Saturday, January 31, 2009


Comic Art


Some villains should never go away and this week we look at one of those - archenemy of Captain America, The Red Skull. The Red Skull has been through a lot of changes over the years. Technically it is a role, originally envisioned by Hitler, that has been filled by several people. His purposes and aims have been thought and re-thought attempting to reach a more up-to-date audience. Each version of the Skull has had strengths and weaknesses, and everyone seems to have a favorite.

One thing is for certain, The Red Skull is an iconic image, and for that reason alone he will never go away.

My personal favorite Red Skull is from the so-called "Silver Age" - the 60's comic revival continuing into the 70's. This was the Red Skull, allied with A.I.M., Hydra and other evil empire sorts attempting to bring about the Fourth Reich.

The Skull's villainy seemed so real, for his comic evil sprung from a genuine evil, and convincingly so. In the Silver Age, memories of WWII remained in the general populace and especially in the minds of comic creators. The genuine evil of Nazism was something they had lived in fear of, and such fear never really goes away, particularly when it is based in reality. This made the Skull powerful indeed, even to my childish, but post-war mind.

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Friday, January 30, 2009


Why Education?

Mark Steyn recently opined about college and the seemingly poor graduation rates in a couple of posts at The Corner. He gets into several issues, but his conclusion of the final post is what really strikes me:
We require more and more over-credentialed professions in order to justify the fetishization of mass college.
He is absolutely right and this fact greatly devalues a university education. Even when I was in school there were way too many people inventing their own majors (in undergrad school mind you!) and now-a-days it just seems mind-boggling what some people get degrees in.

There is also the phenomena of university as trade school. Many university degrees now forgo the classical portion of a university education to provide people with job specific skills. Trade schools are great things and I encourage them for many people, but universities? - that is no university degree.

Much of this lies in the economic transition we are undergoing from manufacturing. The world used to be divided into trades and professions. Trades involved work with your hands and did not require higher education. Professions, you worked at a desk and needed an education. Well, working with your hands is largely disappearing from our economy. Unless of course you are one of the countless clerks required to move the paperwork along in the medical insurance business - but that is front office and therefore a profession.

Or is it, all it really requires is the ability to read and write and some basic organizational skills. Skills one used to come out of public school with. As Steyn says in his first post:
And, in America, so-called "expanding opportunities for college" is an obvious crock to absolve high schools of their failure to educate.
Steyn concludes:
It would be nice to think there are persons of influence rethinking this racket.
I agree, but I don't see it happening.

People have different abilities and capabilities. Some are not suited to higher education. It does not make them lesser people. Nor does it necessarily limit their earning potential. I'm the highly educated one and most of my clients are not - they own businesses much larger than mine. Something to think about.

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Friday Humor - a bit off color edition

Having lived in Texas through my elementary school years, I find this joke irresistable:

A Texan bought a round of drinks for all in the bar and announced that his wife had just produced a typical Texas baby, weighing a whopping twenty pounds.

"WOW!" was the response from everyone at the bar.

Two weeks later the Texan returned to the bar. The bartender recognized him and asked, "Aren't you the father of the baby that weighed twenty pounds at birth? How much does he weigh now?"

The proud father answered, "10 pounds."

The bartender said, "Why? I know that babies lose some weight after birth, but ten pounds? He did weigh twenty pounds, didn't he? What happened?

The proud Texas father said, "Just had him circumcised!"

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Thursday, January 29, 2009


Ch-Ch-Ch- Changes

Alan Nelson, writing at MMI, says this:
Ever since my work on “How To Change Your Church,” I’ve been perplexed at how many pastors and lay leaders say they want to change, sometimes even hiring consultants, yet how few really ever get around to implementing the changes. Like so many teenagers on the last night of camp, we make tearful confessions that seem to evaporate with the light of day. They give lip service to improvement but for the most part, they’re preoccupied with tending business as usual. I got fired by a church one time that swore it was ready for something new, but when they saw it, they found it too hard to swallow.

