At the risk of becoming a links blog, I have to direct you to Tina's post today on whose job it is to convert the unsaved.
[Hint: If you think it's you, just who do you think you are, anyway? Step aside and let the Holy Spirit do His job, while you do your job.]
Thursday, August 30, 2007
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
I have been thinking a lot lately about how not all things in life have solutions or answers, as much as my male, American psyche would like to think they do. Not all things are "fixable". Today, Brant Hansen talks about how our lives don't have nice, neat endings, and he just knocks it right out of the park. Check it out. Now.
Monday, August 27, 2007
Greg gets right to the heart of a matter I feel quite strongly about - how we all keep all our doubts and worries about the faith locked up inside, either afraid to share them or trained by other Christians not to.
Myriads of Christians are caught in the shroud of secrecy. They’re deeply struggling with their faith and are convinced they mustn’t say anything about it. Fear, pride, or doubt may all be factors in their assumption that they have to hide and can’t be honest. But let’s face it, most of the time the shroud of secrecy is highly promoted by pastors, churches, parents and friends who won’t and don’t understand. Would never dare tell them what the doubts, questions or problems are, without facing a barrage of condemnation. Trusting others has been blown apart and deeply severed. Keeping the secret becomes more important than keeping the faith. Right?
What happens next is these people drift away. Not being able to be honest about serious doubts or questions that deserve to be heard, leads them to despair. Drifting into and being covered by the shroud of secrecy, however, is a covert operation that has nothing to do with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Check out the whole post here.
[Lyn invited me, so here I am.]
I will take "How do you pray?" as meaning "How do I pray?"
The answer, in short, is "poorly". My personal prayer relationship with God is nowhere near where I want it to be. Oh, sure, I pray every day. But it (usually) isn't the kind of friendly chats Lyn seems to have with the Lord. I envy her that. I hate ritualistic prayer, yet most of mine, even my internal prayers, are just that. Otherwise, I don't pray much at all. Oh sure, if there's a sudden need or a worry over somewhere, I may whip up a quick, "Please help them, O, Lord", but otherwise God hears a whole lot of silence coming from me.
And not the silence of Lectio Divina, either. I recently tried that for a few weeks with a local centering prayer group at the Catholic cathedral here, but have now dropped out. I hide behind the inconvenience of the timing (Mondays at lunch hour), but really, I stopped for the same reasons I stopped meditating when I played at being a Buddhist. It isn't because it was really all that inconvenient. It isn't because it was hard - I can empty my mind with the best of them (joke). It was because I am a typical, American male - that is, results oriented, and when something doesn't yield almost immediate results, I lose interest and wander on. So much for wanting to invest time and effort in my relationship with God. But I digress.
In my Google notebook musing for this post, I wrote, "If God were any other friend or family member He would be pissed off at how wretched and disjointed my ramblings to Him are." And that's the crux of the problem all right. I pray to Him usually just twice a day, at set times. The first is in the shower (really). It is quality alone time, I am cleansing myself physically and feel it's a good opportunity to cleanse myself spiritually by talking with God. The problem isn't the place or time, it is the method (read on). The second is grace at dinner, which the children lead and then the whole family adds requests as they feel necessary.
The problem is that in my prayers I don't talk with Him - I talk at Him. I go through a fairly ritualized set of prayer items that's been in place for quite some years now. Now some will protest that formalized prayer is for the good - the Lord's Prayer, the Jesus Prayer, etc. Yet if we are supposed to have a relationship with God through prayer, how many relationships do you have where you say the exact same things to the other person at the exact same times of day, every single time you talk with them? How would you feel if someone did that to you while claiming a special, intimate relationship with you? It ends up like being in a bad marriage with no communication:
"How was your day?"
"Well, good then. Goodnight."
I have said here before that I don't like the rote, ritualized prayers in church, and yet I am just as rigid as if I was reading from any responsive prayer script at a church service. What a hypocrite!
