Thursday, July 22, 2010

Three Minutes

"The average American spends three minutes a day reading a book."

"The typical American spends an average of about nine and a half hours a day consuming media."

Dick Meyer, Why We Hate Us: American Discontent In The New Millennium, (New York: Crown Publishers, 2008), 87.

I believe we are facing a crisis with the above statistics. The elimination of reading from the diet of input consumption in Americans is alarming. We are literally setting ourselves on the path of ineptitude. It will not be long before the vast majority of the leadership of the United States will be non-readers. They will be heavy consumers of technology & media - but with little regard for reading & knowledge development. That is another way of spelling doom. The worst part of it all is that the majority of Americans do not blink an eye at these statistics. They might feign shock or awe - but the reality is they don't care.

It takes a certain amount of discipline to read. I understand that not everyone enjoys it - but there is something to reading words on paper. There is something to creating your own images, pictures, and ideas instead of having a screen show them to you. There is something to thinking about what might a book be communicating instead of just consuming & beliving whatever screen it is you get your info from. It doesn't take any effort to consume media. It takes no brain power or ability. It is just given to you. It is beyond crystal clear that the lack of reading in America will destroy our power to think, reason, struggle, and be well-rounded citizens. Unfortunately, it seems we just don't care enough to change.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Try Something

"Must the country remain hungry and jobless while raw materials stand unused and factories idle?" he [FDR] asked. "The country needs, the country demands, bold, persistent experimentation. Take a method and try it. If it fails admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something."
Jean Edward Smith, FDR, (New York: Random House, 2007), 263.
This question has been proposed to me numerous times since I decided to move: "But isn't the job market for history teachers pretty bleak?" Now I don't think anyone is trying to discourage me or predict doom for my family, but I do believe people (myself included) often get caught up in fear. We need bold, persistent experimentation - and yet we constantly take the easy route. We love to quote Robert Frost and his ideal of the road not taken - but the truth is we always take the path more traveled upon. Its not a lack of desire that forces our hand on this - but a lack of faith. Like the Israelites, we just don't trust that God can part the Red Sea.

So the answer to that question is yes the job market for high school history teachers is probably pretty bleak. The entire US economy is struggling right now so why would this sector be any different? But the road not taken still makes all the difference. FDR's command of "But above all, try something" rings daily in my ears. This could fail in some ways but the reality is I know I could not stay doing something I did not feel like God was calling me to do anymore. It would have been more safe and yet detrimental for my development as a person. I have no clue how things will turn out, where I will end up, or what kind of journey it will be like. But my choice is to succumb to the fear or be invigorated by the challenge that lies ahead. I choose the latter.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Into The Great Wide Open

"The missionary work of the non-professional missionary is to live his daily life in Christ, and therefore with a difference, and to be able to state the reason and cause of the difference to men who see it. His preaching is essentially private conversation, and has at the back of it a life which explains and illustrates and enforces his words. It is such a missionary work that the world needs today. Everybody, Christian and pagan alike, respects such work. When it is so done, men wonder, and inquire into the secret of a life which they instinctively admire and covet for themselves." -Roland Allen-
...Discerning and following God's calling on our lives is both the primary mission of the individual Christian as well as the most significant step we can take toward bringing healing to the body of Christ. Said another way, God knits together the body in His wisdom and sovereignty. That which is most healthy for the individual members is necessarily that which is most needful for the body.
Warren Cole Smith, A Lover's Quarrel With The Evangelical Church, (Colorado Springs: Authentic Publishing, 2008), 221.
I am stepping down. With those four words I began the process of liberating myself from the world of fulltime vocational ministry. I must be careful to help people understand that I am not leaving in anger, frustration, hurt, or bitterness. Truth be told I have experienced all of those in my tenure at the church but they aren't the driving force of my departure. It is best to never leave a place guns blazing. I don't believe I am doing that.

The reality is that I feel I can be more effective outside of the walls of vocational church ministry. I will come in contact with more non-churched people in the world of education than I could ever dream of inside the church. Being the light of the world doesn't matter if that light remains hidden safely within the walls of the church. No, its time to step beyond the boundaries and make a difference. That isn't to say that church staff members do not serve a purpose or don't have an impact on the world. Its just for me - I see the potential outside instead of inside.

