Thursday, February 22, 2007

Being Human: Out of Sight, Out of Mind

Many are willing, but few are chosen for the exotic tropical mission field, especially if you have kids going to school or elderly parents to care for

Here's another bulletin-item from the enthusiastic anonymous Church:

Anonymous-Church reaches out to Thailand
The "Jones's" will be leaving 1 August to serve God in Thailand. It is not simply about them going, but rather an extension of influence from Anonymous-Church. This first term they are visiting small groups in Anonymous-Church to share this vision, the needs of those less fortunate than ourselves, and how all of us as a church can be involved in this mission.

It will be interesting to see how much we will be told that "we" are extending "our" influence in Thailand once "they" arrive.

I will be reminded to fight the spiritual battle that takes place in the heavenly realm so that their labour in the field will not be in vain but they will reap a harvest, pressed down, running over, I'll have fries and a coke with that thanks.

Unless you are a dear friend of the people going on an overseas mission, or have a strong personal interest in the location they are going to, you will rarely give these people a second thought once they are gone.

That's life.

I guess some people find that doing what God wants them to do, whether other people care or not, is still not good enough. They have to make sure that others hear about it over and over again so that it pushes people into the position of having to pretend to be interested, just to be polite.

Oh well, I guess that's life too.

Back to my mission field

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Spiritual Attack on Language

Pastors can be roasted by manipulative words


Have a read of this recent church correspondence written by an "enthusiastic" bulletin writer:

It is likely that we are on the threshold of a pivotal time in "anonymous church name's" history, and we may find ourselves being distracted from Making a Kingdom Difference by what gets hurled at us from the other realm. Let’s not get distracted. This is also a matter for prayer, and we cannot emphasise enough that unless all of us are talking and listening to God, then what we attempt in ministry will not bear the fruit we anticipate.

Is it me? Doesn't this Battlestar Galactica language seem a little extreme? Shouldn't church notices go through an editor?

The story behind this notice is that the pastor is taking one month off due to fatigue. This seems quite reasonable. My work colleague just had a nervous breakdown so taking a month off due to fatigue is pretty mild in the scheme of things.

There are two issues that get me about the language people use when they discuss church or spiritual matters:

Firstly, someone's fatigue is nudge, nudge, wink, wink - MORE than fatigue: it's a full-blown spiritual attack. Well it might be. However I'm reluctant to use such extreme language when we don't really know the causes. Maybe the fatigue is caused by:
- a physical illness
- an emotional illness
- regret at becoming the senior pastor
- other contributing factors

So then why choose the most vivid "spiritual" description when more circumspect language would be closer to the truth of our ignorance?

Warning: Cylons cause fatigue

Secondly, I have an allergic reaction to the phrase "we are on the threshold of a pivotal time," this is classic ideology-speak, whether it's by a religious cult leader or spoken at a left-green political branch meeting. Keep the faithful tuning-in by using the language of revolution.

Anyone with a smattering of experience or historical perspective would know that "pivotal times" are generally bollocks.

What would life be like if the "threshold" was indeed crossed? Would your daily life be that much different: going to work, paying the bills, raising children, etc.?

Ronald Knox in his classic work "Enthusiasm" detailed without rancor, some of the "odd" spiritual movements which have disturbed Church history through the ages, including Montanists, Donatists, Anabaptists, Quakers, Jansenists, Quietists, and Methodists.

From his introduction:
There is, I would say, a recurrent situation in Church history - using the word 'church' in the widest sense - where an excess of charity threatens unity. You have a clique, an elite, of Christian men and (more importantly) women, who are trying to live a less worldly life than their neighbors; to be more attentive to the guidance (directly felt, they would tell you) of the Holy Spirit...The pattern is always repeating itself, not in outline merely but in detail. Almost always the enthusiastic movement is denounced as an innovation, yet claims to be preserving, or to be restoring, the primitive discipline of the Church... I would have called [this] tendancy 'ultrasupernaturalism'. For that is the real character of the enthusiast; he expects more evident results from the grace of God than we others. He sees what effects religion can have, does sometimes have, in transforming a man's whole life and outlook; these exceptional cases (so we are content to think them) are for him the average standard of religious achievement. He will have no 'almost-Christians', no weaker brethren who plod and stumble... the emphasis lies on a direct personal access to the Author of our salvation, with little of intellectual background or of liturgical expression... at the root of it lies a different theology of grace. Our traditional doctrine is that grace perfects nature but leaves it nature still. The assumption of the enthusiast is bolder and simpler; for him, grace has destroyed nature, and replaced it."