Interestingly enough, I think I know where most of my problems with prayer come from. First, it comes from me always feeling that, even as a forgiven, washed clean believer, I always have enough sins on my plate that I can never come face to face with God, except to continually, over and over, say "Sorry!" My prayers tend to start with thanks (I am a big believer in starting all prayers with thanking God) and end with confession, but I feel like they should start with confession, continue with confession and never stop with confession. And of course that's what sin does - it makes us feel like we can't talk to God, it cuts off our relationship with Him. The second problem is I am not really that comfortable with petitionary prayer. I know I am supposed to depend on God for everything, to ask Him as my Father for all, because I can do nothing on my own without His help. Yet I feel uneasy asking God for anything, especially while I am busy confessing all my sins, begging for His forgiveness. It's like, "Oh, and while you're forgiving me my huge debt...um, can you also loan me $100 until next pay day?"
Every once in a while I don't post all bright and shiny "God talk" here. Instead I post a confession, a slice of who I really am, not cleaned up to show off to all the fellow Christians. Today is such a day. I haven't read any of the other synchroblog entries, because I didn't want the uplifting messages from people I like and admire in the blogosphere to keep me from making this abject confession to God, in front of those same people. I don't know if I will read those other entries, because they will probably be far from where I am, and will make me feel the more guilty. I do hope some of this will help me to strive to find a right relationship with God. I would appreciate your prayers for me in this effort, too.
You know how sorry I am for all the ways in which I fall short in Your sight. I ask forgiveness in Jesus Christ's name, for His sake I plead for Your grace. I pray that You will give me the strength and comfort in my faith in You to come to You more often; not in ritual, but in love, in friendship, in need, sorrow, and joy, in a real relationship with You, my Father. I ask that I may share with You the life You gave me. That I may invite You into that life in everything I do, and not just give You status reports along the way while I struggle through it on my own. I can do nothing without you, Lord, including pray correctly. Please send Your Spirit to me to help me talk with You. In Jesus's name I pray.
Following is the synchroblog list (so far):
Cindy Bryan Teach Me to Pray...Again?
Lyn Hallewell God, Prayer and Me
Erin Word Prayer=Sex with God
Rick Meigs Prayer Helps that Get Me Deeper
Alan Knox Pray without Ceasing
Julie Clawson Prayer Synchroblog
Heather Synchroblog Prayer
Alex (Heather's Husband) Prayer Synchroblog II
Lydia How Do You Pray
Che Vachon My Thoughts...
Paul Mayers Praying and Learning to Pray Again
Sonja Andrews The Appearance of Holiness
Jon Peres How Do I Pray?
Paul Walker One Congregation Experiments with Emerging Prayer
Susan Barnes Synchroblog: How Do You Pray?
Brother Maynard Fear Not the Silence
Nate Peres How Do I Pray?
Barry Taylor Synchroblog:How Do You Pray?
Emerging Grace Clearance Sale on Intercession Books
Jim Lehmer Synchroblog - How Do You Pray?
Lew A How Do You Pray? - Synchroblog
Jon Hallewell When I'm Spoken To
Deb Prayer Synchroblog
Barb Prayer without Throwing Things
Patti Blount How Do I Pray
Doug Jones How I Pray
Glenn Hagar Prayer Phases
Pam Hogeweide The Art of Blue Tape Spirituality
Mary How Do I Pray?
Rhonda Mitchell Prayer SynchroBlog
John Smulo Praying Naturally
Rachel Warwick How Do You Pray?
Barbara Legere How to Not Pray
Jonathan Brink Posture - Sitting With My Daddy
Andy How Do I Pray
Cynthia Clack How Do I Pray
Makeesha Fisher The Mystery of Prayer
Sunday, August 19, 2007
[The following came to me while writing the prior post on hunger and food pantries and what can I do to help more. It is somewhat of an incoherent rant, but I hope you'll pull out of it what I am trying to say.]
To start, I will tell a story. Years ago, probably about 1994 or so, I was at a conference in San Diego. It was being held in a hotel along the waterfront, and I arrived two days early to take in some sights. As I was walking along the embarcadero on Saturday I walked past a large marina full of large, beautiful yachts. And like a jolt the incredible waste of capital bobbing there in the water just struck me in the face.
