Thursday, April 30, 2009

Dehumanizing Humans

Because people are basically bad, we have a tendency to behave badly. Our instincts are for self-preservation and anything that goes against that ideal, we resist. Often that means that we resist or oppose things that do not really threaten our own well-being. We often oppose the well-being of others because it is not our well-being.

For example, I might become jealous- even envious- of another person in my profession who meets more success than I do. Although he may not be as good at our job as I am, for some reason he is "luckier" than me. He works for a different company and makes more money, has more security, perhaps he has gained notoriety for the job. All of this can drive me crazy. He is no threat to me, to my work, to my future, and yet I have evil thoughts about him. It is because I am a bad person.

This problem is true in general, but can also be seen to be true in specific situations. We have divided our world into "classes" or types of people. We all want to reach higher echelons of society and therefore ignore, or even shun, those who are in equal, or lower, social classes.

This is the work of the devil. It is a human/satanic invention to think that one person, or group of people, is superior in any way to another. All people are created to be equal. Each individual has the same value as every other individual. The orphan child living in the dumps of Mexico City is just as valuable as Warren Buffett. We must begin to reorient our thought processes to treat all people, and to care for all people, in the same way.

Here are some general categories that we should work very hard to avoid and overcome.
  • Service Worker. This one really makes me mad. People assume that because an individual's job is to serve another individual, that indicates a social hierarchy. I see service workers as hard-working, important parts of our world.
  • Financial Distinctions. This is one of the hardest barriers to overcome. Money does create opportunity and comfort. However, it never means that a person is somehow superior to anyone else. If you have money, get over it. If you don't, don't worry about it.
  • Social Superiority. Many people make distinctions based on education, ancestry, geographic region or some other meaningless measurement. There are thousands (millions?) of differences between people, none of those have anything to do with the value of one over another.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

In Praise of Movie Innovation

I love movies. I love new things in movies- new ways of making movies.

I loved Memento, in which the main character has no long-term memory. In essence, the entire movie goes backwards until we learn why he has lost his memory.

I loved Rope, in which Alfred Hitchcock made the whole movie in one room with only one "shot."

I love movies that experiment, that change things up. I want to be inspired and challenged.

But more important than this, I want to watch movies. And herein lies the problem. But thankfully there are several new ways to see movies that I am learning about. Let me share a few of them with you.
  • The Movies Channel on YouTube. Wow! That was my first reaction to this little gem. On YouTube you can now watch full length movies for free (and legally). You need a high speed connection and the selection is not great, but it is growing. You can watch movies on your computer any day or time. Check out
  • The Red Box. This was completely new to me until this week. The Red Box is a vending machine that has popped up in many locations in the last few years. For $1 you can rent a DVD for 24 hours. Again, the selection is not the greatest, and it is not as convenient as finding a movie on your computer, but it is good... very good. You will need a credit or debit card to use the Red Box, and if you do not return you movie you will be charged late fees. But- one more bit of good news- you can return your movie to any Red Box. Find details and Red Box locations at
  • Netflix. Some friends got me a Netflix subscription for my birthday. I may never go to another video store. Netflix is convenient. The movies come to my home. It is inexpensive. I spend less money for more movies. And the selection is great. I have been able to find every movie that I am interested in (so far). Netflix is simple. You pay a monthly fee for the number of movies you would like. I get two movies at a time for $13.99 monthly. I pick out the movies online and Netflix sends them to me. On Monday I returned Slumdog Millionaire, today I will receive Run, Fatboy, Run. I am a happy fatboy. Find Netflix at

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Online Community??

I am a semi-regular participant in a couple of on-line social networks. I have pages on MySpace and Facebook. (So far I do not see the attraction to Twitter.) Initially I joined both to keep up with my teenage daughter and her friends, but I have found that both sites can be fun and helpful for me as well.

There are great opportunities to catch up with old friends, meet new people, connect with business contacts and more. Many people are learning and taking advantage of these opportunities. I am just learning about how to use these sites to my advantage.

On these personal pages individuals can post pictures, information, videos and any number of other items to express their personalities. They function as a public, twenty-first century diary. People can blog, be intimate, or be private while letting everyone know what they are doing. All of this information is made public for almost anyone else to see.

