Friday, July 18, 2008

Sin as Pollution

SOURCE: "Sin as Pollution" by Frederica Matthews Green (Garrison Keillor). Here and Now Podcast.
KEYWORDS: evil, nameless, faceless, victimless

Frederica Matthews Green speaks about sin using a Garrison Keillor monologue. Although I do not have time to transcribe the entire monologue, I did find a summary by Jason Zahariades in his blog, Journeying Home.
The title of the podcast was Sin As Pollution.” In the podcast, Frederica was describing the effects of sin by reading part of a monologue by Garrison Keillor of Prairie Home Companion fame.

The monologue was in the form of a letter written by Jim, a man who was waiting on his front yard to be picked up by a woman from work with whom he was going to attend a conference and with whom he was tempted to begin an affair.

As Jim is waiting to be picked up by this woman, he waxes reflective about the repercussion of his potential affair. As he looks down the street at his neighbors’ homes, Jim realizes that his infidelity will pollute many lives. He states, “Although I thought my sins would be secret, they would be no more secret than an earthquake.” His reflections climax with this powerful and moving image, “When my wife and I scream in senseless anger, blocks away, a little girl we do not know, spills a bowl of gravy all over a white tablecloth.”

Ritual Origins

SOURCE: "Ritual Origins" by John Lienhard. Engines of Our Ingenuity.
KEYWORDS: necessity, invention, meaning, technology

Today, we meet the mother of invention, and she's not the lady we expected. The University of Houston's College of Engineering presents this series about the machines that make our civilization run, and the people whose ingenuity created them.

Simple pan balances go back to antiquity. Yet they're the basis for modern scales that make the most exacting measurements. An engineering colleague, Jim Casey, tells a remarkable thing about this important practical device. It seems that its inventors did not care a fig about weights and measures. They were trying to express the concept of balance, and that concept is really quite subtle.

Think about blind-folded Lady Justice. She holds the law in one hand and the scales of judgment in the other. She shows us the scales -- the balance -- in quite abstract terms. Good and evil weigh against each other, not in kilograms or ounces, but in the common wisdom of society.

That theme is found in the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead, where souls are weighed against a feather. A soul strikes its balance in life, and that balance is felt on the scales of judgment. In other societies, leaders weigh their bodies against the tribute of their people.

It's a mistake to look at these transactions as weighing and measuring. The concept of balance reaches far beyond that. The scale originated as an expression of that concept. It was created in the laboratory of ritual observance. It found no role as an instrument of commerce and science until much later in human history.

The same thing is true of so many older technologies. Long before power-generating windmills arose in the medieval world, Buddhist monks were using sails to spin their prayer wheels. It's hard for us to understand why the wind was used in this way, before it was used to grind grain. But then we learn that ancients in every land saw the wind as the Breath of God and as a manifestation of the human soul. In that context we can better see how ritual came before, and led to, the windmill.

There's no end to examples like this. The great structures of the ancient world weren't built to satisfy functional ends. No one ever lived in the colossal Egyptian burial constructions. They were born of ritual, and so too were the great Gothic cathedrals of the 13th century.

Or consider the inverse of this: For thousands of years, Chinese pharmacologists have done enormously complex development of herbal cures. But, when they describe them, they use the language of metaphor. When, for example, they extracted estrogen millennia ago, the named it, the autumn mineral.

Technology and metaphor thus travel a two-way street. We begin to understand that when we realize that invention flows from something much more abstract than a wish to fulfill practical needs. The people who've actually created the great material artifacts of our world have been propelled by far deeper forces. They've been driven by the need to express a primal understanding that quite outreaches objective explanation.

I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston, where we're interested in the way inventive minds work.

Making the Case

KEYWORDS: mission, principles, purpose, end, telos

In a blog article and a podcast for Harvard Business Review, Bill Taylor makes the case that companies in this day and age are volunteer organizations. Leaders must make the case for why working for them should be compelling. This does not have anything to do with money.

Bill Taylor states...
"When I go visit a company or talk with a leader for the first time, even though I am there to talk about strategy or marketing, one of the first questions that I ask: 'Why would really great people want to be part of what you are doing?' I am often struck of how inarticulate many leaders and CEOs are when I ask them that question."
Taylor then gives the example of Google and their "Top 10 Reasons to Work at Google". Netflix has the "8 Great Reasons to Work at Neflix". I also recently heard an interview with the founder of Intuit, the maker of Quicken and QuickBooks. He referenced Intuit's operating values which serve a similar function. Taylor suggests that a useful exercise would be to think about and to write down those compelling reasons to work for a company or even a project within a company.

No, the church is not a business, and the church should not be narcissistic--"What is in it for me?" Still if church leadership cannot articulate its mission and end, it's highly unlikely that the church will move to meet it.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Church Attendance

SOURCE: "The 'Churched' and the 'Un-Churched'". The Pastor's Weekly Briefing. July 18, 2008. Focus on the Family.

KEYWORDS: attendance, worship, commitment, generation

New Ellison Research asked 1,007 American adults to report on their attendance at worship services. Results of the study showed that the traditional definitions of "churched" — people who attend services monthly or more often — and "un-churched" — people who do not typically attend frequently enough to be considered "churched" — often doesn't tell a complete story about how often people actually attend religious worship services. If adults in America are placed in more realistic categories based on their normal behavior, attendance stats at religious services would look like this:

  • Attend more than once a week (11%)
  • Attend once a week (22%)
  • Attend two to three times a month (14%)
  • Attend once a month (5%)
  • Attend occasionally, not on a regular basis (9%)
  • Attend only on religious holidays (10%)
  • Do not attend at all (29%)
The study also showed that if an adult attended worship services regularly at some point before the age of 18, there is a 55 percent chance that person is currently attending once a month or more. If the person never attended prior to age 18, there is only a 21 percent chance that individual is currently attending worship services on a regular basis.