Now before you start thinking that I'm some income redistributing communist, let me say I am not. In fact, I consider myself a libertarian. However, at the time I was working for a just-past-startup-phase software company of about 40 people, and we were happily working and growing on a revenue stream of about $5 million/year. And here I was looking at a marina full of large, seagoing pleasure boats and yachts, every one to five of them probably adding up to a million dollars. But what outraged me wasn't the price of the boats - it was that on a beautiful weekend day, 95% of them were just sitting there, covered up under their blue tarps, unused. It hit me that probably 50 weeks out of every year that's exactly how they sat.
That angered me, not because of the ostentation, but because of the waste. Because with that capital just floating there doing nothing useful, not even providing pleasure, I could have started 50 software companies. Or 500 small shops. Or probably somewhere between 5,000 and 50,000 micro-enterprises around the world. And that was just one marina - there were many others just in San Diego alone. And in a flash I saw all those boats, all over this country along both coasts plus in the inland waterways and lakes. And then all the boats the world over. And that was just the boats sitting there going to waste. There are so many other things just like that, things we buy and then hardly use.
So what does that story have to do with food pantries? Well, in a normal session at a food pantry, there will be somewhere between 50 and 200 families served in two to four hours. And that usually entails one or more adults from the family showing up, filling out paperwork with the help of volunteers, and then sitting or standing in line waiting and waiting and waiting for their food. Think of all that human capital - both the clients and the volunteers - just going to waste.
By "going to waste" I don't mean it's a waste to feed the hungry, or that those people are a waste. I mean that those clients are like boats in a marina - human capital that our society helped produce yet doesn't see fit to use. Some may be hard to make "productive" due to drugs or alcohol, mental illness or disability. But many want to work and many are working and just not making it, and all of them have some purpose here on God's Earth, if we can just figure out what it is. According to the Central Missouri Food Bank, "More than 70% of people receiving assistance form food pantries are the working poor. The overwhelming majority do not receive food stamps government cash assistance". And some have worked and are now elderly and finding themselves poor. Again, from the CMFB page, "The elderly continue to be the fastest growing poverty populations due to fixed incomes and rising medical expenses".
We live in a society where not only can they not seem to find their way to being useful in a manner that allows them to be self-sufficient, but just in helping to feed them we waste their time (and hence their lives) by making them sit or stand, unused and feeling that way, for hours at a time. Some would say that the "pain in the a--" factor has to be that high or people, being lazy, would simply not work and live off the dole, but I don't believe that's true. I think most people really do want to work, really do want to be of use to others, really do want to have a purpose for their lives other than simply living. But in our commodity-based, consumerist, high-tech society, those that can't keep up with the pace of change, that aren't mentally gifted enough to be "retrained", that are "old and in the way" are just falling by the wayside.
This is one of the reasons I refuse, as a matter of principle, to use self-checkout lines at the grocery store. As someone who worked as a janitor at one point in my youth, I also look with alarm at those robotic vacuums and floor polishers that are starting to make inroads. Such things are taking away jobs from people who frankly may not be employable in too many other ways. Once we have automated every job that we haven't outsourced, just precisely what are those who are challenged just by life supposed to do for a living? In an economy presupposed on everyone having a job as a means of "valuing" them, how are we supposed to give any sort of hope to these people at all, as the jobs they could have had in the past are eliminated or obsoleted? I do not know the answer.
Getting back to the waste of (human) capital - if just 50 people show up to each of the five weekly distribution times at the Samaritan Center, that's 250 people a week (each typically representing a family, but let's just talk about the adults showing up to get food). Each session is two hours long. Most of those people have to wait at least an hour to get food and many wait two or more, especially if they have to wait for transportation home (CMFB stats say roughly half of their clients do not own a car). So 250 people a week, each of whom can only come for assistance once a month, translates to a thousand people a month (and the numbers are actually higher than this - but stay with me for this as a back-of-the-envelope exercise). So those thousand waiting for an hour each translates to 1,000 person-hours a month. Valuing their time at minimum wage, that's $585,000 a month in lost human capital. And that doesn't count the paid staff and volunteers time, the utilities and other requirements to run the center, the donated supplies or anything else - that is just seven million dollars a year of lost human capital as the hungry wait for their food. In one small city. At one of its four food pantries.