Recently I noticed something about these sites, however. There is an emotional disconnect. People post things on line, but do not realize that real people can read it. 

I ran into one of my online "friends" at a restaurant. This friend had recently been on a vacation to a warm and sunny location. Upon returning home this person had posted pictures from the trip online. When I saw him in the restaurant I mentioned his vacation and commented that it appeared he had a good time. He was flabbergasted. He had no idea how I would know anything about his vacation. His vacation was online, but he and I were talking in the "real" world.

Too often people confuse a social network with an online community. And although online communities may exist, we should not assume that they do. We should not believe that just because we are on Facebook, or MySpace we are in a community.

Community requires people paying attention to and caring about one another. Checking out a friend's page for the latest gossip is not community.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Weekly Prayer Thought

Strive together with me in prayers to God for me, that I may be delivered from those in Judea who do not believe, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, that I may come to you with joy by the will of God, and may be refreshed together with you. Romans 15.30-32

One area of prayer that we often overlook, or take for granted, is in the area of prayer for ourselves and our own needs. Paul, in this passage, makes an impassioned plea for those who love him to be praying for him. There are two problems with this for we humans. To begin with, we try to figure out our problems and devise solutions on our own. We want to be independent and not bother God with our troubles. My prayer list stays filled with the needs of others, but often lacks my own prayer concerns.

Secondly, since we want to solve our problems ourselves, that means that we often do not want to trouble anyone else with our issues. We don't want to appear "weak" or "needy." But we should always solicit prayers for ourselves, particularly as we face needs and weaknesses. After all, we are all basically weak and needy people.

One more thing: Be praying for your leaders. Pastors, Bishops, Missionaries, Sunday school teachers, Bible study leaders are all people who need your prayer support. They may never ask you, but they need your prayer. Not only that, in a very real sense, your spiritual health is dependent on your prayers for these individuals. Pray that they will be spiritually safe and strong so that they will be able to lead you to safety and strength.

Prayer: Help me to get over myself, Lord. I need your help. Strengthen me. Build me up so that I can more effectively and fully serve you. Give me the openness to share my concerns with others so that they can pray for me as well. Amen.


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Practices of the Christian Faith: Faith-sharing

As we continue our look into the practices of the Christian faith, or Spiritual Disciplines, we cannot avoid the importance of faith sharing. In its strictest form, faith sharing is simply telling another person about what you believe and why you believe it. There have been many programs developed through the years to help insecure believers share their faith in “easy” or more effective ways. This is usually a response to the desire that Christians have to be obedient to God without violating the wishes or comfort of others. 

Faith sharing has often been called by other names; witnessing, testifying, evangelizing or preaching to others. All of these are viewed in a somewhat negative ways by many people. This negative image that faith sharing has developed, has further complicated the willingness of Christians to participate. 

Usually faith sharing has been limited to verbal interactions between two or more people. We are witnessing when we are telling someone else about Jesus. Often these conversations are filled with debate or argumentative exchanges. We try to make a case for our beliefs and discredit the beliefs of others. Many times Christians come across as narrow-minded, bigoted and holier-than-thou. It is little wonder that witnessing has a bad name. 

I am not against a rousing debate. It is important that Christians know and understand what we believe. However, we must be careful that our conversation is filled with grace and love, rather than vitriol and superiority. Make your case, but listen to the views of others as well. 

Here are some suggestions for your faith-sharing endeavors:

  • Focus on living a Christian life. It is really very simple. If you live consistently, day by day, as a follower of Jesus you will be sharing your faith. People will notice your consistency. In just a short time your friends and family members will begin to question why you live the way you do. This will open the door to conversations about Christ and will serve as an example for others.
  • Make friends and develop relationships with people who are not Christians. By doing this you will discover that there are many opportunities to share your faith without the stress of a certain “approach,” or “conversation.”
  • Pray for opportunities to share your faith. God loves this prayer. When we ask God to open these doors for us, he does. You will be amazed at how many people are waiting to hear what you believe.
  • Look for opportunities to share your faith. There are many people that you encounter every day who are open to hearing about your faith. They are ready for what you have to say. Pay attention to the signals and talk about what God has done for you.
  • Practice sharing your faith. You might want to write down a sample “testimony” and practice sharing it with a friend. Be prepared when the day comes.
There are many ways to share your faith, and many opportunities as well. Be sure that you are ready to be obedient to what God has in mind for you. Be obedient and get going.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