So here we go: Into the Great Wide Open. I am sure it will be weird, different, thrilling, exciting, and potentially even scary. The reality is I haven't felt like that in years. I am excited to teach. I am excited to be around people for the majority of my job instead of the minority of it. I am excited to see what God has in store. Most of all I am excited that instead of just sitting, I am doing something. Good or bad, sometimes we just need to make headway in life.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Gambler's Heart

...Yamamoto possessed the rank, prestige, and administrative skill to do something about it. In the Navy he was known as a bold, original thinker and an inveterate gambler. He thrived on all night poker games, testing his opponents' nerves, endurance, and patience - just as he tested himself. "In all games, Yamamoto loved to take chances just as he did in naval strategy," explained his administrative aide, Captain Yasuji Watanabe. "He had a gambler's heart."
Yamamoto's decision to attack the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor not only was breathtakingly bold but involved a revolutionary, hitherto untried use of naval airpower - an experimental concept untested in the crucible of battle. "What a strange position I find myself in," Yamamoto wrote to his friend Rear Admiral Teikichi Hori on the eve of the fleet's departure, "-having to pursue with full determination a course of action which is diametrically opposed to my best judgment and firmest conviction. That, too, perhaps is fate."
Jean Edward Smith, FDR, (New York: Random House, 2007), 532-534.
Isoroku Yamamoto was Naval General of the Japanese Navy at the time of Pearl Harbor. Although attacking America was not his favored position, he took upon himself to do it in a creative way that was built upon risk. He used an untested method to fight the battle while putting everything - including his best judgment - on the line. The attack on Pearl Harbor was breathtaking for its incredible destruction & success. It was a gambler's strategy & it worked to nearly flawless perfection. Of course we can look back and judge Japan for helping the United States enter the war - which would lead to the downfall of the Axis powers. However, at the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor, all that was known was that Japan needed a big W on the board to help boost morale and nail the US where it counted. The gambler's heart of Yamamoto lead to the plan that accomplished that.

I admire the gambler's heart. I admire the courage. I admire taking chances and putting experimental concepts into practice. It certainly must lead to a fair share of mistakes, accidents, and disaters. But as they say in Vegas - you have to bet big to win big. My life doesn't resemble that of Yamamoto. I do not have the gambler's heart or the desire to risk it all. I like to think I do. I like to talk like I do. But the reality is I almost always play it safe. But why not risk? Life is so short and you only get one shot at it. Your untested plans, goals, dreams, and strategies are waiting to be used. Double check to make sure the convictions and judgment that holds you back is not based upon fear. Just go.

Bet it all. Take that chance. The gambler's heart leads to the big reward.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

A Spirit of Charity

"Liberty requires opportunity to make a living - a living which gives man not only enough to live by, but something to live for. For too many of us the political equality we once had won was meaningless in the face of economic inequality. A small group had concentrated into their own hands and almost complete control over other people's property, other people's money, and other people's labor - other people's lives. These economic royalists complain that we seek to overthrow the institutions of America. What they really complain of is that we seek to take away their power. In vain they seek to hide behind the Flag and the Constitution. Governments can err. Presidents do make mistakes. But the immortal Dante tells us that divine justice weighs the sins of the cold-blooded and the sins of the warm-hearted in different scales. Better the occasional faults of a Government that lives in a spirit of charity than the consistent omissions of a Government frozen in the ice of its own indifference." -Franklin D. Roosevelt
Jean Edward Smith, FDR, (New York: Random House, 2007), 368.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Constituted Means

"A revival of religion is not a miracle, nor dependent on a miracle in any sense. It is a purely philosophical result of the right use of the constituted means - as much so as any other effect produced by the application of means." - Charles Finney- "With this statement, Finney not only rejected salvation by grace but also opened the door to the use of emotionalism and technique to produce a high body count when it came time to sing the hymn of invitation at the close of the service...And Sproul stated plainly the problems with body-count evangelism when he said, "Everyone who has faith is called to profess faith, but not everybody who professes faith has faith. We are not saved by a profession of faith. A lot of people, it seems to me, in the evangelical world, believe that if they have walked the walk, raised the hand, signed the card - that is, made some kind of methodological profession of faith - that they're saved."
Warren Cole Smith, A Lover's Quarrel With The Evangelical Church, (Colorado Springs, Authentic Publishing, 2008), 139-140.
Emotions. Nothing about a person impacts their decisions more than their emotions. Every day people make choices that are born out of emotional moment. It can be as simple as buying a beer because it was a stressful day at work or as complicated as making a "profession" of faith at a church service because the circumstances were set up to lead to that. Advertisers play upon the impulses & emotions of people to sell products, and often the evangelical church plays upon the same emotions to "sell" Jesus, offering, and serving. With the right lighting, music, words, and set-up, any church can make an effective decision weekend. As Charles Finney, 'the Father of Modern Revivialism', clearly stated it - the "right use of the consituted means" can produce a revival. People can make decisions that they feel like are changing their lives without realizing what they are doing or why they are doing it. The consequence (unintended as it might be) is that people make a decision for Jesus or put money in an offering bin without ever really choosing to do so. Their lives don't change. Their faith doesn't exist. They simply have a memory of an emotional moment and less cash in their wallet.