Something is seriously wrong if we as a society can't help them, as individuals, to be more productive and more appreciated, and not be like those unused boats sitting in that marina, apparently forgotten. As images in God's likeness we need to see each of them, for all their disrepair, as being sleek boats worthy of more than just sitting idle at a dock. Dear God, how can I help to do more than just maintain them? Jesus, how can I help to make them seaworthy again?
Herein endeth the screed.
I continue to be haunted by the feeling that even as I seem ever more called into helping others I am still not doing enough. Plenty of reasons can be brought forth - family obligations and work spring right to the top of the list. But the overwhelming needs of those in desperate straits gnaw at me and make me feel like my volunteer efforts are, not meaningless, but rather simply not enough. I am gifted with a good life, a good wife, a good job, good kids, a nice place to live, too much food to eat, an embarrassment of riches, and all of that is from God, freely given. Compared to that, my feeble volunteer efforts are not paying forward His gifts to me nearly enough.
It now looks like I am being tapped to be part of the Human Care Ministry board at church, perhaps even the chairman. I am willing, but I don't know if my church is going to like me in that role, since I am determined to continue to push against our inward focus and complacency. It isn't that our church is bad, or different from most other churches. It is simply that I still believe we are too church-focused, when Christ calls us to be reaching out and helping others (and hence the title of this post, with apologies to God for using Janet Jackson to make my point :-). My mental image of church is not a circle of people holding hands and facing the center, but instead it is a circle of people facing outward with outreaching hands, leaning against each other's backs to support each other (does that image make sense?)
The need is certainly there. Just in the past week the Samaritan Center set new records by serving almost 140 families in one of the five two hour periods they were open for handing out assistance, and at the session I volunteer at on Thursday evenings we had close to 130 families that week. It's back to school time and the Center hands out school supplies, so that's part of the reason it's so busy, but still, every one of those families qualified for food assistance, too.
And then just yesterday at the mobile food pantry run by the Central Missouri Food Bank (CMFB) and sponsored locally by First United Methodist Church (good people), we served over 200 families in a three hour period for the second month in a row. Some of the clientèle are the same between the two pantries. Some people rotate through all four pantries in town - I personally don't care if they do, since I don't want anyone in my city, country or world to go hungry, but it can put a crimp on how many total people can be served. CFMB's own statistics estimate approximately 20,000 people are not being served who could be in their 33-county service area alone. The numbers for such a small metro area as Jefferson City (ca. 50,000 people) continue to astound and depress me. The statistics for the entire mid-Missouri area served by the CFMB are sobering:
This calls me to help more, and I await finding out what will come next. All I can do is wonder what God has in mind for me and praying, "Your will, not mine, Lord."
Tuesday, August 7, 2007
- Apologize for three things that Christians have often got wrong. Your apologies should be directed towards those who don't view themselves as part of the Christian community. Alternatively, apologize for things you personally have done wrong towards those outside of the church.
- Post a comment at the originating post so others can keep track of the apologies.
- Tag five people to participate in the meme.
- If desired, send an email with the link to your blog post at the Christians Confess site, giving permission for your apologies to be added to the website.
While the meme does not say it needs to be a personal apology for things we feel we ourselves have done wrong, many are taking it that way, including me. So here goes:
- Projecting myself in ways that are un-Christian, especially at work, where it is hard to disengage from the "old Adam". In programming and computers in general there is often a very aggressive, "I'm smarter than you, my ideas are better than yours" attitude. It is very competitive, and many in the industry are "blunt" (and I don't mean that in a good way). I succumb to this a lot, even as I try and mellow it out with age. For this I am sorry. Kyrie eleison.
- I spend a lot of time worrying about what and how others are doing following Christ, instead of me just being out in the world helping people. For this I am sorry. Christe eleison.
