Monday, September 27, 2010

That happens to me a lot with women

I smiled and her eyes lit up. Roger tried to get her attention, but she only had eyes for me.

"She's really interested in you," he said, sotto voce.

"That happens to me a lot with women," I replied, then burst into manic laughter. Roger didn't join me. Was my humor too subtle?

Her mother produced another ¼ teaspoon of strained carrots -- or maybe it was applesauce. When the spoon reached her mouth, she opened up and took it, to Mom's encouraging words.

Until they turn two, I should have said.

Now that fall is officially here...

... summer has finally come to Redwood City.
That's right, 94°F today. Felt like it, too.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

A visitor

Through the kitchen window, I saw a gray squirrel climb up the birdbath and climb quickly down -- then up onto a post. It stayed there quite a while -- long enough for me to walk to the patio door and take the photo on the right with my camera-phone.

Do you see it? Just about in the middle of the photo. Below is a slightly enlarged version of the squirrel -- hopefully it'll be obvious what part of the overall picture this was from.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

What was better in Mississippi in the 1950s

The October Atlantic arrived today, and the lovely Carol sat with me as we read a brilliant article about "Donald T," the first child in the United States to be diagnosed with autism. Donald's story has a happy ending; he lives independently (mostly); he drives and plays golf; he is probably the most widely traveled person in town. He is known and liked by many. A few observations, in no particular order:
  • Donald's parents were rich. People who are poor and odd are weird; if you're rich and odd, you're eccentric.
  • But it's not just that they were rich. Donald lives in the house he grew up in (he is now 77). I have the impression (not fact-checked) that a lot of people in Forest have lived there several decades.
  • Donald's parents were married for life.
  • They also took terrific care of him; he was not neglected by any standard. They took him to a Dr. Kanner at Johns Hopkins, who first used the term "autism" in the United States.
  • Since the 1990s, autism has been on a tear; half a million autistic children will enter adulthood over the next decade or so.
A key point the writers make is that we are going to have to adapt to these autistic adults. This will be easier, the authors note, if we consider "them" as being part of "us."

I resemble this remark, actually; I'm sure I had Asperger's as a child and maybe as a young adult. (Obsessed with numbers? Comfort in clothing a higher priority than its appearance? Others' points of view found mysterious?) But I digress.

As I read about Donald's life, it reminded me about something I heard at a recent seminar. Half a century ago, when America was not nearly as mobile a society as it is today, a child might go to the school his/her parents attended, maybe even be taught by the same teacher. Today, with many broken homes, we have a lot more in the way of nuclear families living where no one in their family lived before. Neighbors change more frequently (five owners of the house next door over the past 25 years for example, vs. about three over a half-century for the house next door to where I grew up).

In the 1940s, Dr. Kanner at Johns Hopkins found 11 cases of autism total. Doubtless there were more, but I believe that with stable communities and families, a lot more of them could just sort of get along -- whereas today, with families moving a lot and neighborhoods constantly changing, people need to function at a higher level to make their way in the world. In a small town, the clerk at the grocery store might know who you are and have time to give you a hand with getting your cash out (or your ATM card swiped). But the lines at supermarkets today are filled with hurried and harried people who really don't want to wait for someone to fumble through swiping their debit card through the card-reader.

In other words, it's a lot tougher world out there for people who don't function all that well. This also is something that is hitting Millennials harder than the Silents or Boomers, or even GenXers.

I'm not saying I want to live in the Mississippi of the 1950s, but I wonder if Donald, even with all his parents' money, would do as well if he'd been born in California 50 or 60 years later.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Children's Limits

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Several 11-year-olds were asked to talk about some people in the Bible: Jesus, David, et al (one woman was included). Quite a few of them could tell a coherent story about each one. But can they put these people into historical/chronological order? Not a chance! They all put Jesus first.

For kids to have an idea about sequencing, we have to put things in order for them: talking about Jesus one week and David the next week, then Peter, then Moses -- they cannot get that.

Come to think of it, when I was a child, I wondered how Joseph got from Pharoah's court to Nazareth to find and marry Mary, raise Jesus, etc.

Abstract reasoning ability takes time to develop, so object lessons don't connect to 7-year-olds. They can be cute ("You are a pine cone" for example) but using kids to make a point to adults -- that's bad. We confuse the kids, and when the adults chuckle... well, that's not the kind of memories we want to make for them. They do get that they're being used, and that's never a good feeling.

UGLY pdf files and how to fix them

So I was working on a paper, probably using LaTeX, and wanted to make a PDF version of the postscript output file.

From the trusty ghostscript package, I ran ps2pdf and got a PDF file. Trouble was, the graphics had been JPEG'd -- boy were they ugly! Asking my colleagues (I love this company!) yielded this answer:

ps2pdf -dAutoFilterColorImages=false -dColorImageFilter=/FlateEncode x.pdf
That was it. Other possibilities exist but I recently re-used this one and it works great.

For some reason, if we have just text it seems to be OK. Maybe if it detects grays it tries to JPEG-ify them? Anyway, I wanted to put this incantation where I could find it easily later -- and now you can too :)

Sunday, September 19, 2010

How some 20somethings started attending a church full of 70somethings in Iowa

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How did a church full of septuagenarians attract a dozen young adults to their congregation? Did they launch an outreach ministry to the postmodern generation? Did they trade the choir and stained glass for a smoke generator and colored stage lights?

Ah, no. They did it with casseroles. In other words, they faithfully did what they knew how to do. God had transformed them over the decades, and Christ had taken up residence in their hearts, and the love and generosity brought these young people into a relationship with them -- and with the Lord. Here's how it happened.

"Henry" and "Kate" grew up Presbyterian in New Jersey; they met at Rutgers and got married, and were headhunted by two firms in Des Moines, Iowa. This is a place where a young couple can afford to buy a nice house in a good neighborhood. When they moved there, they visited one church (a Presbyterian church) a couple of times; they visited another one just once.

Then, like many Millennials, they quit going. Sunday mornings were for reading the paper and drinking coffee at home. So church fell off their radar.

Until the day that Kate found a lump. Nothing to be alarmed about, probably, since there was no history of breast cancer in the family. She talked to her mom about it. Yep, probably nothing to be alarmed about, but she did have it checked out.

Long story short, it was cancer and she needed surgery. When Kate checked in at the hospital, the form asked for a church contact. She wrote the name of the church they had visited twice. The church's pastor visited every day, prayed with all the relatives who flew in from New Jersey, and overall did a terrific job.

After some days, everybody's vacation allotment was gone, and they flew back to New Jersey. Henry's vacation was all gone, too, so he took Kate home and drove off to work. There, lying in bed that afternoon in that big house, Kate thought, "We've got to move back to New Jersey. We don't know anybody here!"

