Wednesday, December 29, 2004

225 Would a church try this hard?

Today I got another mailing from a Christian music club--one of those 12 CDs for the price of one deals. I'm not sure how they've found me, because we've moved since I told them in no uncertain words that I wanted OUT OUT OUT of that confusing, ridiculous points and bonus and "act now" membership. Today's letter was from the President. Calling me by my personal name he wrote:

"When I took this job, I asked my new staff lots of questions. One of those questions was about you:

Why do we lose good members like Norma?

After all, since you joined the Club in January 2001, you saved $50.94 on CDs. But you left anyway.

Clearly, we needed to do a much better job for you. So I made some key changes. In this letter, I'll tell you about those changes. . ."

Do churches ever send letters like this when a member or long time visitor stops coming? Do they know? Or care? Was it that no one visited when she was hospitalized? Was it the schedule? Was it the music? Was it the sermons? I don't think churches ask the questions music clubs do.

In a P.S., the President says: "I'm serious. I'd like to hear your opinion. One way would be by canceling within your 10-day free trial--although that's not exactly what I'm hoping to hear. Another way: drop me a note. (Please be sure to include your name and address.) It will get to me and I'll read it." I'm not going to re-up, but I think I will send him a note. I send notes to my pastors too, both when I like something and when I don't. I think everyone should--then maybe we'd have fewer missing members.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

224 Christian Fiction

"As a kid, I was never a big fan of the Sugar Creek Gang novels. I must have been the odd boy out, however, because our church library had tons of volumes, all of them lined up straight and tall on their own shelf as if they were themselves proud of the universal parental and ecclesiastical approval they brandished. Even today, those books stand in my memory as truly righteous stories for truly righteous boys.

Of which I didn't know many. Perhaps that's why I didn't care for the books. Despite the fact my mother wanted me to read them, despite the fact the church library was full of them, despite the fact that the boys in their pages occasionally got in trouble, I found the novels rather odd. They were, to me, unreal. Often as not the boys were naughty, but they always came out of fray on their knees, in prayer, smelling as sweet as the rose of Sharon. I attended a Christian school, went to church twice every Sunday, and lived, for all practical purposes, in a verifiably Christian community. But among the Sugar Creek Gang boys, I didn't recognize a soul. They weren't real."

Read the full essay on Christian fiction by James Calvin Schaap.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

223 Putting Christ back in Christmas

A high school in Kirkland, Washington got the Ebeneezer Award for cancelling the kids' performance of "The Christmas Carol." Story here.

Here's another school story (apocryphal, I assume) by Pastor Scott about the baby in the manger and Santa Claus that you might enjoy.

Monday, December 20, 2004

222 He just doesn't get it

"Why isn't a vaginally delivered baby miracle enough? Why do we have to debase creation to accommodate our denominational predilections? WP" posted by Austropithecanthropus. I would have explained it to him, but his blog has no comments and he leaves no e-mail address, so he is footprintless in the sands of cyberspace, wandering around clueless when any Christian could have answered him from Genesis.

Friday, December 17, 2004

221 It's not the Second Coming, just Trump's perfume

Uncompromising. Persuasive. Determined. Passion for power. Demands the best. It's not the second coming of Christ, just the ad agency's words for "Donald Trump" fragrance. 3.4 oz. Eau de Toilette Spray, $60.

Although we have no recorded knowledge of Savior smells, a spokeswoman for this product describes it as:

"the top note, or scent, of the cologne contains citrus notes with hints of mint, cucumber and black basil. The core note is made from an exotic plant -- which the company keeps secret -- that provides a green effect with woody undertones, rounded out with spicy, peppery accents. The finish come from exotic woods and has earthy, herbaceous and spicy notes."

Secret, earthy, woody, and spicy accents. Works for me. The second coming, that is.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

220 Vox Blogoli condemns another legacy media

Shades of Dan Rather. Newsweek’s December 13 issue was a Christmas hatchet job, one-sided and agenda driven, according to Hugh Hewitt.

“Within 10 days of Meacham's [Newsweek article on Christ], his credentials had been reviewed for all to see by Dr. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. The article itself had been painstakingly--and fairly--sliced and diced by accomplished theologian, pastor, scholar, and author, Dr. Mark D. Roberts, whose double Harvard degrees, including a Ph.D. from the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, make his careful and complete criticisms of Meacham's reporting hard to dismiss.

After interviewing both Mohler and Roberts for two hours on the air, I then posted links to the Newsweek piece and their criticisms, and invited bloggers from around the internet to weigh in via a virtual symposium I term a "Vox Blogoli." Dozens of bloggers accepted the invite, and an astonishing array of piercing reviews of Meacham followed. Among many favorites are the Evangelical Outpost and Tapscott's Copy Desk, but all of them are well worth the read. (The complete list of symposium posts can be read here.)”

Mohler's evaluation of Meacham: "Newsweek should be embarrassed by this one-sided article presented as a serious investigation of the Christmas story. The magazine's editor may brag about Meacham's extensive study as a college student, but there can be no justification for the lack of balance and the absence of credible conservative scholarship in this article. This is not a serious and balanced consideration of the Christian truth claim, but a broadside attack packaged as a condescending essay of advice from Newsweek's very savvy, very sophisticated, very Episcopalian, and very ambitious managing editor."