The hard part comes in the lack of trust that Warren Cole Smith gives to God in the process. Can God still use the moments that churches play upon emotionalism & technique? Could God not still change lives despite the clear manipulation being done to people? After all God is the one who remains sovereign - despite the mess people make in the world and in His church. My personal belief is that God can still use these "revival-like" moments BUT that a lot of the decisions made in these moments are not as deep as the church would like to believe they are. The number of decisions look good on paper & help us feel like we are accomplishing The Great Commission, but the reality is that if all of these emotionalism techniques being used across the evangelical church in America were truly 100% effective - we would see more "fruit" from the decisions. Instead - it seems the evangelical church contributes to the notion of a nation that claims to be 83% Christian and yet displays very little of the love & life of Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Best Guy On Radio

Colin Cowherd is the best guy on radio right now. If you don't listen to him - you are missing out. Very funny & intelligent, with a great command of radio. Good insight on culture as well as sports. Highly recommended.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Distorted Reality

Today we might look with disdain on geographical provincialism. But we are trapped in a new provincialism of time. We are trapped in the ever-present now. We now live without a past or a future. We act with no regard to consequence. Effects admit no cause. The result is that we live in an age of ideology. We can make up any theory we like about how the world operates, and we look for data to support it. Of course, the problem with the modernist's worldview is that it is sustainable only if time is erased. Because actions and ideas do have specific and related consequences, the only way we can keep our ideologies from crumbling under the weight of reality is to distort reality.
Warren Cole Smith, A Lover's Quarrel With The Evangelical Church, (Colorado Springs, Authentic Publishing, 2008), 44-45.
The concept of the new provincialism in Warren Cole Smith's book was very intriguing to me. Especially in regards to his belief that we now live with an abandoment of the past, fixated only upon the 'ever-present now.' Without the past or the future, we can make decisions and build our own realities because we are comfortable with the here & now. In an era of incredible technology & information, we are able to look for facts and completely justify/support our personal stances & ideologies. As a result, we can never see our own mistakes or faults because "our data" clearly showcases we are correct. When the cold realities of life hit us - we simply maneuver around them back to our comfortable distorted reality.

Much of what Smith is addressing in his book pertains to the current evangelical church and its complete distorted reality. However, I think this simple idea can realistically apply to anyone and anything. All of us are guilty of living lives of distorted reality based upon self-constructed idealogies. We have convinced ourselves we are correct simply because we have "numbers" to back ourselves up. Our politics are shaped by our upbringing, personal biases, and the content/media we filter into our thinking. However, instead of recognizing this we argue against other people because their thinking/idealogy is so dumb & narrow-minded. Well guess what?!? They have facts too! The reality is that all our modernist thinking is based upon circumstantial evidence that we have compiled that is based upon current trends, facts, and figures.

The way you believe church should be run, the way you believe politics should be operated, how big or small you think the government should be, and what you prefer to do with your spare time is all based upon your own construct of reality. We all need to do the world a favor and get over ourselves. Think beyond your own feelings & beliefs. Your way, my way, his way, her way - they're all wrong in some way. Until we see that we each view life through a distorted lens, we'll never get anywhere. The question is not whether or not your idealogy is crumbling - its whether or not you are astute enough to see the pieces falling down.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Not Merely Admired

"He was a man that could talk to you," a farmer remembered. "He had sense enough to talk to a man who didn't have any education, and he had sense enough to talk to the best educated man in the world; and he was easy to talk to. He could talk about anything." Roosevelt also listened. The stories of low farm prices, failed banks, and rurarl poverty stayed with him into the White House.
To be a great president, said FDR, required "the quality of soul which makes a man loved by little children, by dumb animals, that quality of soul which makes him a strong help to those in sorrow or trouble, that quality which makes him not merely admired but loved by all the people - the quality of sympathetic understanding of the human heart, of real interest in one's fellow man."
Jean Edward Smith, FDR, (New York: Random House, 2007), 218, 222.
It is easy to be completely enamored by the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt. He certainly made mistakes during his tenure, but he had the unique ability to be truly loved by people. He knew how to have a conversation with people. He knew how to listen to people. He knew what mattered to people. It was his ability to connect with regular people and have them actually fully believed he cared about them as an individual that stuck out. He understood people & chose to care for them. People were not mere statistics. He was admired for his leadership but loved for his care & connection.