Then it happened: there was a knock at the front door. Kate ignored it at first, but then went downstairs in her robe. There stood a woman (one of these septuagenarians from the church) with a casserole dish in her hands.

After figuring out what was going on (church? what church? "Honey, we've been praying for you every day"), Kate invited her in. "Are you up to it?" she asked.

"Sure; I could use the company," Kate replied. So the church lady came in. Kate put the casserole in the refrigerator.

"Honey, I don't mean to be rude, but you need to dust."

"Yeah, I know. I've been in the hospital and..."

The church lady took charge. "Honey, go back to bed and I'll dust." So Kate did what she was told.

Henry returned in the evening, waking Kate from her nap. "Sweetie, did you buy a casserole?"

"No, the lady from the church brought it."

"Church? What church?" he said. They went through that thing, and Henry got the picture. Then he said, "Sweetie, have you been cleaning the house?"

No, the lady from the church did that too.

You can probably guess what happened the next day, but this time it was a man with a chicken dinner. "You have to follow the instructions very carefully," he told Kate, "or I'm going to be in big trouble." Kate liked him immediately.

"Would you like to come in?"

"Not really. Ah, did you notice that your screen door isn't working quite right?"

"Yes, my husband hasn't gotten around to looking at it. We've been a little busy lately."

"Want me to take care of it?" he asked.

"Do you mind?" Kate was astonished.

"No, I have tools in my car; it'll only take ten minutes."

When Henry came home that night, he asked, "Sweetie, did you fix the screen door?"

This little church, with 125 members, provided dinner for Henry and Kate for six months, besides dusting, fixing the screen door, and who knows what else. Henry reports that they have casseroles to last for years. Kate said (to her mother I think) something like "Whether I live for six more months or six more decades, we're going to die in this church." They are never going back to New Jersey.

But that's not a dozen

Henry and Kate invite their friends over for dinner and defrost a casserole.

"Wow, this is good stuff!" their friends say

"You should see our pot-lucks," they reply.

"When is the next one?"

And that's how a dozen emerging adults happened to come to this church of 70somethings. Of course there's more to the story than that; the septuagenarians were full of generosity and love and acceptance and grace. But life in this little church is changing with these young people.

So now you know

No, this plan won't necessarily work everywhere. But it tends to reinforce the idea that outreach to young people doesn't necessarily require that drastic changes be made. It does require love, acceptance, forgiveness, faithfulness, generosity, grace. A given congregation might need to make some changes, but no magic new formula seems necessary in all cases (it surely wasn't needed in this Iowa story).

Which teens grow up and stick with their faith?

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What is the fastest-growing religious preference among Americans? According to the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS), it's "None" or "No religion", which went from about 7% in 1980 to about 15% in 2008. This year, the Southern Baptists are probably smaller than the "None"s.

Of the "None"s, about half had no religious initiation in childhood. Of the married "None"s, 65% (nearly two-thirds) had no religious ceremony. 86% of "None"s don't anticipate a religious funeral.

What about young people?

Souls in Transition described six religious types among young people:
  1. Committed traditionalists: 15%. These had consistent practice, focused on inner piety, etc.
  2. Selective adherents: 30%. These folks don't consistently practice what they say they believe, and feel some guilt.
  3. Spiritually open: 15%. They feel there's probably something more out there, and religion is something for "recovery and comfort"
  4. Religiously indifferent: 25%
  5. Apathetic (not even opposed): 5%
  6. Irreligious/rejecting: 10%. These are skeptical; some are angry and some mystified. Religion "makes no sense" to them.

How can I get my teenager to be a committed traditionalist, or at least a selective adherent?

That's the question burning in many parents' minds.

Of course no parent can make their teen-ager do anything; that said, there are several factors that seem to correlate with teens growing up into #1 or #2:

  1. High parental religious service attendance and importance of faith.
    In other words, Dad and Mom go to church consistently; faith is very important to them.
  2. High teen importance of faith
    If it's not important to them as teenagers, it may not be important to them as adults.
  3. Teen had many personal religious experiences.
    Camp, for example, or mission experiences
  4. Teen had few doubts about religious beliefs.
    Surprise: If we nurture doubt, they may drift away. We like to think we should celebrate it, etc., but abstract thought probably isn't developed until the later teen years; don't celebrate doubt at 14. Teens may think "I don't know if there is a God, but I believe this community will help me find out, and I want to be part of it." We should not tell them, "Here's one option of many" or "Here's this but...." They need to hear what we believe, and that we believe it firmly.
  5. Teen frequently prayed and read scripture
  6. Teen had many adults in congregation to turn to for support and help
If a teen had four or more of these (A-F), they were more likely to end up as a 1-2 (committed traditionalist or selective adherent).

These factors (A-F) matter a lot! But is this causative or just correlated? We don't really know, and of course parents have little influence on some (like B); parents do influence A and F, and they have input into D. They can encourage C and E.

Bottom line: if you want your teens to be committed traditionalists or at least selective adherents, you need to show them that your faith is important to you! Consistent prayer, worship, fellowship, service would be ways of showing that. Talk about tithing; what is your family giving up in order to give to the church, to relief and development, to missions? Encourage Christian experiences -- mission trips, conferences/camps. Express your faith firmly -- not jam-it-down-their-throats firmly, but this-is-what-I-believe firmly. Talk about your faith, and how it plays out in real life, with your kids and other kids -- and listen to them too! Be that adult that another teen can ask about things.

The Problem of Quantity

In the state of Georgia, it takes 1100 classroom hours to make a school year. Suppose a child goes to church three hours a week every week, and suppose that you can count all of those hours as classroom hours. From kindergarten through 12th grade, if we include summers, that's about 2000 hours.

A graduating high school senior therefore has, in the best case, not quite a 2nd grade education in faith matters, if that instruction comes only from church attendance. I don't write this to discourage parents, but rather to show the need for us to be involved in our kids' faith journeys. There just aren't enough hours in the year(s) for the "professionals" to do it all.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

What are Millennials like?

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Like every generation, the Millennials differ from their GenX or Boomer parents. Some significant differences:
  • "Miracle" vaccines are being called into doubt.
    This is a crisis of faith in institutions.
  • Very complex, highly engaging electronic games.
    WoW and Second Life are so engaging that people spend real money buying (in some cases renting) things in these virtual worlds.
  • Use/trust Wikipedia (and its ilk) more than print.
    Community-based vetting rather than review boards (institutional).
  • They've not gone through nuclear bomb drills, but they've all had school lock-down drills.
  • They're now in the biggest economic recession since the Great Depression.
  • 60% of them have done time in institutional day care, vs. 1/3 of GenXers and 2% of Boomers.
  • And they are the most racially/ethnically diverse generation in US history, with 52% of the 21-and-under crowd being non-white.
    20% of Millennials have an immigrant parent; 10% have a non-citizen parent.
With this background, what are these Millennials like? A few observations.