I'm genuinely sorry that the above-mentioned pastor is distressed to the point of requiring time off work. I will genuinely pray for his well-being. I won't however be drawn into the dubious metaphor of crossing thresholds of pivotal times. Taking advantage of someone's distress to make well-intentioned but manipulative statements is no way to respect the complexities of a man (or roast a pastor)!

"Words are born and die; they live only so long as they have an important errand to fulfill, by expressing what needs expression." (from Enthusiasm, 1950)

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Overheard in New York

Bimbette: What's the plural of 'Jesus'? Jesuses? Jesi?
Friend: Why would you ever need to pluralize 'Jesus'? There's only one!
Bimbette: Well, like, if you were at a Halloween party or something and you had to tell your friend 'There were, like, eight Jesi at the party last night!'
Friend: Just stop talking.

--Grand Central

Overheard by: Irasian


Friday, December 01, 2006

Too heavenly minded to be of earthly use?

Can you see me? I'm stuck down here somewhere!

In some Christian circles, and indeed many canonised saints, there is the view that the affairs of this world are not worth the bother. Some have no interest in public policy, business, economics, popular culture or sports. They advocate a 100% attention to Christ, at the expense of any time, effort or thought on other "worldly" matters.

For many years I was under this kind of influence, starting with a church youth group and extending through to a Bible college for missionaries. To be a top-notch Christian, one had to be dedicated wholeheartedly to certain sanctioned "spiritual" causes, such as prayer, church and missionary work. Other activities were really second-rate.

The reality however is that the problems of this world still have an impact, even on heavenly minded individuals. One still has bills to pay, employment to gain and votes to cast.

I later discovered that some of these heavenly minded people had little opinion to express about worldly matters, they were often ignorant of the issues that were affecting the "normal" people around them. Obviously this wouldn't apply to all saintly people, but I observed it enough to no longer think that they were people worthy of emulating across all spheres of their lives.

I thought to myself, why couldn't one be a prayerful person, but still be aware and interested in the daily things that affect our lives?

To this end, one of the problems I've found trying to come to grips with how the world ticks is that the information the mass media broadcasts or publishes is not helping me understand what's going on.

Often what's needed is an historical appreciation of the issues that crop up in the news so that you know where current conflicts and debates fit into the scheme of things.

One source of useful information I recently discovered for geo-political news and analysis is Stratfor, which some people refer to as the 'private CIA,' but they seem to be more right than their government counterpart!

To give one example I found helpful, a recent Stratfor report concerned the insurgency in Iraq, where they analysed how the Sunni and Shia groups lined-up across ethnic and political divides, which provided a complete framework by which to view and appreciate American and Iranian foreign policy.

If one doesn't have a framework (philosophy, politics, economics, etc.), then all the tid-bits that appear on the evening news are disjointed sound-bytes of entertainment.

The goal of all this understanding is to enable me to be a more responsible citizen, and where appropriate, respond in ways that are more advantageous politically, economically and even spiritually.

B.T.W. I recently read the life story of the patron saint of Switzerland St. Nicholas von Flue. Here was a man who seemed to get balance between earthly and heavenly affairs, even though these significant events occured at different points in his life. "At the age of 50, after a successful political career, Nicholas decided to live the life of a hermit. With a reputation for being a holy and wise man, Swiss leaders of the day sought out this hermit's advice. In 1481 he helped Switzerland avoid a civil war by negotiating the inclusion of Fribourg and Soleure in the Swiss Confederation."

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Pope: Christian Media's Goal Is to Educate the Mind

I thought you'd like these comments from Pope Benedict. It's a shame more Sunday preachers don't think the same!

Pope Benedict XVI knows how to handle a crowd

VATICAN CITY, NOV. 27, 2006 ( The objective of the Christian media is to educate the mind according to the spirit of the Gospel, says Benedict XVI.

