not, ‘Facts aren’t facts.’

Yet somehow, words seem to matter if they’re the wrong words spoken by the wrong person at the wrong time.

It’s as though the phrase actions speak louder than words has been turned on its head and is now words speak louder than actions.

Cross the wrong special interest group, culturally appropriate the wrong group of people and it can cost you your high paying job in entertainment, information or news.

These are interesting times.

All this can creep into the church as well. In some respects, we have a longer tradition of false piety, in particular when it comes to speech. Eugene Peterson has rendered a familiar passage in Matthew 5:

“And don’t say anything you don’t mean. This counsel is embedded deep in our traditions. You only make things worse when you lay down a smoke screen of pious talk, saying, ‘I’ll pray for you,’ and never doing it, or saying, ‘God be with you,’ and not meaning it. You don’t make your words true by embellishing them with religious lace. In making your speech sound more religious, it becomes less true. Just say ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ When you manipulate words to get your own way, you go wrong.” 

So how did the people in the list of names at the top of this piece lose their jobs? You can decry a “Godless world,” and yet there are standards to which people are held. Where did the world at large get those? 

Apologists are quick to seize on this and rightly so. If there is no God, is morality derived entirely from logic, or from the social contract theory? Certainly those play a part, but there is evidence that even in these pluralistic times,  Judeo-Christian moral teaching is looked on as authoritative. 

At least for the time being. 


We leave you with a pop song from 1982 by The Thompson Twins. However, as you listen keep in mind:

  • no one in the band is named Thompson
  • no one in the band is twins
  • the song is called “Lies.”


 

 

 

Advertisements

February 4, 2016

When Pastors and Church Leaders Tell Lies

Filed under: Christianity, Church, ministry — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:36 am

There is a general perception that policeman can run red lights and drive in excess of the speed limit, but it’s not the case. True, there are circumstances that might force someone in law enforcement to do either or both of these things, but generally, they are not above the law and not immune to prosecution if they are breaking the rules unnecessarily.

look closelySimilarly, one often runs up against people in church leadership who feel that situations require them to, for lack of a better word, make stuff up. A policy that exists absolutely nowhere in writing is suddenly invoked for the sake of convenience. Information important to a particular facet of church life is withheld for the sake of expediency.

When pastors misrepresent situations on a national or megachurch level — i.e. recent instances of book plagiarism — there are watchdog ministries that will call them out on it. When it happens at a local church level, we might hear of it through survivor and church abuse blogs.

Often however, the situations play out quietly at a local assembly level and in many cases, the parishioners don’t even know they’re being lied to. For example…

• • •

Anne had served her local church’s worship team for many years and helped in their transition from a hymn-based music format to a church known for leading the way in modern worship. She followed her husband to another church for a year, then returned for several years, and then disappeared to help with an inner-city church plant. Now she was ready to return and jump in with both feet.

Instead, summoned to a late-night meeting with a church deacon, she was told that her present status was: Visitor. No regard for the years she had poured into the music program. No recognition that this was the church where she was baptized and where her children were dedicated and where her husband had been on staff. She was told that people are uncomfortable being led in worship by someone they don’t know and they don’t have “guest” worship leaders.

Three weeks later, they had a “guest” worship leader.

It made everything the church leader had said to be a lie. Why do this? Why not simply say no? Perhaps he was threatened by the fact that she had more musical and spiritual leadership in her little finger than… well, you know. This after all, was a guy who, at one time, couldn’t do the “Welcome to our church” opening statement unless it was printed on a card, and yet in this situation, he was in leadership over her.

• • •

Ross was always amazed that his church seemed to end the year with a financial surplus. While everyone he talked to said their church was way behind on their budget, Cedar Ridge Neighborhood Church always had money left over.

There was a regional ministry several hours away that intersected with the life of the church and many other churches and families in their city. Not being supported by any particular denomination and benefiting only middle- and lower-income families, Ross occasionally took it upon himself to do some unofficial deputation for the organization and try to raise both their profile and support. So he asked if Cedar Ridge would consider putting them on their domestic missions budget.

Instead he was told that they didn’t simply make blanket donations to organizations, but gave their support only to individual missionaries or organization workers. Respecting the office of the church leader in question, Ross though somewhat disappointed that he had failed to make his case, accepted the response at face value.

It took a year, but finally Ross realized this was simply not the case when they handed out some huge donations to several organizations that were not even faith-based.

• • •

Sadly, the stories are true though the names are changed. They’re examples I was able to easily call out of memory, but don’t begin to scratch the surface of stories I’ve told where board members, elders, deacons, pastors, church staff, etc., had simply lied to save face or for the sake of convenience.

In the true spirit of grace and charity, I know the people involved in both above stories have “kept these things and pondered them in their heart” rather than go public. But the first example above was done in such a way that was abusive, and five years later, the scars of the late night meeting have never healed. That leader is currently in line for a position of greater profile and responsibility, and it’s very difficult for those of us who know the story to just sit back and not say anything, especially when the individual is otherwise so highly esteemed as a perfect example.