Wanted and prized

Their parents may have been told, "You can have it all! Education, career, children..."

So these GenXers went to grad school, built their careers, and at age 40 tried to get pregnant. Harder than they thought it would be, and maybe they went to a specialist (I see a lot of ads these days). When they finally do get pregnant, they've been trying very hard, and the result is their prize. A wanted child.

This obviously isn't the case for every Millennial, but it does describe quite a few. Our girls are certainly our pride and joy, though the lovely Carol didn't need special assistance to get pregnant.

Sheltered and protected

You've heard of "helicopter parents"? Millennials are "blessed" (or afflicted) with these hovering figures.

At a recent college orientation (UC Santa Cruz), parents were told that as college students, their children were expected to learn to take care of themselves in new ways. The message apparently didn't stick for one parent, who asked how often someone would come in to change the sheets.

In a similar vein, an applicant at a theological seminary (graduate school) was accompanied by her parents -- who wanted to be present during the admission interview!

Again, this isn't universal, but it's there.

Optimistic about the future; privileged and entitled

They're optimistic even in this recession. Note, however, that people who "disappeared" are missing from this survey. (I don't remember who did this survey; was it the Lilly study?)

It looks like about 27% of Millennials will have a bachelor's degree by age 25 (vs. 22% for GenX and 25% nationally). So there's more willingness to invest in education. The dark side of this seems to be that, according to some hiring managers, Millennials tend to want instant gratification and lack long-term planning and perseverance.

Team-oriented, cooperative, achievement-oriented

They learned some of this in institutional day care. My kids had a lot of team projects starting in junior high school -- a lot more than I had in school. (Wikipedia's success is consistent with this.)

And everybody gets a trophy! The downside is: individual excellence is lost. Gangs are also part of the downside -- if people aren't willing to stand as individuals.

More on this from Souls in Transition

This is a longitudinal (time-series) study, from Christian Smith's book. There were over 3300 phone interviews in 2002-2003, then in-person interviews in subsequent years: 122 in 2005, 111 more in 2007-2008. A few key findings:
  • Growth of higher-education opportunities
  • Later marriage: in 1950, first marriages were at age 20.3 (women) and 22.8 (men); in 1980 it was 26.9 and 28.5, influenced (we think) by career, higher education, and the availability of contraception.
  • Global economy undermining stable, lifelong careers.
  • Parents spent something like $48,000 supporting their children from ages 18-34 (beyond college I guess). Boomerang effect.

How Millennials look at things, given that background

  • Transitions: they figure everything will change. Jobs will change.
    • Also true in the church: 20-30 year pastorates are disappearing in favor of shorter terms. On the other hand, the Methodists seem to no longer require a change after 3 years.
    • A reaction: When kids leave town and don't go to church, perhaps it's because they didn't find the church experience they had growing up -- but that experience doesn't exist any more, even at home.
  • High-tech, high-touch. Twentysomethings are are taking up knitting, as hand-made items are increasingly prized.
  • Having to stand on one's own (More so than in the past? Or a reaction to the many team experiences mentioned above?)
    Colleagues/friends at work are also competitors (but it has ever been thus)
  • There's a lot to figure out. (The obvious path that I took isn't so obvious today.)
  • Not enough money. (Connection to the privileged/entitled mentality?)
  • Optimism.
  • Hard to articulate any regrets.
    The interviewers were looking for "took the easier major rather than my passion" or "took the higher paying job rather than the more meaningful one." But nothing like this came out.
  • Relationships with parents improved (i.e., in 2007-2008, vs in 2002-2003)
  • Hard to see reality beyond self. To function as an adult, one needs to develop this. Need to step outside self, assess the relationship. If you're counseling someone and start developing an inappropriate attachment, need to be aware, so can deal with it. (People who are caught in bed with someone and "don't know what happened" -- they didn't develop 3rd person perspective-taking.)

    PERHAPS this has been happening all along but wasn't as evident. Fifty years ago, a child walked to school, neighbors recognized them; teacher taught her dad when he was a boy; people at church know the family; she goes to college where Mom or Dad went.

    But today, parents may be divorced, kid spends time in two homes, attends magnet school (not in neighborhood), two churches or maybe not go to church half the time, go across the country for college. With a less constrained social atmosphere, some deficiencies may be more evident today.

    This supports the claim (Chap Clark?) that many teens and emerging adults have abandonment issues.

  • Right and wrong are pretty easy (to figure out)
  • Karma will catch you -- what goes around comes around, or moralistic therapeutic deism.
  • Education is instrumental -- not an end in itself but for career
  • Drugs (alcohol) are pervasive but getting boring
  • Amorphous relationships
  • Devastating breakups
    But they tend to believe the personal myth (Elkind), viz., "It can't happen to me."

What do they think of the above?

When showed the above, Millennials may say, "Yeah, so?"

The 21st century church may be what these young people need to survive the rootlessness (parents divorced, nobody knows them in neighborhood, go to college across the country where nobody from the family has gone before, and so on).

Another comment

Chap Clark's Hurt: Inside the World of Today's Teenagers, the result of research at one California public school, has a different point of view than Christian Smith's study (which is rather larger). Clark suggests that Smith's study may be biased toward conventional church kids. Tony Jones has a third perspective, described for example in this blog posting. The discussion in the comments is also provocative.

What's the best description for kids and emerging adults in your congregation or mine? I'm going to guess that Smith's description is a good starting point, but that we need to be prepared for kids who are postmodern seekers, as well as those who are abandoned and hurting.

Or anything else for that matter! Any congregation is small enough to have 100% of its young adults (or teens) come from an atypical minority group. But I think the above perspectives provide some important guides to what we may find.

Why Don't We Say the Pledge of Allegiance in Church?

My opinion only: this is not necessarily anyone else's position, and is certainly no official statement.
In my elementary-school days, we said the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag every morning.
I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible with justice for all.
Yes, by the time I got to elementary school in the early 1960s, "under God" was in the Pledge. I suppose I recited these lines a thousand times.

So why don't we say the Pledge in church? We worship the Lord in church, don't we? Why not pledge allegiance to the flag? I mean, we said it in school.