No Time

There are thousands of demands on a person's time. I am no exception. I have to do my job, care for my family, nurture my relationship with my wife, keep up with the news, take care of my spirit, maintain community activities, fulfill personal commitments, pay my bills, spend time with my extended family. All of these things consume a certain amount of time.

I am not complaining about any of this. They are all important and necessary aspects of life, but there are things that I miss out on. There are decisions that must be made that I believe effect the quality of my life. For the most part, my love for music is not lost in this exchange. Music and be always present. There is a radio in the car. I have an Mp3 player. There is always background music. Always.

But there are other things that I feel I am missing out on.
  • I miss reading books. Each day I have to make choices about reading. Unfortunately I cannot read everything that I want to. Some things get left out. For example, the daily newspaper seems essential to me, while a classic novel, although wonderful, get pushed aside.
  • I miss seeing more movies. Sometimes I find myself selecting a video based on how short it is. If it is too long I cannot afford the time to watch it. I am afraid that I will end up only seeing less than stellar films in the trade-off.
  • I miss relaxation. Relaxing takes time. Time is at a premium. I need more of both.

I am sure that I could think of more things I miss, and I am sure that I am not the only one who is caught in the throes of despair at the lack of time. I long for leisure. I long for time.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Economic Response

There is no question that we are living in hard economic times. And although recent reports indicate that things might be getting better, it will be a long time before everyone in my community recovers. There is record unemployment, lowered wages, tight credit and all of this leads to one crisis after another for individuals and families.

Because of all this our churches are struggling as well, but that is simply caused be the tightening of everyone's belts. Many people are cutting back on discretionary spending, and church is considered discretionary by a lot of people.

Even though the church is in trouble, it is the church that is called upon for help. People in need turn to Christians and the established churches for assistance when they are in need. There is a strong identification in most people's minds between the church and caring for the poor and hurting. This is a good thing.

Over the past six months I have received requests for assistance from people almost every week. People need food. They need help with rent money, light bills, gas bills. They need assistance finding a job. They just need help.

Unfortunately, churches are not in a very good position to help right now. Many in need understand this, but there ought to be something that Christians can do. We should be offering help, even when we think that we are out of resources.
  • We should be offering emotional support. There are many people who need someone to talk to. They want to share their frustrations and fears. They are confused, lost, hurting and lonely. People with no income and no prospects for income are scared. Christians should be listening, sympathetic and supportive in every situation.
  • We should be offering to meet educational needs. Lay offs are great times for people to increase their level of education. Churches should be offering GED courses, job training, job assistance and resources for learning.
  • We should be offering physical support. The people who are working can help meet the needs of those who are not. One simple suggestion would be to get one extra bag of groceries at the supermarket. Give those extra items to someone in need. Many churches have food pantries that are depleted. Fill them up.
  • We should be offering spiritual support. Hurting people are looking for answers and Christians have answers. Pray for people. Pray with people. Offer them Christ. Give them hope.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Less or More Religious?

Recently a study was released on the "spiritual" climate in America. Actually, it was a survey of religious preferences. Although the study seems on the surface to be relatively non-specific, there are some interesting insights to be gleaned.

First of all, the study found that the number of people in the USA who identify themselves as Christians has declined more than 11 percent in the last 18 years. This is a significant drop in a country that occasionally likes to emphasize its spiritual, religious, even Christian heritage. 

Another seemingly important part of the study is the finding that the number of people who claim no religious affiliation in the US has almost doubled in the same time period, from 8 percent to 15 percent.

Additionally, people who claim a particular Christian denomination or sect have also declined. There are a couple of exceptions, but for the most part it appears that Christianity, even God, is on the way out in our culture.