• • •

The scriptures at this morning’s Daily Encouragement reading were so timely:

“Be sure your sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23).

“Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).

“But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken” (Matthew 12:36).

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29).

 

February 12, 2015

The Sin of Embellishment

Filed under: Church, ethics — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:55 am

Brian Williams NBC Nightly NewsNightly News host Brian Williams was in a war zone traveling in a convoy of airplanes. One came under attack. It was not the plane in which Williams was a passenger. But over time the story morphed into one in which the aircraft he was in sustained mortar fire. Or something like that. The allegation is that the story was therefore falsified by a person of trust, a network news anchor.

He certainly embellished the story. Or fell victim to false memory syndrome. As a result, he’s been suspended, without pay, from hosting the NBC national newscast for six months.

Some say it’s the end of his career.

For readers here, I couldn’t help but notice the similarity between Williams’ embellishment and Mark Driscoll’s plagiarism, though in Driscoll’s case, it may have been but one of many issues that brought down the end of the Washington state megachurch franchise known as Mars Hill.

But when it comes to embellishment, we do this don’t we?

By this I mean both we as individuals, and we as the church.

Individually, we paint an artificial picture of ourselves on social media. We idealize our children’s accomplishments and our recent vacation. We make sure our profile picture minimizes silver hairs or bags under the eyes. We minimize reports of failures and defeats.

Corporately, churches are known for enhancing numbers: Attendance figures, budgets, baptisms, altar call responses, and the number of kids on the Sunday School bus. Whether you call it an ethical lapse or deliberate dishonesty depends on how you interpret what’s been said, where you set the bar, or perhaps recollection of your own failings in this department.

It’s certainly akin to the fishing story; each time around the size of the fish caught gets larger and longer.

We can avoid being guilty of deceit or falsification — those are harsh words after all — by using terms like “approximately” or “as I remember” or even the euphemistic “evangelically speaking;” but the fact remains we tend to recollect the data in an upwards, not downwards direction.

So we need the Brians and the Marks; they serve to remind us that being ‘lax with the facts’ can catch up to us, that sometimes we have to pay the price for not being people whose accounts of things are reliable and dependable. We have to face the consequences of what scripture might describe as not ‘letting our yes be yes and our no be no.’

April 6, 2010

What Preoccupies You Most?

Yes, the title of this blog post is a tautology.   Get over it.

…A long time ago in a galaxy far away I was asked on a regular basis to do the Sunday morning sermon in a variety of churches.   One of these was the kind of church where they like to have the congregation follow along with a fill-in-the-blanks outline page.

While going through a drawer a few weeks ago I discovered a stack of outline blanks for one particular sermon, and decided to see if I could guess what the missing words were.

It wasn’t rocket science.   But there at the end of the outline was my message conclusion; it said “Three Questions.”

  1. .
  2. .
  3. .

So what were those questions?   (I just reminded myself of the time that George Carlin was on The Tonight Show talking about his new comedy album, The Seven Words You Can’t Say On Television, and Carson asked him, “So George, what are those words?”)

So what were those questions?  (Okay, that time I reminded myself of Alec Baldwin’s character in 30 Rock, Jack Donaghy, who watches a video of himself at age 12 getting all excited opening a birthday present, but you can’t actually see the gift itself, and it drives him nuts trying to remember or figure out what it was.)

So what were those questions?

I started to think back to a different stage in my spiritual pilgrimage and the things that would have been uppermost in my mind at that time.   What are the three questions I would have my audience of that day — or my blog readers today — ask themselves?

  1. What’s the first thing you think about when you get up in the morning? — I got this from Pat Robertson’s original autobiography, Shout it from the Housetops. He was a local church pastor, but one of his church board members was trying to make the point that Robertson was more obsessed with starting a Christian television network than he was with leading a church congregation.   (He jokingly added, “The first thing I think about is wishing you [the church board member] would get saved…”)    Still, regardless of what you think of Pat Robertson — and I won’t post comments on that subject — it’s still a good question to address.
  2. What do you talk about when it’s your chance to control the conversation? — I owe a debt to a Christian & Missionary Alliance young adults pastor for this one, but I can’t remember if it was Mike Wilkins or Bill McAlpine.   Analyze yourself and others to see to what people turn their attention when the conversation reaches a “redirect” point.   “Out of the abundance of the heart… ”  “Whatever is in your heart determines what you say…”  (NLT version of Matthew 12:34) “It’s your heart, not the dictionary, that gives meaning to your words.”  (Same vs., The Message)
  3. What do you want your life to be remembered for? — No HT on this one, I had just written a song a year earlier with the same theme.  (It had seven — count ’em, seven verses!  You think these blog posts are long?)    Everyone of us is writing a story, leaving a legacy.   If you could get a few paragraphs in Wikipedia after you’re gone, how would those sentences read?

I think it’s good stuff to consider.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.