I'm being rhetorical of course. We don't say the pledge of allegiance because it's not appropriate in church. The church isn't a government institution; it isn't even particularly an American institution. People from every nation, tribe, people and language are welcome to worship in church, as they will be in heaven (Revelation 7:9).

Jesus didn't have a lot of nice things to say about the government in his day. When Pilate questioned our Lord, he refused to answer and paid no attention to Pilate's power:

Pilate ... went back inside the palace. "Where do you come from?" he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer.

"Do you refuse to speak to me?" Pilate said. "Don't you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?"

Jesus answered, "You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin."

John 19:8-11
No, Jesus is no fan of any human government. Neither is his Father: "the one enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord holds them in derision" (from Psalm 2:4, sort of).

What about Jesus's comment that we should render unto Caesar what's Caesar's? (Matthew 22:16-21) The context there was taxes -- i.e., the government required everyone to pay taxes. Our government doesn't require us to say the Pledge in church. It doesn't require us to have a national flag on our church buildings. So that simply doesn't apply to this situation.

Besides that, it's likely Jesus didn't mean what we (or Wikipedia) usually think. This likely isn't about church/state separation; N.T. Wright points out the command from 1 Maccabees 2:68 to ‘Pay back to the Gentiles what is due to them, and keep the law’s commands’ is probably not talking about money. (from, page 5)
I want to be clear; I love my country and I have pledged allegiance to the flag and to our Republic. But the message of the gospel -- the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ our Lord -- is that there is one Lord, one Savior. He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords; his kingdom will last forever whereas the kingdoms of the earth are as nothing (cf. Isaiah 40:15-23).

And so it is inappropriate to say the Pledge of Allegiance in church. It is appropriate on the other hand to pray in our legislative sessions, to ask blessings of our Lord at inaugurations and other state affairs.

But when we worship the Lord we should put aside lesser things. The Pledge of Allegiance is a great and a good thing but it is too small a thing to do in church.

And how about raising the flag in church?

Frankly I'm astonished that we are even having this discussion. Should we not put away lesser things when we gather together to worship the Lord? What am I missing? Somebody help me out?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

There are more Baptists...

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You've heard that there are more guns in Texas than there are people? Well, I heard that there are more Baptists in Georgia than there are people.

The story I heard is that the Southern Baptist Convention doesn't assess dues (or whatever) from its congregations based on population -- that is, there isn't a per-capita denominational "tax". So if a little church-house somewhere had 200 visitors in the past year, it could easily report its attendance as 200 -- even if the building can only hold 45.

Other denominations, in particular the PCUSA, levy a per-capita "tax" on their congregations. I don't know if this is members, average weekly attendance, or what. I heard that the PCUSA has the cleanest statistics among major mainline protestant denominations. (I wonder if the PCA does the same thing -- it wouldn't surprise me.)

This suggests that if you hear statistics about relative populations of various denominations in the US, you should take them with a grain of salt. Particularly if the number for Baptists seems a little high.

When is a lecture not a lecture?

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I was very impressed with this "lecture," which was very interactive. Our speaker gave us a lot of information as well as engaging us in some very spirited discussion. He was encouraging and affirming; I was so impressed that I wrote down some of his responses to what people said:

  • Well said.
  • Thank you.
  • Hear, hear.
  • Yes.
  • I think you're exactly right.
  • Totally.
  • Exactly!
  • Melissa, you're laughing...
    (then she explained what memory was triggered)
  • Lovely.
  • Thank you for that word.
  • Tom, that's great!
  • Nicely done.
These remarks came across as genuine, and they got me to think about how I engage people -- or don't.

(I taught a group of new engineers for about 45 minutes today, and I wasn't nearly as engaging. Well, to be fair, my job was to pile on a bunch of information; I had maybe 50-60 people, rather than the 2 dozen or so at Menucha. That's my excuse, and I'm sticking to it....)

I think that for a group with fewer than, say, a couple dozen, where the objective is to help people change the way they look at and think about things -- vs merely conveying information or technical skills -- enthusiastic affirmation of the participants seems like a very good thing. Have I seen something like this before? Maybe, but this time it really impressed me.

And if I ever go to seminary (yeah right), you can be sure I'll consider going where Dr. Nishioka teaches.

Meeting with Millennials

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An anecdote:
A youth leader went to a conference. There, a workshop leader commented that a sports-based youth outreach was a poor basis for lasting faith commitments (or something like this). The youth leader went back home and canceled the volleyball program -- the only youth activity with growing participation. It had provided a community service and was actually working to bring interested families into a place where they could experience the gospel.

Many teens left, and within a year so did the youth leader.

So, Dr. Nishioka said, beware of formulas. Don't cancel the volleyball on the basis of a comment made in one workshop! In other words: Distrust formulas.

That said, here are some things that should help build an outreach to Millennials.


First, pray! Also, recruit individuals and groups to pray for this ministry. Prayer is the most significant act any believer can undertake. But you already knew that.

Meet away from a church building

and preferably in a home setting. Why meet away from the church building? Church buildings represent institutions, which Millennials don't particularly trust. They also may have an unspoken (and unconscious) desire to recover a sense of home; indeed in the congregation I worship with, we have identified "isolated living" as a key characteristic of our geographical area. (In SF, a restaurant called "Home", which features comfort food from the midwest [think meatloaf], is routinely packed with Millennials -- many of whom never ate those particular dishes growing up.)

At First Presbyterian in Dallas, the church buildings are up a hill from a lot of new condominiums. Like 20 yards uphill. They created a pastor position for young adults, a terrific idea. Where does this pastor live? In the condos down the hill.

Where does the young-adult group meet? In a common area (clubhouse) at the condo complex. "But we're 20 yards up the hill!" This pastor tried moving the meeting 20 yards up the hill, and attendance fell off.

What time does the group meet? 9:30 AM. Saturdays. The pastor determined, after some experimentation, that this time worked best for the most participants. They loved having all of Sunday free from commitments. And because they were done Saturday at 11:00, they had Saturday afternoon to run errands. And they could stay out late Saturday night.

Work at building relationships

Apparently both Saddleback and Willow Creek are abandoning the sort of "seeker-friendly" services we've all heard about, because they aren't "sticky." That is, people come for a visit, then a lot of them leave.

How many? "About 1/3 annually." (I don't know how that's calculated.) Where do they go?

They go to mainline protestant congregations, with smaller, less glitzy/polished meetings. They're looking for a place where they can share their gifts. Congregations with overly slick services -- 3D projection video for example -- make it hard for the average congregant to feel they have something to contribute.

What are Saddleback and Willow Creek doing instead? Small groups! The pastors have several small group leaders as their congregations, and the small group leaders work at establishing relationships with the generic attendee; this is where the 17 hours come in.