The most obvious surface conclusion here is that Christianity in general, and the church specifically are all dying. It is time to call the preacher and plan the funeral. At the current rate of decline I may be around to witness the end. But I believe this to be only a surface finding. I do not believe that we can draw those assumptions, or that the end is near. In fact, I do not necessarily believe that there has been a decline in these years.

There have always been, at least as long as I have been alive, a large number/percentage of people who claim to be Christian, but in reality are not. These individuals do not hold to the beliefs of Christianity. They do not attend worship services or other religious activities. Their lifestyles are not marked by the distinctive characteristics of "Christian" morality. 

To cite just one example of this, we have been told for many years that around half of all Americans attend church. Usually, that means that half of the people go to church on a special occasion, like Easter. In the typical Christian church, attendance on Easter Sunday can be double the normal weekly attendance. If we deduct the Easter attenders, we can quickly realize that about one fourth of Americans attend church in a normal week.

This all means that we are not as Christian as we think, or as we have always thought, assumed and taught. Our Christianity has been an illusion in many cases.

I do not believe that we are less Christian, or less religious than we were 18 years ago. I believe that we are now recognizing what has always been true. People are being more honest in responding to these surveys simply because there is less of a cultural stigma associated with irreligiousness today.

What you will find in churches, synagogues and mosques all over this country is that the people who are in them are just as committed as ever.

For more information on the American Religious Interest Survey: 

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

What I Learned in Kokomo

I spent three days last week with some teens from my church on a mission in Kokomo, Indiana. We were participating in programs sponsored by Kokomo Urban Outreach. (Check out the links in the left margin of this page.) There was a lot to do, a lot to learn, and a lot to absorb but it was an outstanding experience.

Our time in Kokomo was awesome. Just this morning I met with a part of our team and some other members of our youth group. It was an informal de-briefing session. The comments were overwhelmingly positive. The things that I hear over and over again are that the prayer walk was a new and moving experience, the Poverty Simulation Game was great fun and illustrated poverty in unexpected ways, and the time with neighborhood residents was very beneficial. The adults in our group were very impressed by the volunteers and especially the care that we received. We were comfortable, well-fed and cared for at every turn.

Most significant from our perspective was the change in outlook that many of the teens have had about poverty. They are now considering those who live in poverty in a completely new way. When before "poor people" were always far away and impersonal, now they have faces, names and personalities. Many of our teens have thought of poverty as an unfortunate choice that some people make, now they see that it is a little more complicated than that.

There were some things that I (and I think our whole group) learned during this experience.
  • When you think you know everything, that is a sure sign that you do not. I started the experience with very few expectations, but I was sure that I would not be surprised. I was wrong. A couple of examples: In poverty, toilet paper is a luxury item. The systems established to assist those in poverty often serve only to humiliate and de-moralize.
  • Young people are willing to work, and work hard, for a good cause. I did not see laziness or an attitude of trying to avoid labor among our group. They all worked hard and with a good spirit.
  • Poverty is not really a choice. The perception, held by many in the middle class, that people could get out of poverty if they tried, is almost always untrue. Poverty is a system that keeps most from escaping. Health issues, mental illness, government bureaucracy and poverty itself conspire to hold onto poor people.
  • There are enough needs that everyone can make a contribution. Each person can participate in assisting those in poverty.
  • Education is the key to improving life.
I am ready to return to Kokomo. It was a great time and will get on my calendar on a regular basis. Not only that, but I believe that my daily life will change as I see poverty in a new way.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Little Things and Big Questions

Some small observations that lead to larger questions...
  • Why don't they serve water in restaurants anymore? In most places you have to ask for a glass of water. This should not be. I want water!
  • Beans are a multi-sensory experience. They keep giving and giving.
  • Why is it that bath towels are so absorbent? Really. How do they work?

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Song Poaching

I have a list of songs that should never be recorded or performed by anyone but the original artists. They are "signature" songs. That is, they are identified so closely with the original artist's recording that there should be a penalty for anyone else ever performing them. These songs, in addition to belonging to a special place and time, may also be classified as timeless.
  • Ring of Fire, Johnny Cash
  • