The future of the American Church

You might remember “Veggie Tales.” Phil Vischer (creator of Veggie Tales) has a podcast he’s been doing for several years with Skye Jethani and Christian Taylor. It’s now called the Holy Post Podcast and I look forward to it every week. Phil is the funny man and for the first half of the show he cuts it up with Skye and Christian while also discussing hard issues in American Christianity.

Continue reading “The future of the American Church”

Single focus

If you’re reading this, you’re probably multitasking. The reason you’re probably multitasking is you’re reading this on a computer or your phone, so you have several other tabs open, or you’re checking texts, or watching TV as you check your phone…

I know. I would be doing the same. Even typing this up invites me to all sorts of other tasks while I try to FOCUS on just writing this post.

The challenge we face is to stay focused. We tend to pride ourselves on the ability to multitask… but MONOtasking is something that is still needed as a practice. (And I just wrecked that possibility by linking to another article.)

Here is the challenge:

Mute your music. Turn off your television. Put down your sandwich and ignore that text message. While you’re at it, put your phone away entirely. (Unless you’re reading this on your phone. In which case, don’t. But the other rules still apply.)

Just read.

You are now monotasking.

It’s incredibly difficult… but it has its benefits. When we take the time to pay attention to one thing, we find a new sense of pleasure. If we keep trying to do several things and don’t focus on a particular task, we may find ourselves getting bored too easily.

We have “playlists” because a single album by a singer is just too “boring” for us anymore. We don’t want to try to listen to some song we “don’t get” or find “boring,” so we pick a song here, a song there, and build a playlist. For some albums (in a day gone by perhaps) the whole album was a journey. If we stayed with it, we may find something opening up to us that we could miss if we just picked a song here, and a song there.

It’s the reason television shows we tweet through feel tiresome and books we pick up and put down and pick up again never seem to end. The more we allow ourselves to be distracted from a particular activity, the more we feel the need to be distracted. Paying attention pays dividends.

One practice I try to have every year is to get away in silence. I will go to a retreat center and have 48 hours (minimum) of silence. My task there is to wait on the Lord. I don’t take a stack of books to “catch up on reading.” I take a PRINT Bible and a journal. I also don’t have a goal of reading through a bunch of Scripture. Before going I will pray and ask what passage I am to focus on for the retreat and my full anticipation is to stay in that passage the entire time.

These days it is so extremely difficult to set the phone aside and not check email or Facebook. But when I give myself to that practice, I find a re-set in my life.

In other opportunities to practice monotasking, put the phone aside if you’re with someone and LISTEN to them. Or, take a print book and read it. In silence. No music. No TV. No phone near you.

Multitasking is part of life. Focus needs to be a part of our lives as well. Our attention levels are too shallow and we need the opportunity to return to some depth.

The next culture war

You know why it’s easy to get hits on a blog post? Headlines and hashtags.

Content rarely matters.

But I strive for both because I like “hits,” and the illusion of people actually reading this stuff. So, this post really IS about the “next culture war.” David Brooks has written a very challenging column for today’s New York Times. Basically, it’s a call for social conservatives, especially evangelical Christians, to give up the fight on “social issues” that pertain to the sexual revolution. (Honestly, you need to read the column. I’m not doing it justice with a quick summation.)

But if evangelicals give up that fight, what in the world will we do? The interesting thing about his advice is these are things we already do, at least in our church. The problem with all that is this: we’re not good at making headlines. We just go do this stuff and then let the culture beat up on us anyway by making headlines about what we aren’t. 

Should that keep us from doing what we’re already doing? Of course not. Should we take a photographer with us and post more pictures of how compassionate we are on Facebook? Probably. (Okay, I’m kidding.)

This is what Brooks would like to offer for social conservatives:

The defining face of social conservatism could be this: Those are the people who go into underprivileged areas and form organizations to help nurture stable families. Those are the people who build community institutions in places where they are sparse. Those are the people who can help us think about how economic joblessness and spiritual poverty reinforce each other. Those are the people who converse with us about the transcendent in everyday life.

Now, on a pure “social conservative” level, this just won’t happen. Politically, it’s a minefield. If social conservatives actually went into poor areas and tried to establish programs to, you know, actually help people, it takes away from their brand that says, “If you’re poor, you get yourself out of it. Go get a job!”

And, quite honestly, because there is a still a vast remnant of evangelicals still tied to the Republican Party, it may still take some time for this to take hold. Small steps are being taken. Evangelicals (especially megachurches) are good at “events.” So, there is a shift away from a “evangelistic crusade event” to now days where they bring in huge loads of gifts like clothing, food, health check ups, etc. to do a one day event, get word out, advertise it, make sure the media shows up for some pictures, then pack up and go home. It’s a step.

But beyond that are local churches that do exactly what Brooks is describing. We’re just small, don’t take a lot of pictures, and don’t know anyone in the media. It shouldn’t keep us from getting up in the morning and doing what we do.

If bigger evangelical churches joined in and would leave the media trail at home, there would be a better impact. But if not… we have to keep working in these areas to bring what is GOOD to a community.

The wonderful things I find working with schools is there are so many Christians in those schools. Teachers and administrators who are working in the HARD school districts to do something well for broken families. And when churches show up to actually HELP with their goals, a good synergy can happen. Don’t show up with your agenda. Show up and ask how you can help their agenda. You’ll find surprising answers along the way.

This culture war is more Albert Schweitzer and Dorothy Day than Jerry Falwell and Franklin Graham; more Salvation Army than Moral Majority. It’s doing purposefully in public what social conservatives already do in private.

Let us live out light in the midst of darkness. Let’s mentor some students. Let’s volunteer on a regular basis at a food shelf. Quit doing as many events and push that money toward supporting a local project already doing some good work!

And along the road, amazing conversations will help. Along my own road, it’s not only been conversations I’ve been able to have to see a life changed, but it’s that my own life has been changed.

Let’s go live light. Let’s go be salt. And see what happens in the next 20 years or so.

Some respect. Who knew?

Nicholas Kristof is a columnist for The New York Times. I have admired his work when he goes to Africa and writes of the horror he witnesses constantly in that area of the world. He focused on the Sudan years ago and brought a lot of awareness to the genocide in that country.

In this column he openly admits he has little time for evangelicals. In fact…

Today, among urban Americans and Europeans, “evangelical Christian” is sometimes a synonym for “rube.” In liberal circles, evangelicals constitute one of the few groups that it’s safe to mock openly.

So, that’s no secret, to be sure.

But what Kristof also admits is he can’t get around liking a few of them every once in awhile. Of course, most of the comments following his column mock him severely for even thinking such a stupid thought. Who can really like evangelicals? Get a brain, Kristof!

Kristof knows so many doctors and nurses doing relief work are not necessarily believers, but here is a huge admission on his part:

But I must say that a disproportionate share of the aid workers I’ve met in the wildest places over the years, long after anyone sensible had evacuated, have been evangelicals, nuns or priests.

Dear God! Evangelicals actually put their faith on the line and do something! Who knew?

Kudos to Kristof for making such bold statements. He will get uninvited to a lot of cocktail parties again. But… that’s the price of a liberal actually thinking and observing every once in awhile. 🙂

The next time you hear someone at a cocktail party mock evangelicals, think of Dr. Foster and those like him. These are folks who don’t so much proclaim the gospel as live it. They deserve better.

It’s the quiet living out of the power of the Kingdom that simply helps this world be a better place. It’s not the yelling over the blogosphere, or the yelling on a “news” show. It’s the living out of the gospel. It IS good news, and we live it out in so many ways… every day.

The devaluing of human life

Usually when it comes to war and use of force, especially use of troops, media sources like The New York Times are fairly pacifist. (Depending on the president in office at the time and their political party, of course.) Generally speaking, many media outlets back off the calling for use of force.

But this editorial in The New York Times was strident.

They want force against ISIS. NOW. Tough words are laid down in this piece:

Will the world do nothing to stop extremist groups…

And this:

But the United Nations says it is largely powerless to deal with the threat, and Western governments claim they have more urgent military objectives.

This is dangerously wrong.

And this:

Why hasn’t the international community responded?

I’ve certainly asked questions like this of the media before. Where IS your outrage?

The difference is this: I am burdened over the loss of life. There is a systematic persecution raging in many part of the world against Christians. Thousands displaced. Thousands killed. Slaughter every week that should shock us. Al-Shabaab killed 148 Christians in Kenya last week. Targeted them in a university and shot them.

The outrage The Times has over ISIS? National treasure… STUFF… is being destroyed. It took the destruction of artifacts for the paper to shout, “Why aren’t we nuking these people???”

Not one word in this piece about the extreme loss of human life. It’s not even that they’re silent on Christians being slaughtered. It’s any religious group. The silence, as they say, is deafening.

It is the height of hypocrisy and it is revealing of a soul all at the same time. I could call it an “elitist” attitude or a “liberal” attitude, but that’s just too narrow. What it is… is scary. People of influence, people of means, people of persuasion who sit back and say nothing about the loss of human life… and if they do they will hesitate to show the loss is due to religious affiliation… but destroy a painting and they are ready to call for nuclear war.

This is the world they want. A world without religion in the public square. They don’t want people going “all moral” on them about the value of human life. This is a world where “freedom of religion” is about the “individual” and their right to keep their religion to themselves… just don’t drag it out there for the public to see.

This isn’t about conservative or liberal theology, or conservative or liberal Christianity. This is about a deep desire in those spouting off a false belief in the “progressive improvement” of humanity without religion getting their ultimate way. The value system is warped, and it’s on full display in this ridiculous opinion piece. Center stage.

Religion at its core isn’t the problem. It’s the insistence on not having religion in the public square adding to the debate that is the problem. Without religion in the public square, there is the false belief that humanity will only get “better and better” and if there are problems in this world, it is religion that is at fault.

It is not religion. It is human. Humanity has a problem. At our core, we want to be the little gods. We want to be in ultimate control. And left to our own devices… we don’t improve ourselves very well. We tend to start world wars and find more ways to destroy people than ever before. That’s not religion. That’s humanity.

But a world with less religion, and by that if it means fewer religious people, so be it, is a GOOD thing… in their view. Just save the artwork!