When someone grows up in a home where both a mother and father occasionally attend religious services, there is a 62 percent chance that individual is now regularly attending services as an adult. If only one parent attends services occasionally, there is a 50 percent chance that grown adult is now regularly attending worship. But when an individual grows up with neither parent regularly attending worship services, the chances that person is now regularly attending is only at 33 percent.

Ron Sellers, president of Ellison Research, noted, "There's often an assumption that people either do attend worship services or they don't. But what we find in this study is that up to one out of every five Americans is attending worship services at least occasionally during the year, even though they are not regularly involved. That has huge implications for local congregations who are trying to attract new people." Sellers said, "We estimate that up to 43 million adults who do not regularly attend worship services will visit a church or place of worship at some point during the year." [Ellison Research]

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Baptismal Prayer

IDEA: Here is a baptismal prayer sent to me by a colleague in ministry. It comes from the French Reformed Church and is included in the Church of Scotland Book of Common Order.
Little children, for you, Jesus Christ came into the world; for you he lived among us and showed God's love; for you he suffered the darkness of Calvary and cried at the last 'it is accomplished'; for you he triumphed over death and rose in newness of life; for you he ascended to reign at God's right hand. All this he did for you, little children, though you do not know it yet. And so the word of Scripture is fulfilled: We love God because God first loved us.

Museum or Mission

Source: "What Will We Be?" by Rev. Bill Ivins. Advance Newsletter of First United Methodist Church of Vernon, Texas. September 18, 2006.

Keywords: museum, tradition, vitality, life

A member of our church has an acquaintance in Quanah who happens to be a Russian immigrant. A few months ago, her Russian friend was in Vernon on business, so she decided to show the woman around our church building. Upon completing the tour, the Russian remarked, "Your church looks like a museum."

I'm glad she noticed how beautiful our building is. But think about it: A museum is a repository of the past. Is that what a church is called to be--a repository of the past?

A few years ago, I had an opportunity to spend a couple of weeks in England. During my trip, I visited church after church that had been converted into museums (repositories of the past), while the neighborhoods around were teaming with scores of lost people who don't know Christ.

While there, I worshipped in a Methodist Church that rented space in a community building. The dwindling and aging membership could no longer afford to maintain its beautiful old edifice built in the 19th Century. The old building had been sold and turned into an art gallery. That same story is being repeated all across America too.

Church memberships dwindle and become repositories of the past when congregations lose sight of who Christ calls them to be.

So what will we be? I don't intend to see our church become a repository of the past but a mission station for the future. I invite you to join me in making certain that we continue to be a mission station.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Helping You Go to the Toilet

SOURCE: "Advance in Johannesburg, Part 4" by Leonard Sweet. Napkin Scribbles Podcast. 1/1/2008
KEYWORDS: arrogant, context, culture, missional,

Leonard Sweet tells the story of youth on a mission trip to Nigeria. The group shows up and gets off the plane with matching t-shirts. The t-shirt reads, “We are here to help you help yourselves.” The problem is in Nigeria, “to help yourself” is a euphemism for “to go to the toilet.” The youth are all excited, and the Nigerians are laughing at the silly Americans.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Tightrope Walking With God

SOURCE: "Walking humbly takes courage, preacher says" by Mike Ferguson. PCUSA News. June 27, 2008.

KEYWORDS: Abide, vine, branches, communion.

At the 218th General Assembly, Rev. Diane Givens Moffett gave the following illustration in a sermon.

It takes courage to walk humbly with our God — just as it took courage for daredevil Charles Blondin to walk across Niagara Falls almost 150 years ago.

Blondin...was the tightrope walker who would stop across the falls midway to cook and eat an omelet.

The crowds of the day loved his act.

But when Blondin would offer to take a spectator across the raging waters on his shoulders, no one volunteered — except his manager, whom Blondin had to tell, as Moffett told the story, “You will feel like turning around when you don’t need to turn. If you trust your feelings, we will both
fall. You must become part of me.”

To the relief and delight of the crowd, the two men made a successful crossing.

Blondin’s advice to his manager applies to our walk with God, Moffett said.

“Walking humbly with God means we have to be one with God,” she said. “Looking at us is about the closest thing people will see when they think of Jesus.”


That courage to walk humbly with God, she said, is “borne of a deep-seated commitment to Jesus Christ.” What Moffett called “cosmetic Christianity” cannot “change our character or heal our spirit or make our world whole.”

Great Commission Church

SOURCE: "Reaching Outward is Key to Growth" by John Sniffen. PCUSA News. June 27, 2008.

KEYWORDS: evangelism, gospel

Paul D. Borden is executive minister of Growing Healthy Churches of San Ramon, CA. During a luncheon at the 218th General Assembly, he spoke about how to build what he called “a Great Commission congregation” (ref. Matthew 28:19-20).
“Evangelism is the key,” he said. “People automatically think that means tactics or strategies, but that’s not what I’m talking about.”

A Great Commission congregation — which can also be called a missional congregation — continually presents the good news of the gospel in a variety of formats, he explained. It is a congregation focused outward, not inward, always seeking to reach the unchurched. “Great Commission congregations work to change their communities and to advance God’s kingdom,” said Borden.