- I spend a lot of time writing about what it means to me to be following Christ, instead of me just being out in the world helping people. For this I am sorry. Kyrie eleison.
Now I am supposed to tag five people, and as with the original, if you comment, consider yourself tagged as well. To the following people, "Tag! You're it!":
Lyn (who may take a while, being on holiday in Scotland now)
Saturday, August 4, 2007
Sola scriptura (Latin ablative, "by scripture alone") is the assertion that the Bible as God's written word is self-authenticating, clear (perspicuous) to the rational reader, its own interpreter ("Scripture interprets Scripture"), and sufficient of itself to be the final authority of Christian doctrine.
I hold this as a basic tenet. I don't believe all Protestants do. What do you think? Is it possible for anyone who is not a "professional" to understand the message of God's grace and salvation as witnessed in the Bible? Can you drop a believer on a desert island with a Bible and can they be a Christian without a seminary-trained pastor and a concordance and some commentaries and a few other books to tell them what it all means? If you answer, "no", then isn't one of the major underpinnings of Protestantism flawed? Haven't you just in that very answer alone created and justified all of the organizational superstructure that is modern, hierarchical, market-oriented mainstream Christianity?
If you answered, "yes", then why do we need all that superfluous infrastructure? Because even with all of those explanations and explainers, literally millennia of explaining, it seems to me there are still large areas of disagreement and dissension over what it all means and how "being a Christian" should be implemented. Which tells me the explainers and the explanations aren't necessarily helping. In fact, they must be hindering, leading to even more division.
I also think the explainers attempt to kill some of the mystery that I believe is at the heart of any attempt to get to know God better and try to follow Jesus. Because it is that mystery of God, grace and His will that draws us in, keeps us engaged and interested. It is just like the mystery at the start of getting to know someone you like and then love - that factor of the unknown makes you pursue them more. Although with God we can never truly know Him, not completely, so the mystery never fades, and it should just keep leading us deeper and deeper into Him.
God is not a system to be mastered! He explains Himself as He wishes in the Bible and in His actions in our lives. Who are we to think we can explain Him better than He chose to? Why do we insist on uncloaking those parts He desires to remain mysterious, unknown? Do we not understand the dangers of trying to fill in the missing blanks?
Read Christian authors. Read commentaries. Read anything you want. But read the Bible first and interpret all else you read by it - not the other way around.
Check out the final results of Glenn's synchroblog. Here is the final list of posts:
Friday, August 3, 2007
Michael Spencer makes some very pointed observations about evangelical Christianity's need to try and control and order our world and society and minds and beliefs in "I'm Not On The Bus". Some of it touches against what I wrote about evolution a while back, but Michael says it better, and covers more ground. I especially liked the following:
I’m easily distracted from the Gospel, and I don’t want to be. I want to be single-minded about the gospel. Evangelicals these days WANT to be distracted. They are on buses of every kind, and I don’t want to be on any of them.
They are on the culture war bus. I have no hope that Christians can save the culture through politics. All that money could feed the poor, start churches, fund missionaries and mercy ministries. Giving it to ads on TV and Radio in hopes of making America a “Christian” nation is a waste of time.
And I dare say if all Christians everywhere just dropped their attempts at "command and control" and simply fed the poor, funded missionaries and mercy ministries, there'd be more churches to plant and more people wanting in. "By their works ye shall know them", when applied to modern, mainstream, politically-active and culture-warring Christianity, does not paint a very good picture to the rest of society of what it means to follow Jesus. Then we wonder why our numbers are declining in the West?