Roberts, Crosswalk and Evangelical Outpost are included in my "Faithful Bloggers" links, here and at Collecting My Thoughts.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

219 Which Christmas Carol Are You?

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
You are 'Hark! The Herald Angels Sing'. You take
Christmas very seriously. For you, it is a
religious festival, celebrating the birth of
the Saviour, and its current secularisation
really irritates you. You enjoy the period of
Advent leading up to Christmas, and attend any
local carol services you can find, as well as
the more contemplative Advent church services
each Sunday. You may be involved in Christmas
food collections or similar charity work. The
midnight service at your church, with candles
and carols, is one you look forward to all
year, and you also look forward to the family
get together on Christmas Day.

What Christmas Carol are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

Monday, December 13, 2004

218 The power of a picture--baby Samuel

Samuel Armas' tiny hand grips Dr. Joseph P. Bruner's finger just as Bruner finishes returning him to his mother's womb - Dec. 9, 1999

The famous photo of baby Samuel's hand reaching out from the uterus of his mother at 21-weeks gestation during foetal surgery, has turned the veteran photo-journalist hired by USA Today for the shoot into a pro-life activist. Michael Clancy, who snapped the photo after seeing the baby's hand jut out of the hole in the womb made by the surgeons, now offers his image free of charge to pro-life groups.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

217 Olivia's Mother

My mother's name was Olive. I never thought the name "Olive" was pretty sounding, except when attached to her. But the name Olivia has a lovely sound. Over at Love and Blunder, Devona writes about the vocation of being a mother to Olivia.

I have been given the office and vocation by God to be Olivia's mother. That means that I have the obligation and responsibility to raise her in the Faith, to discipline her, to love her, and to provide for her. I also have been placed in a position of authority over her, and she has the responsibility to love and obey me, and to recognize I am not her equal but her superior.

The humbling thought is that I have done nothing to deserve this office. I am not better than Olivia. We are made of the same mortal and sinful flesh. We are both subject to the curse, and tainted with sin. We are both made righteous only through the shedding of Jesus' blood for our sins. I am spiritually Olivia's equivalent.

Her blog is listed on Blogs of the Augsburg Confession.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

216 The Liturgy as Teacher

Sometimes when I attend an “informal” church service, I look around at the 30-somethings and wonder how many of them will remember those choruses and praise tunes when they are in a nursing home or dying? If they visit another church, will they have to start all over with different mind-numbing, repetitious sing-alongs (like Baptist friends who attended our informal service and didn‘t recognize a single praise song). Maybe they will remember--some are awfully simple and seem to stick in the mind like radio commercials for God. Perhaps I underestimate God’s ability to break through in any musical form.

When I was in elementary school my mother faithfully took us to a Lutheran church because a friendly neighbor invited us. We were living in a town with no church of our denomination--even though there were three churches for 1,000 residents. My sisters even attended confirmation classes with their classmates. There was never any intention that we would join, and we always knew who we were--NOT Lutheran. I think we attended there 5 or 6 years until we returned “home.” About 25 years later my husband and I tried a Lutheran church at the invitation of another friend, and much of the service was immediately familiar to me (totally foreign to him), despite the changes in the hymnbook and liturgy over the years.

In an article about the liturgy as teacher, Rev. Richard C. Resch (LCMS) writes:
“The church learns its lessons slowly, usually through repetition. A child is never too young to begin the rhythm, the comforting rhythm, of week after week, year after year hearing and rehearsing the liturgy. It is a rhythm that is blessed and good for saints of all ages. The very prayers that need to be on their lips are put there by liturgy: Create in me a clean heart....Help, save, comfort, and defend us, gracious Lord....Grant us your peace. At the same time, the promises of God are remembered again and again: God, who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins....This is the true body of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, given into death for your sins. This is the true blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, shed for the forgiveness of your sins....He will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead, whose kingdom will have no end. . . Where else is memory taught from the cradle to grave by a stable, consistent rehearsing of the same words? Nowhere. From baptism to the last moments of this life, the liturgy is there with just the right words for the child of God to say yet again.”

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

215 The Taliban--It was about Gender

“But everything in Afghanistan was about gender. While men were punished for what they did, for defying the authorities, the Taliban’s relentless war against Kabul’s middle-class women wasn’t a simple equation of crime and punishment. There was a desperation to the floggings and the stonings meted out to these women, a hysteria behind the ruthless and uncompromising humiliation that spoke to just how powerless the fundamentalist leadership felt in the new world that had taken root in Kabul, the world inching toward modern values like diversity, tolerance and equality. The sight of an unveiled rosy cheek or a lock of hair tousled by the wind was the most intimate, thus the most potent, symbol of a world they could no longer control, despite Allah’s command that they control it. Only by concealing that swath of flesh, by reining in those unruly tresses, could the men in power regain the sense that they were masters of their perversion of a Koranic domain.” pp. 104-105 So many enemies, so little time by Elinor Burkett.

George W. Bush has freed those women. He has done more for women than any American president in history. He freed more people than Lincoln. Millions of women in Afghanistan can again have jobs, education and civil rights because of him. And the Left (who would all claim to be feminists) in this country and Europe won’t even mention it except to castigate him.

That said, what about gender in Christian circles, churches, and countries? It’s certainly not the reign of the Taliban, but there are men deathly afraid of women usurping their power. They push women to the background and keep them covered (some literally, like anabaptists and conservative Catholics).

In my church, a daughter of the congregation who was lovingly and patiently (and at great expense) brought up through the Sunday School and Youth groups, cannot be ordained in her home church if she hears God‘s call to be a pastor, a church supported for maybe 20 years by her parents’ tithes.

In my church, no woman preaches from the pulpit (although for some odd reason she is allowed to read Scripture, sing hymns and pray in front of the males of the congregation).

In my church, no woman teaches an adult Sunday School class or a week-night class where men might be in the audience, unless she has a male co-teacher as her “covering.”

In my church, which has a huge staff (about 60), there are no women administrators, and most of the women on staff are part-timers in clerical positions.

In my church, the board president is almost always a man (I can recall 2 women presidents in the past 35 years, but there may have been one or two I don't remember).

In my church, the hands down, most successful programming is run by women for women, completely independent of the male pastoral hierarchy; they select their own material, manage their own expenses, schedule their own meetings and have an outreach far beyond our local church and denomination. Historically, this is true in most conservative Christian churches.

In my church, the largest and most successful Vacation Bible School in the city, and perhaps all of Ohio, is run primarily by women, with only modest pastoral oversight.

In my church, the exercise/aerobics program (if you click, don't be fooled by the guy--as far as I know my husband is the only long-time regular male in this program) was developed well over a decade ago and staffed by women who sweated and shouted and stayed healthy for the Lord, 7-9 times a week in two locations. They enrolled many hundreds of women (and 2 or 3 men) from all over the community who in turn began attending and brought in their spouse and children to become members.

In my church, a very promising urban/suburban ministry has come about primarily through the efforts of one woman who was able to rally the pastors, staff, volunteers and congregation to see the possibilities in linking a suburban church to a city school.

In my church, the women are not stupid or submissive. They are lawyers, accountants, teachers, professors, homemakers, business owners, homeschoolers, computer programmers, entertainers, nannies, musicians, secretaries, retirees and janitors. We know what is going on, but accept it, because we don’t want a church without men. And that’s what happens to a congregation that tries to be gender inclusive in power--the men will leave or sit back and let the women run everything. Look around you. Name a large evangelical church with female pastoral or board leadership.

And what does the Bible really say about gender? I’ve heard all the tired arguments men in the church have for keeping women submerged below "see level" and busy working in the trenches for Jesus (the kitchen, the nursing home and the nursery). I’ve heard men of every Christian persuasion, Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox, and every conservative denomination twist Scripture to predict the Second Coming, to define what is a Sacrament, to justify speaking in tongues, to sprinkle or dunk or dip, to serve grape juice or wine, to go to war or outlaw war; but when it comes to gender, they are married very literally to a few favorite verses, be it from the Genesis’ creation story, or Paul’s comments on the reason to keep your head covered. All the rest of their stubbornness and myopia is pure tradition and mythology--cultural and secular to the core. The same level of veracity as Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. These same men will send women as missionaries to evangelize in non-western countries, assuming I suppose that the men in those cultures are “like children?”

But no man who reads the Bible seriously can hide or misinterpret Jesus’ own example in the Gospels, where he not only included women in his closest circle of friends, but he announced his purpose and mission first to women. The first century of Christian followers after Jesus returned to the Father began writing women out within 50 years or so after Jesus first revealed himself to women at the tomb and commanded them to go tell the others. And for the next 20 centuries, the rest of Christian manhood has for the most part, been following their example rather than Christ’s.

Where is George Bush when we need him? Certainly not liberating Christian women for full ministry.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

214 How can they be the future?

Interesting discussion between Steve, one of the writers of Outside the Beltway blog, and reader, Ken. Steven points out the silliness of caring about the effects of deficit spending on “future” generations (article in San Francisco Chronicle) while at the same time, aborting them (they aren’t really people and thus have no rights) so they have no future in which to pay taxes. And technically, those people (3 or 4 generations out) also have no rights today.

“Now my guess is that the editorial board at the (the San Francisco Chronicle) are liberal. From this it is probably fair to surmise that the person(s) responsible for that editorial feel that abortion should be legal. Yet it seems strange to invoke fairness to future generations when looking at tax/budget policies. I mean in one case, the argument is that the fetus is not a person and hence has no rights. People three or four generations from now also do not exist, and thus also have no rights. The idea that something is "unfair" to them is just patently ridiculous...using the above reasoning. Seems like a pretty substantial consistency problem, but maybe I'm wrong.”

Ken is not happy and calls Steve and idiot; Steve shreds his arguments and calls Ken a “logically challenged stooge.”