Don't call them "singles"

There's a stigma attached to that word -- as though "not married yet" were a deficiency. Though singles are not literally "a persecuted minority" in the church, it sometimes feels that way.

The bigger divide is between with/without children, because of the impact that children have on their lives. The issues people worry about, talk about, pray about, are drastically different for parents than for non-parents.

And among parents, there's another divide -- between those with a stay-at-home parent, as distinct from dual-income or single parents. Not that these groups have nothing in common, but that their top-of-mind concerns differ.

Biblical content

Rather than some discussion guide about "Issues Facing Young People Today," many Millennials would like to learn about the Bible. But they're not looking for a half-hour (or longer) lecture on the 27 uses of this word in the Greek New Testament; instead, give them some background and then ask, "What do you think about this?"

Text, food, coffee

Remember to have good food and good coffee, and communicate with them regularly -- text messaging seems to be the preferred mode because it's asynchronous; it doesn't demand that they stop what they're doing to take a call (or even to listen to voicemail); if busy, they can surreptitiously glance at their phones and be reminded of tonight's meeting or whatever. It needn't (and probably shouldn't) demand a response, but they can reply later if they want.

Monday, September 13, 2010

More things I took away from that seminar

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These aren't exactly, or only, notes from the seminar; I've added some of my reflections, reactions, extrapolations, prejudices, etc. You've been warned.

It takes seventeen hours

...for a group to become a group. Not contiguous hours necessarily, but consistent hours. That is, if the same group of people meets three hours every week for six weeks, by the 6th session it'll actually be a group.

But! The clock restarts if the group changes. So if one person misses the 2nd week, then the 2nd week doesn't begin at hour#4; it's hour#1 because the group is different. If that person comes back the 3rd week, then that week again begins at hour#1.

This is one reason that short-term missions, particularly involving road trips, can bring groups together. Working together 4 hours a day in the same team, it'll become a "real" group on the 5th day. If the team is also in the same car (i.e., with no others), then it'll become a "real" team sooner because they'll hit 17 hours sooner.

No, I don't know what research (or whose research) this is based on, but it's consistent with experience: meeting 2 hours a week for 9 weeks, we have a real team in a way that being together for 8 hours on one day doesn't. Maybe two days back-to-back, 8½ hours a day, would form a real team. If everyone survives it, that is.

But that's not illegal!

Apparently some 70% of institutional pre-school happens in a spiritual place like a synagogue or church. Only 8% have any spiritual component, mostly because they're afraid it would be prohibited by the government.

But that's not true; if you inform the parents and give them the opportunity to opt out, it's entirely legal. (It might even be constitutionally protected). You do have to inform the parents, though.

[per research by Dr. Kathy L. Dawson, Columbia Theological Seminary, as described by Dr. Rodger Y. Nishioka, Sept 2010]

We need doctrinal statements

In the past, theological education was divided into 3 categories:
  • Historical/doctrinal, including systematics
  • Practical theology
  • Biblical studies
We can agree that the vocabulary isn't very good here, as it may lead readers astray (is the Bible impractical? Is systematic theology unbiblical? etc.) but well, no better terms have come along that are broadly understood.

The above is rather a boomer perspective. Some would say that language creates a reality (rather than merely describing it), and of course they're not wrong.

But if we say that meaning is determined entirely by the hearer (that for example the parable of the sower from Matthew 13:3-9 means what each person gets out of it and no more), we're saying there's no objective reality to it. This line of thinking doesn't work in a community of faith, because it implies that even God doesn't have any ultimate reality.

To be a community we have to have something in common, and in particular a community of faith needs a statment of what we believe in. What I take from this is that the Apostles Creed and its ilk are still relevant today -- especially today. We have to be careful with the wording, because language does influence the paths our thoughts take.

Speaking of language

Starbucks educated an entire generation on coffee. They use "tall" to mean "medium"; "grande" and "vente" are both larger sizes (I flunked their vocabulary quiz).

These coffee-salesmen gave us language and expected us all to learn it! A rhetorical question: Why can't we, the church, reclaim theological language? Why can't we teach people words like grace, sin, pardon, mercy? (Do we need to teach them propitiation, atonement, soteriology? Please God, no...)

A sensory experience -- a sacramental one

One thing about Starbucks: there's a sensory experience when you go there, which connects the smell of coffee with the sounds from the espresso bar, the friendly voices from behind the counter, the furniture, the music, etc.

Here's how we can do something analogous: Suppose your congregation takes communion once a month. A couple of hours before services start, have someone get a frozen "take'n'bake" loaf from the store and bake it in the church oven. Everyone coming in takes in the aroma: "smells like Communion."

A little girl comes in, and smells that, and hears the words from the pulpit, "This is my body broken for you." If she believes it, she will know that she belongs to Jesus Christ, and whenever she smells bread baking (where else do you get that aroma nowadays?) she'll remember that. Eighty years later, in the nursing home, when she catches the smell of bread, she'll think "smells like Communion"; she'll remember the words of her Lord and Savior, and she'll know that whether in life or in death, she belongs to the One who died for her and rose again.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

What's the matter with kids today?

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The short answer is: Not as much as many (most?) of us think. Here are just a few findings from the National Study on Youth and Religion, from telephone interviews with 3370 teenagers (13-17) in 2002-2003: how many believe in God?

Any idea? Think about it and place your mouse here to read the answer. Different from what you thought, right? Here's another shocker: what percentage agreed that "There is an adult in my congregation, other than a family member, with whom I enjoy talking and who gave me lots of encouragement"? You are not going to believe the shocking truth. I really was shocked. This is great good news, and it shows that the Lord has not abandoned the current generation of youngsters. It also shows that the spirit of oversimplification and sensationalism has not abandoned the current generation of gurus and pundits.

Put less stridently, the key message I take away from all this is that if we are to make responsible decisions for the Church (of which your congregation and mine are parts) -- if we are to have understanding of the times, to know what the Church ought to do (1 Chronicles 12:32) -- then we need good data and solid analysis.

There are a lot more interesting facts, which you can read about from the horse's mouth, or pen as it were. A Google search also includes, some implications of the study for youth workers and others. This short (10 pages) paper is worth reading in its entirety. A striking excerpt:

Moreover, our findings suggest to us that religious leaders and communities should also stop presuming that U.S. teenagers are actively alienated by religion, are dropping out of their religious congregations in large numbers, cannot relate to adults in their congregations, and so need some radically new “post-modern” type of program or ministry. None of this seems to us to be particularly true.
a version of “Conclusive Unscientific Postscript,” from Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers by Christian Smith with Melinda Lundquist Denton, copyright ©2005 by Oxford University Press, Inc.
I plan to read the whole book, once I get my hands on a copy. Youth ministry workers owe it to their congregations -- not to mention to the Great Shepherd -- to make wise decisions based on real data.