Wednesday, August 1, 2007
The other day I got some great comments from Glenn and Erin on a bit of a rant I made while referencing back to Erin's "Things I learned from church" post. Basically, my rant was about how I am sick of people (myself included) talking and talking and talking about "mission" and "missional" and not actually doing anything missional. While commenting, I noted that getting out and engaging is hard for me, because I am an introvert. But I feel that is a BS answer, actually (see my introvert post for some of the reasons). I was going to post something about this last night, about how we are all supposed to have our old selves die and be resurrected in Christ, and that includes our introvert selves trying to hide from the love and community and fellowship we are commanded (not ask nicely to do) by our Lord and Saviour. And I've noticed when I come back from volunteering I am usually "up", if tired - I do not need to "recharge" my introvert batteries in the same way as when I am in a normal work or social or familial gathering. There's an interesting lesson right there. But in the end I decided not to finish the post - I was tired, and I didn't know if I could make the point coherently (since when has that stopped me before? :-)
Then, in one of those rare moments of coincidence, Coding Horror, one of the programming (my day job) blogs I read made some of the points I wanted to make about this topic quite forcefully, even if it is talking about programming and not about following Christ. If you substitute "follow Christ", "disciple", "mission" and "missional" at the appropriate points in that post (and I think they are obvious), you will see what I mean. I quote some of the post below.
Warning: Some graphic language is used or alluded to in the post (programmers talk like sailors), so if you are sensitive to such things, read no further, and clickest thou not through the links above.
Most programmers are introverts, so they don't usually need any encouragement to run off and spend time alone with their computer. They do it naturally. Left to their own devices, that's all they'd ever do. I don't blame them; computers are a lot more rational than people. That's what attracts most of us to the field. But it is possible to go too far in the other direction, too. It's much rarer, because it bucks the natural introversion of most software developers, but it does happen. Take me, for example. Sometimes I worry that I spend more time talking about programming than actually programming.
At the point when I spend all my time talking about programming, and very little of my time programming, my worst fear has been realized: I've become a pundit. The last thing the world needs is more pundits. Pundits only add ephemeral commentary to the world instead of anything concrete and real. They don't materially participate in the construction of any lasting artifacts; instead, they passively observe other people's work and offer a neverending babbling brook of opinions, criticism, and witty turns of phrase. It's pathetic.
Perhaps that's why I find this blog entry from SEO Black Hat so inspiring:
Do it F***ing Now.
Don't wait. Don’t procrastinate. The winners in this world are not the ones who find the greatest excuses to put off doing what they know will make them more money. The winners are the ones that prioritize and seize the day.
Create a list of action items to make sure your important tasks get accomplished. Every project you're working on should be in action. If you're not moving, you're standing still. Your next step towards making money must not be "something I’ll take care of maybe sometime next week." If it's going to help make you money: Do it F***ing Now.
Some of you may think that you don’t need the "f***ing" in "do it f***ing now". You do. You need that impact, that force, that call to action, that kick in the ass to get you moving. Otherwise, you'll end up another loser that had a great idea a long time ago but never did anything about it. Dreamers don't make money. Doers make money. And doers "Do it F***ing Now."
It's helpful to discuss features, but sometimes the value of a feature is inversely proportional to how much it has been discussed. Our job as software developers is to deliver features and solve business problems, not to generate neverending discussion. Ultimately, As Marc Andreessen notes, we will be judged by what we-- and our code-- have done, not the meta-discussion that went on around it.
For the background part, I like to see what someone has done. Not been involved in, or been part of, or watched happen, or was hanging around when it happened.
I look for something you've done, either in a job or (often better yet) outside of a job. The business you started and ran in high school. The nonprofit you started and ran in college. If you're a programmer: the open source project to which you've made major contributions. Something.
If you can't find anything -- if a candidate has just followed the rules their whole lives, showed up for the right classes and the right tests and the right career opportunities without achieving something distinct and notable, relative to their starting point -- then they probably aren't driven. And you're not going to change them.
Now, don't go off and think I am on a "works" track - I am not. Without grace, I am as dead as disco. But we should want to be loving and engaged and outreaching toward others, because that is what Jesus has shown to us. And there comes a time when it's time to stop talking and start walking, following Christ's path.
I like how Jeff Atwood of Coding Horror sums up - "Maybe 'Do it f***ing now' is too extreme, but at the very least, make sure you spend at least as much of your time doing as discussing."
May God grant me the strength and insight to do at least as much as I say. Amen.