Is this the lukewarm issue Jesus talks about in Revelations? Is it the same thing as being unwilling to leave an ailing parent or a parcel of land in order to follow the Master? I don’t know, but I’m convinced that human nature negotiates whatever it can to make us think that we want to change, so long as it doesn’t get to a sense of urgency. Such good intentions cause us to believe we’re making progress, when we’re not. If I really felt urgent about my health, I wouldn’t be carrying around this extra 20 right now. Obviously, losing weight isn’t an urgent matter to me right now, even though I’d like to be thinner.
There is truth here, but also danger. Urgency is usually what motivates dreams to action. However, unchecked urgency often results in very misguided action.

Consider the overwhelming urgency created in the wake of hurricane Katrina and the number of very unfortunate missteps taken by urgent action, unchecked by planning and thought.

Urgency in church circles always worries me, urgency is about immediacy, and God operates on a very different time frame than we do. Can "4000 years" between the fall of Adam and the coming of Jesus be described as urgent? Can centuries between the Exodus and the Davidic kingdom be described as urgent?

Nelson is right that some special motivator is needed to move the church forward, something which will entail change. I can think of no better motivator than a burning desire for spreading the Kingdom of Christ. In fact, such is the only motivator I can think of that will create both urgency and the necessary thought associated with it. I can think of no other motivator that will create a path ahead that does not veer off in some unproductive, even counterproductive, direction.

The problem is, urgency is easy to create ("The end is nigh!"), but genuine discipleship is hard - real hard - extraordinarily hard to accomplish in ourselves, let alone in an organization.

Yet I think we are called to nothing less.

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Illuminated Scripture

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009


Pastors and Personality

MMI links to this at Crosswalk:
I make this call to Personality Cleavage (that is, cleaving to one's personality) because in my professional life as a lunch mooch and meeting crasher, I have had a fair number of occasions to hang with people whose job it is to essentially represent God to truly vast numbers of people. And I'm always sitting around with these people, and they might be having a drink or two, the way normal people do when they're hanging out with their friends, and they'll be way funnier than you'd think. (Or that I expected, anyway.) And I don't mean the kind of humor where you chuckle with restrained verve and then ask someone to pass the rolls. I'm talking Teamster humor. Rude stuff. Jokes that make you wish you hadn't just taken a bite of a roll.

It's awesome.

But then, later, I'll see those same people on TV, or hear them on the radio, or whatever, and it's like they'd gotten attacked and treated by a taxidermist. They've gone from Richard Pryor to Maury Shaffer. It's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Church Lady. From Gildna Radner to Aunt Bea. From Willie to Principal Skinner. From ... well, you get the idea.
I think it is fair to say that I have seen this in EVERY Christian professional I have ever met to some extent or the other - myself included when I was a Christian professional.

It seems to me that if we are in the transformation business - that is to say we are God's tools in transforming ourselves and others, then this cleavage should be a disappearing thing. I would presume that as we are transformed by the Holy Spirit, it would require less discipline to behave in a "proper" manner.

I find that hard. Here's an example. Regular readers know of my weight loss and that it is quite significant. I have been at it for 4-5 years now. I have always hoped that after enough time I would become a more normally sized person, that it would no longer require the enormous concentration and discipline to not eat excessively. Well, to date that has not happened. In a room with finger food it requires all my concentration not to consume it, ALL of it. There remain times when I "lose control." I m not, yet anyway, normal when it comes to food. I remain quite wrong and all it takes is a bit of a slip and the old fat John is back with a vengeance.

When it comes to spiritual transformation, I think the same can be true. It takes a lot of discipline for very little transformation. So what is a pastor - a person that is supposed to model the transformed life - to do?

May I suggest rather than modeling transformation, model the path to transformation. That is to say, be human, exercise discipline and be confessing.

Spiritual leadership is not about being at the destination and calling people to you, it is about being a half-step ahead on the journey.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009


On Denominations - Precisely The Wrong Approach

MMI links to a post on congregations hiding their denominational affiliations.
Granger is just one among many churches in our connection that don't emphasize (or even outright avoid) the United Methodist name, logos and branding in their church identity and marketing.