What's on your church's website?

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First thing: it's better to have no website than one that's out of date. Going to a church's website in September and finding the summer schedule ... that's a message we don't want to send. Basically it says "we don't know what a website is for."

Beyond that, though -- what's on the website? Does it show buildings? If you expect the over-50 set to be the main audience, buildings are OK. Buildings, especially old buildings, say "we've been around, we're going to be here, your donations aren't going to a rented shack somewhere."

But if you want the under-40 crowd (kids!) to learn about you from your website, what do you want them to know? Besides basic information like where you are and what time services start, what meta-message do we want to send? "We care about people"? Then we want thoughtful or happy faces -- faces that are younger than 40. "Community"? Groups. If we want to emphasize celebration, empathic listening, contemplative worship, whatever -- pictures are worth thousands of words. If I were a webmaster I'd consider short video clips too.

But don't forget to keep the website current. Otherwise please take it down.

And one more thing

(This part is really my opinion -- it wasn't mentioned at all at the seminar.)
Please keep an eye on your domain registration; if it expires and people get a Server not found, a 404, or something like "this domain for sale," that makes people wonder if your congregation is still meeting. It's even worse if email to your pastors is bounced because DNS has switched over to some random hosting company :(

Saturday, September 11, 2010

What do elders do? And who can be one?

A parable:

A stream runs through a village somewhere in Europe, where many years ago the villagers hired a man to be the Keeper of the Stream. He was to look after it and keep it free from pollution and such.

Some time later, there arose a Mayor of the village who knew not the Keeper of the Stream. "Why are we paying this fellow? I've never seen him do anything!" In fact, nobody in the village had seen the Keeper at his work. What did he actually do? Nobody knew. So they stopped paying him, and the Keeper moved elsewhere.

Soon the villagers noticed that the stream had changed. The flow became irregular. Sometimes it tasted funny. Children became sick.

For years, the Keeper of the Stream had patrolled the banks and guarded it against pollution and blockage. His work was unseen but vital.

I just discovered that the above is told more eloquently by Swindoll under the title "Keeper of the Spring" -- link

One function of elders is to watch for things that can go wrong; their work is thus like the Keeper's work, watching out for "rebellious people, mere talkers and deceivers," people who "claim to know God but by their actions... deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good" (from Titus 1).

Another, which we heard about at last night's orientation, is to encourage the pastors and staff and each other (to "catch someone doing something right"). Every congregation has its critics, and a timely word, aptly spoken (Proverbs 15:23, 25:11) from an elder can bring life and joy to the hearer.

More generally, as Paul writes to Timothy, elders "direct the affairs of the church" (1 Timothy 5:17).

Who can be one?

The New Testament books of Titus and 1 Timothy list some qualifications; Titus has "elder" and 1 Timothy has "overseer" but the lists are quite similar. The way we understand these passages, particularly the part about "husband of one wife," is that Paul was making a negative requirement during a time of rampant promiscuity and polygamy; the church was not to be like that. We don't understand Paul to be restricting these offices to be only for males (else what did he mean by Galatians 3:28?); rather, he was requiring purity and temperance in these matters.

One newly-nominated elder, when invited to consider becoming one, thought herself unqualified and wanted to decline. But then she heard a message from John chapter 6, about the boy with two small fish and five barley rolls. Would she be like the boy with the five barley rolls and two fish, she asked herself? Would she bring to Jesus what little she had?

So she agreed to be considered and in due course was nominated; we'll be installed along with the other nominees next week. As I reflected on my friend's story, Isaiah 66:2 came to mind:

All these things my hand has made 
and so all these things are mine, 
    declares the Lord. 
But this is the (wo)man to whom I will look: 
    (s)he who is humble and contrite in spirit, 
    and trembles at my word. 
Isaiah 66:2 (parentheses mine)
I'm proud to call this woman my friend. Look at Isaiah 66:2 -- that's her! She was humble, in not thinking too much of her capabilities; she was also humble in agreeing to be considered. The word of the Lord came to her in the sermon; she changed her mind based on that word.

I won't go into her church experience in much detail, or you might recognize her (and I might embarrass her) -- but I will reveal that Proverbs 10:11 ("The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life...") applies, as her words of encouragement have worked powerfully in many lives -- including mine.

Do elders have to teach the Bible?

No. You may be thinking of 2 Timothy 2:24-25, which talks about the Lord's servant needing to be "kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged," etc. But I'm thinking about 1 Timothy 5:17, which talks about elders, "especially those whose work is preaching and teaching" (emphasis added). That "especially" tells us that not all do.

Greek New Testament online!

Back in the day, when I wanted to look up a word in the Greek New Testament, I would pull out an interlinear Greek/English New Testament, an analytical lexicon, and a Greek-English dictionary like the venerable BAG (an initialism for the authors Bauer, Arndt & Gingrich). I'd see a word like ἐμοῦ and the analytical lexicon would tell me it was a form of ἐγώ, and that's what I would look up on the real Greek-English dictionary. The analytical lexicon is a real blessing for those of us who are a little rusty on their Greek parsing skills -- and for people like me who never actually learned them -- because it will tell you what word to look up in the BAG or similar dictionary.

I don't need to do that any more -- well not much anyway -- because the online Greek New Testament has a lot of that information available, well, online. I pointed my browser at and selected a passage (Matthew 25:41 in this case -- I guess I didn't remember what that one was about) and got a window like what you see above. I then positioned the cursor on the "ἐμοῦ" ("circled" in magenta -- detail at right) and clicked.

Up popped a window (at left) with a parsing of the word. Now you need to know a little bit of Greek -- enough to know what to make of "Case  G" (genitive) -- others include N for nominative, A for accusative, D for dative. "Number S" means it's singular; I think Greek has dual as well as plural.

For some real fun, try clicking on a verb -- there are more tenses than I can recite (aorist being just one of them), voice (middle among them), etc.

As you can see, the website doesn't completely remove the need to know some Greek grammar, but it sure comes in handy if you have a network connection. And I'm glad I found this site, because we gave away my analytical lexicon some years ago even though I still have my 1978 Analytical lexicon on the shelf.

What about that disclaimer?

Readers may note that the "Greek Lexicon" window has something about limitations in their source data, consult another lexicon, etc. Of course they're right (it's their database after all). To really know what you're talking about requires that you, well, really know what you're talking about. That includes for example double-checking with another lexicon before basing any real conclusions on the little pop-up window from this website.

But that doesn't negate its usefulness; speaking for myself, there's a far bigger gap between my ears than there is in their database.

Espresso raises "bad" cholesterol?

Lately I've heard about these oils called "terpenes" that tend to raise one's level of LDL (the so-called "bad") cholesterol. Paper filters remove these harmful oils, but apparently metal doesn't. I use a "gold" filter at home, and I seem to remember that my niece's husband makes coffee with a French press. The lovely Carol uses a moka sometimes.

Now to put this in perspective, drinking French press coffee, or espresso, etc., isn't in the same league with, say, smoking. But I might start using paper filters again.

I searched on terpene and espresso to find this one from; it also pointed to this from, which in turn referenced this one on You now know everything I do about this subject, which isn't saying much.

BBQ rub in small volume... updated with a missing ingredient

I told my buddy Greg about my smoked turkey adventure, and loaned me his copy of Smoke & Spice. Naturally I wanted to try something from it. Their main "rub" (a mix of dry ingredients to be massaged into what you're cooking) calls for ¾cup of paprika -- yow! I modified the recipe based on what and how much we had on hand (I'm not yet willing to commit 2 cups of dry ingredients). Here's what I ended up with:
  • 1 Tbsp paprika
  • 1 Tbsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 Tbsp black pepper [how did I forget??]
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
It called for onion powder (which we don't have), cayenne (omitted in consideration for the lovely Carol), and a lot more paprika (ditto).

I massaged it into a sirloin steak, about 1.7#. There's a little left over. The plan is to smoke it over a pan of water, with charcoal and hickory chips, low heat, long time. I'll let you know how it turns out.


The lovely Carol says it's "very good." Not quite 2 hours, temperature below 230°F throughout.

And, "Why is this so tender? It's grass-fed, isn't it?"

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Annoyance, then repentance

NOTE: written July 5, 2010
A few decades ago, I was feeling bummed about something -- probably a girl -- and a wise friend gave me this passage from Isaiah 58:
...if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry 
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, 
then your light will rise in the darkness, 
and your night will become like the noonday. 
And the Lord will guide you continually 
and satisfy your desires in a sun-scorched land 
and make your bones strong. 
You will be like a well-watered garden, 
like a spring whose waters never fail. 
Isaiah 58.10-11
The point, of course, is that the best thing to do when feeling depressed is to extend myself on someone's behalf.

I did not like this advice; I was feeling depressed and didn't feel like doing anything for anyone else. I held my tongue and brooded on it. But not long afterward, I came to my senses and acted on my friend's advice. It worked! I've actually repeated this many times -- I mean serving when I feel down.

This came to mind when the lovely Carol told me about yesterday's 11:05 Café service. After the sermon (mp3 should appear here soon), the Café pastor, the one and only Dave Peterson, remarked that he had gotten angry when he heard a sermon like this some time back.

"But it was OK for me to feel angry then," he said, "and it's OK for you to feel angry now." (Quotes are approximate; you're getting them 3rd hand.)

I think that was brilliant because it acknowledges our human tendency to react defensively and resist the truth -- for a while. Dave also encouraged us to move past our fleshly tendencies. It's OK to feel angry or annoyed or vexed or misunderstood -- for a while. We do of course need to move past our sinful tendency; we need to repent, to accept the truth, to embrace the changes that the Lord is directing us to.

What a terrific model for me: to accept and acknowledge that people sometimes react badly to good advice (I resemble that remark myself) and yet urge and encourage them to move past that, to come to their senses and listen to the Holy Spirit, to repent of blaming and self-pity and selfishness and defensiveness and stubbornness.

To turn from the way of death to the way of life.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Big Changes Are Coming

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At a recent seminar I learned of big changes coming in the church, and in particular for mainline protestant (hereafter MLP) denominations like Lutherans, Presbyterians, Episcopals. That wasn't the main topic of the seminar, but a lot of what I learned could be put under that heading.

Where We Are Today

The condition of the Church in the US varies with geography: in the Pacific Northwest, we have Washington and Oregon vying for the title of "State with the lowest percentage of church-goers"; in the southeast, Atlanta's NBC affiliate forecasts the weather for "tomorrow morning, when you go to church...."

This fall's entering class at Columbia Theological Seminary (Decatur, Georgia) is the largest in many years -- 72 incoming graduate students (median age: 24) whereas San Francisco Theological's statistics aren't nearly so happy: fewer than a dozen entering this fall.

Unsurprisingly, profiles also differ by denomination: Presbyterians are supposedly the richest (per-capita) of the major denominations (including the Mormons?), but this statistic may be skewed by the Waltons (think Wal-Mart). Presbyterians have a high average educational achievement, and in this country that usually means a low fertility rate. Yes, the Presbyterians are shrinking. (Why all this focus on Presbyterians? I attend a PCUSA church, and the speaker used to work for the PCUSA. Also: most of the attendees were Presbyterians.)

The Presbyterian denomination is something like 93% white, with a median age of about 58 (vs 36 for the country).

By the way, the under-21 population in the United States is 52% non-white. You don't have to be a statistician to think that the Presbyterians may be shrinking. So are the Lutherans (97% white). At this point I'll mention that the speaker (Professor Nishioka) and I were the only non-whites in the room, which made our little group over 90% white -- yep, a Presbyterian gathering.

Rummage Sale Coming

I haven't read The Great Emergence by Phyllis Tickle, but it says that every 500 years or so the Church goes through a "rummage sale," and we're due for another one (the Reformation was about 1517, with the Great [East/West] Schism about 500 years before that, and Gregory the Great about 500 years before that.)

Can you imagine what the world looked like during the Reformation, or while the Great Schism was in progress? If Tickle is right, the church in a few decades will be as alien to us today as the Protestant/Catholic combination looked to pre-Reformation eyes back in the 16th century.

Beyond that, there's a generational cycle (at least in the US) described by Strauss and Howe: the "millennials" are coming of age. Here's a drastically oversimplified version of the concept: we generally have in the US a cycle of 4 generations:

80+, went through WW2 civics built institutions
older boomers adaptives maintain institutions
boomers, experienced Watergate idealists destroy institutions
Gen X, 30s-40s reactives ignore institutions
(not even worth getting mad about)
Millennials (not GenY) 9-29 civics again?? build new institutions?
This cycle supposedly transcends region, gender, race/ethnicity. Immigrants? They face a delay, because an immigrant from say Korea thinks of himself as a Korean living in America; his children are Americans (who happen to be Korean) but soon catch up (or are caught up) in the generational cycle.

With both of these cycles coming due, so to speak (the oldest Millennials -- born 1981~2001 -- turn 30 next year), we are in for a wild ride.

Meanwhile, during these tumultuous times, we hear of congregations offering The Model of how to do church in the 21st century; in times of upheaval, we love certainty (any port in a storm?). My comment, though, is that it can be treacherous to trust in programs rather than in the Lord (Isaiah 50:10-11).

Millennials: They'll change more than the Church

These are the first people who come of age during the new Millennium, and yes they are different.

How different? We used to think infectious diseases were boring because they were all cured -- then AIDS came along, as did nasty nosocomial infections, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and so on. This was just one of many crises of faith in our institutions, and it's part of the world these Millennials were born into. They haven't done the nuclear attack drills, but they've had school lock-down drills. Millennials refer to Wikipedia more than printed sources, and they switch very rapidly between tasks.

Millennials have experienced the most severe economic recession since the Great Depression -- which is beyond the memory even of their boomer parents. Some 60% of Millennials have been in institutional day care (vs. 2% of boomers); 20% have at least one immigrant parent, and 10% have a non-citizen parent. They are the most racially diverse generation in US history -- as mentioned earlier, 52% of them are non-white.

So what's next?

Trends used to start in the northeast and radiate southward and westward. Today, however, outfits like McDonald's do their test-marketing in Spokane (Washington) or Grant's Pass (Oregon). Trends, in other words, start now in the northwest and spread east.

So if Washington and Oregon have the lowest percentage of church-goers in America, what does that suggest for the future?

Similarly, with the under-30 set being more diverse, having spent more time in institutional day-care, and caring less about institutions than previous generations, what does that suggest for institutions like the Presbyterians and Lutherans, which are older (median age) than the national population and less diverse (93% and 97% white, respectively)?

That they -- that we -- will have to change. Our speaker described an incident where he was asking a lot of young people what might convince them to "come to church." He wasn't getting anywhere, so at some point he started praying, and something awful happened: he heard a voice. (This has only happened to him a few times, ever.) Anyway, here's what the voice said:

"Nishioka, why do you keep asking them to come to you?"

Good point, that one. We will have to change, because we've built it and they're not coming.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

The spiritual meaning of Castle

We rented the first DVD for season 1 of this television series, and I find myself liking it. The title character, Richard Castle, is a crime novelist and rather a jackass at times; the detective, Kate Beckett, looks more like a model (come to think of it, so does the novelist) and does her job really well. Castle follows Beckett around on her investigations, sometimes getting in the way and sometimes actually helping to solve the murder (it's always a murder).

Of the first four episodes, two involve adultery. One adulterous husband gets a bullet in his head; another gets knifed by a mistress (she also killed the other mistress). One other adulterous husband was simply served divorce papers by his justifiably peeved wife.

I'm accustomed to cop shows teaching that crime doesn't pay; what (happily) surprises me is pop culture teaching us adultery brings major trouble.

There are other little lessons that I like; in one episode, Castle does something shabby to Beckett. Rather than apologizing, he tries to explain why his deed wasn't that bad. It doesn't fly.

Later, Castle's daughter complains about a boy. Why can't they just say “I’m sorry,” she asks.

Castle goes back to Beckett and apologizes, acknowledges that what he did was bad, says why it was bad, and ends with something like: "and if we never see each other again, I wanted you to know that."

A worthy example.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Motivating people (young mothers in particular) to study the Bible

The lovely Carol was planning to discuss this topic today, and I jotted down the below. She encouraged me to post it, so here it is....
Why is it that we think this is important? If we can answer that, maybe our answers will have counterparts that resonate with these young mothers.

First, without understanding the Bible, I won't recognize truth vs. lies. If someone says something, either explicitly or implicitly (think advertising), how can I tell whether it's true or not? Yes, I have rational intuition, but I've been wrong before. Acts 17:11 is a New Testament example of this. I also think of Josiah (2 Kings 22:10-13) vs Jehoiakim (Jeremiah 36:23-27).

Second, and this is related to the first, I read about guys who completely went off the rails: David with Bathsheba, Solomon going off into idolatry, many many evil kings of Israel and Judah -- or in the present day, politicians and celebrity golfers and preachers and CEOs getting into adultery and embezzlement. To tell the truth, I'm a little afraid of going off the rails myself. Think of it -- David, the man after God's own heart, made some catastrophic decisions that cost many lives, not to mention betrayal and disgrace. If David could go off the rails, so could I! I'm going to guess that if David had been reading and studying the word, this might have helped him to steer around that temptation.

Third -- and as I think of this, I wonder if this might be the thing that works for these young mothers -- there is a lot to figure out in life, many little decisions, and sometimes I don't know how to decide them. What I need is a word from the Lord. So something as simple as reading a passage and asking:

  • Does the passage mention a SIN I need to forsake?
  • Or a COMMAND I need to obey?
  • Or an ERROR to avoid?
  • Perhaps a NEW THOUGHT about God or my relationship to him?
  • Is there an EXAMPLE for me to follow?
(the initials spell out SCENE)

Fourth, studying the Bible -- including its historical context etc. -- has given me a clearer idea of God's amazing love. "The Bible is God's love letter to us" -- I heard that many times, but when I understood what Genesis 1 was about, well, it still almost brings tears when I think about what wonderful news this must have been to its hearers. The good news about God begins with the first line of the first book of the Old Testament, but I never appreciated that until I heard about the Enuma Elish and its great contrast with Genesis 1.

Well, that's a half-hour's worth of thought on the subject. I read and study the Bible because this activity gives me a better idea of God's love, because I need help and guidance, to avoid going off the rails, and to be able to discern truth.

Don't know how well those will resonate, but anyway there it is.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Therapeutic? Where did that come from?

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So this phrase just came up: "moralistic therapeutic deism". Apparently "millennials" generally hold this belief, even those in the church. The therapeutic part means, basically, that the main point of life is to be happy and fulfilled.

Where did they get this idea, I mean those that hold it? From us -- from their parents. "We just want you to be happy." Advertisers help, but mainly it is we, the parents, who gave them this idea.

Trouble is, it's not just millennials. Divorce rates aren't much lower in the church than they are outside, and I'm afraid that many (not all!) of these divorces happen because "this isn't working for me" -- the therapeutic goal wasn't being met.

How do we get out of this? How do I stop this sort of "stinkin' thinkin'" in my own life, and how can I help others to avoid it?

One thing is avoiding "we just want you to be happy," in favor of Hauerwas's worthy adventure, or the intersection of your passion with the world's need (put more eloquently by Bolles in What Color Is Your Parachute). So "We want you to find a worthy adventure"?