The Pope explained this when he received representatives of the Italian Federation of Catholic Weeklies (FISC), who concluded a congress on the theme "Catholics in Political Life: Free or Missing?"

The Holy Father began the meeting Saturday by greeting Bishop Giuseppe Betori, secretary of the Italian episcopal conference, and Father Giorgio Zucchelli, president of the FISC, as well as directors and staff of more than 160 diocesan newspapers.

He also noted that FISC is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.

"The special role of the Christian-inspired social communications media is to educate minds and to form public opinion in accordance with the spirit of the Gospel," said Benedict XVI.

"Their function is to serve the truth courageously, helping public opinion to contemplate, understand and experience reality with the eyes of God," the Pope continued.

"The aim of diocesan newspapers is to give everyone a message of truth and hope, highlighting events and situations where the Gospel is put into practice, where goodness and truth triumph," he continued.

In the era of new communications technologies, the Holy Father said that the role of these Christian weeklies is even more important as they give "a voice to the local communities that are not adequately represented in the great information channels."

He told the Christian journalists: "You can reach those places where traditional pastoral care methods fail to arrive."

In addition to my comments to your previous post, maybe there's room for a bulletin supplement/periodical if the pulpit isn't available?

Monday, November 27, 2006

History - what's that

I have been reflecting recently on the lack of church history of any kind being taught and preached about in my low brow church. Week after week, I seem to endure earnest and heart-felt talks which are a mish-mash of pop psychology and Protestant missiology - a sermon series may start out looking at Psalms but somehow ends up being self-referential and hearing far too much about the particular speaker's own battles with whatever.

I'm not asking for a whole semester's worth of church history but occasionally, it might add some spiritual MSG to the diet.

I'm sure at theological college they get taught church history but I wonder do they get taught to preach about church history and draw out valuable insights and lessions from the past that can inform Christians about all sorts of things - church life, how to deal with controversies in the secular world, how to deal with splits and schisms, how to cope with cults and atheists, etc, etc, etc.

Is that people are afraid of the uncomfortable truths which exist within Christian history? People of all denominations should be aware of the skeletons within our combined closets. The failure to deal and live with history can cause all sorts of problems.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Low Church = Low Quality?

This coming Sunday I have the opportunity to attend either a "low church" service that has contemporary praise and worship music, or a traditional "high church" Latin Mass that will have the music of William Byrd's Mass for four voices.

The low church service will be led by a well intentioned and earnest worship leader who only knows one way of playing his guitar: loud and fast. He also yells alot. Because of his loud and earnest manner, I avoid sitting near the front-of-house speakers when he's leading. His music group frequently struggle with the introductions and endings of their songs. I find these idiosyncrasies distracting and annoying. As a musician myself, I know that these errors of musical unpleasantness can be easily avoided with a bit of forethought and practice.

The choir at the Latin Mass on the other hand is singing a masterpiece of Tudor polyphony. The four-part harmonies require a great deal of rehearsal to get right and each member of the choir is capable of keeping their part. They wouldn't be in the choir otherwise.

I sometimes amuse myself with thought of what would a building of Christian worship look like if it was designed by the low church music group compared to the polyphany choir.

I suspect that, like their music, they would look something like this:

Low church building

High church building

The difference in the beauty of the buildings illustrates the difference in the quality of music composition and execution.

I appreciate that the low church people wish to emphasise fellowship and community, so the extra expense and attention to detail (in architecture at least) to them seems really superfluous to the purpose of Christian community.

My complaint however is why setup such a false dichotomy in the first place? Will you really lose fellowship and community because you have a beautiful building?

On the issue at hand regarding music, will you really lose the sense of the presence of God because you have practiced to the point of reducing all known errors so that your listeners are not distracted by your mistakes? Are loud and earnest calls to feel God's presence really going to make up for the poorly executed music?

I would prefer to see excellence exercised in all areas of human activity, anything less is really quite lazy and shows a lack of respect for one's neighbour and a lack of loving God with all of one's heart, soul, mind and strength.

It should be obvious which church I shall attend this weekend.

P.S. To hear samples of Byrd's Mass for four voices, you can listen to the clips available at Amazon.