So how have the big cola companies dealt with their flagship brands falling out of favor? They've developed new soft drink brands, including sports drinks and bottled water. Pepsi and Coke have broadened their corporate focus from a single brand of cola to multiple beverage brands. In our denomination, our "product" is ultimately not the United Methodist Church, it's the Gospel of Jesus Christ. (Please forgive me for these marketing analogies. I understand that Jesus isn't a consumable product or brand name.) If Pepsi and Coke had gone into "protection mode" years ago when they were losing sales to specialty beverages and sports drinks, that would have been an unwise move, and soft drink sales surely would've continued to decline. Instead, Pepsi and Coke developed their own "competing" brands and products. They adapted to market conditions.Today Gatorade is owned by Pepsi, and Coke has its own Powerade sports drink.
OK, he apologizes, but keeps right on going, which seriously questions the sincerity of the apology, but let's look at this thing for a minute.

Now, the idea of church expanding its offerings is, in my opinion a fine one. As culture has left church behind as an expectation, rather than reach out, church has relied on para-church. To pull para-church into the fold is a good thing, but it is still going to be a different division. Pepsi may have bought Gatorade, but there is still a bunch of people working very hard to make and sell Pepsi. They did not turn Pepsi into Gatorade.

That's the problem here, most churches in the effort to expand the offering do not add, they mutate. They turn the Sunday morning worship into the Sunday morning evangelism meeting; they quit offering Sunday School and start offering Bible study - they ought to be offering both. If nobody participates in the "old school" then it seems clear to me there is a breakdown somewhere. If people want to stay at the evangelism meeting and never advance to the worship service then we are not doing what need to be done to advance people in their faith.

Hence the first break down in this discussion.

Second concern - church is not about taste, it's about truth. People's taste does in fact change all the time, truth does not. One cannot change the marketing approach without changing the product. It just does not work that way. Marketing, in a real sense, defines a product. Hence when we market evangelism meetings we get evangelism meetings.

Now, what does all this have to do with denominations? This guy wants to contend that they are brands, or something analogous. They are anything but - they are theological traditions and accountability structures - they make us part of something larger than ourselves.

If there is anything the church needs to teach today it is that we are a part of something larger than ourselves, not label, a thing.

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Kitty Kartoons

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Monday, January 26, 2009


Are We Really That Sure?

Al Mohler discusses the recent Pew study fact that most believe there is a way to salvation other than Christ. One point that Mohler makes is a good one:
I am confident that much of this confusion can be traced to the superficiality that marks far too many evangelical pulpits.
Amen to that! Way too many pulpits are way too full of pablum. Church as pep rally has never been something I was much in favor of.

That said; however, Mohler's prescription for what to preach, I find problematic:
In that work, Hunter warned that the rising generation of younger evangelicals -- then mostly college age -- were increasingly uncomfortable with the claim that Jesus is the only Savior and that belief in Christ is necessary in order for a person to go to heaven.
First part good - Jesus is our only savior, but that later half about belief I have a bit of a problem. Nothing I do can warrant my salvation, even mere belief. But I do not want to debate Arminianism and Calvinism in this post, I want to discuss attitude.

Let's take Mohler at face value. To set ourselves up as gatekeepers based on belief is just pure ego. It is simply too easy to lie. I can tell you I believe when I do not and frankly, vice-versa. We cannot see into people hearts and minds - we cannot know who truly believes and who does not. Profession and belief are two different things, and we lack the capability to bridge the gap between them.

Historically, we protestants broke away from the Roman church because they believed that they controlled the way to heaven. How is the attitude expressed by Mohler here any different? Different standard perhaps, but he has set himself up as judge and jury as to who does and who does not enter into God's eternal kingdom. Seems to me that is God's judgment and God's decision alone.

Look, of course I want all people to be a part of Christ's church. Of course, I believe that all religions other than my own are, in some sense, false. But I also endeavor to practice some humility in my conviction. I certainly know that God is much bigger, much smarter and much more loving than I am.

This means simply that I am unwilling to say who I will and will not meet in heaven. I am willing to say that at least some of them will be surprising.

I have my convictions and I work to defend them, but I realize my inadequacy to ever be 100% sure.

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Sunday, January 25, 2009


Sermons and Lessons

This week, our sermon is by link - Mark Daniels on The Word Made Flesh

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