The single greatest quality missing from today's leadership is that: care & concern for one's fellow man. All around me I see quality leadership that can lead in tough times, make difficult decisions, and forecast incredible vision. But lost amongst all of it - is a genuine concern for people. Leaders don't listen any more. Leaders can't "talk about anything" any more. Leaders simply don't care any more. Leadership has become about building power, establishing networks with influential people, and being stoic in the midst of crisis. And yet in all the good we get from that, we miss out as people on being cared for. On being loved. On being listened to. We desperately crave a leader who will lead but also love. If it is enough to simply be admired - a leader has already fallen woefully short of what they could & should be.

The "quality of soul" as FDR put it makes a person not only a good president or leader; but a genuine person worthy of admiration and love. That is what I desire to be.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Size, Speed, and Power

  • "It was the hypocrisy of religious-right political leaders quick (and right) to condemn big government and its corrupting power, but who thought that the big ministries and megachurches they were creating would somehow be immune to the same corrupting power."
  • "Size, speed, and power have become the ways the evangelical church measure God's blessing."
  • "But I do believe we have gotten to the point where it is fair to say this: many of the worse elements of the modern world - materialism, empire building at the expense of community building, and the accumulation of power and money - have become some of the most recognizable attributes of American evangelicalism."

Warren Cole Smith, A Lover's Quarrel with the Evangelical Church, (Colorado Springs: Authentic Publishing, 2008), 7, 40-41.

I just started Warren Cole Smith's book. It is interesting to say the least. I don't know if I agree with all of his points or if he even has valid solutions to the legitimate problems he sees. However, the book has provided some interesting things to chew on.

One of the things I have been pondering is the idea of size & power in the church. Now I am not against megachurches, but I do find it interesting that the fear of size in relation to the government does not translate over to the fear of size in the church. Many right-wingers love to gush about the need for government to be small enough to kill yet see no potential issues with a church being large, powerful, and at times without strict accountability. It is my belief that with size comes potential. Of course that potential can be used for evil - but it also can be used to accomplish greater things. A large government is no worse than a large church - it just depends on whom is in power, what type of accountability they have, and if they are using their size for the betterment of society. A small government just like a small church is not guaranteed any more success, hope, or effectiveness just because its size is smaller. The frustrating part in it all is the idea that Christians think they are immune to the same issues of improper spending, ill-use of resources, or abuse of power that the government often is guilty of. People are people. If one foot needs to be on the throat of the government, is the other on the throat of our large and powerful evangelical churches? If not - why?

Liberty of the Community

The course of modern history, he [FDR] suggested, had been a struggle for individual liberty. 'Today, in Europe and America, the liberty of the individual has been accomplished.' What was now required was a process by which that liberty could be harnessed for the betterment of the community. 'Competition has been shown to be useful up to a certain point and no further. Cooperation, which is the thing that we must strive for today, begins where competition leaves off.' FDR avoided the term 'community interest' as too socialistic. He eschewed 'brotherhood of man' as too sentimental. Instead, he defined cooperation as 'the struggle for liberty of the community rather than the liberty of the individual' and said it was 'what the founders of the republic were groping for.'
Jean Edward Smith, FDR, (New York: Random House, 2007), 84.
Individual liberty v. Community liberty. Nothing could describe the battle FDR fought and the idealogy he clung to better than those two forces. No President (since Lincoln) fought harder for the community of the United States than FDR did. As a result of his beliefs, the interests of the community were taken into far more consideration than each individual. People ignored since the beginning of the republic were finally looked upon. Jobs were created that helped push forward the American economy. Different regions of people were banded together who had previously been estranged. Individual rights might have been touched & toyed with but it was done so for the betterment of the whole United States.

I find the idea of the individual v. the community highly fascinating. I think this is a huge debate in public policy today for all types of situations. The government, the church, businesses, neighborhoods, etc., all struggle with this battle. Who gets preferential treatment, when do they get it, why do they get it, and how is it better if they do? Do you raise taxes to pay for social betterment, or do you cut them in the hopes that less taxes creates altruistic people who will pay for social betterment themselves? Should the government be large in order to use its power to take care of the nation or should the government be small because individuals can handle themselves? Every single decision, policy, and debate hinges upon this concept. And in light of it all, FDR's ideas of competition v. cooperation loom large. I don't know if I have the answer to what the balance needs to be. However, I do believe that the rights of individuals is very sacred to Americans. When those rights are threatened, we become uncomfortable - even if they are sacrificed for the expense of helping others. The question thus becomes how do we help and focus on the community and make the individual okay with it?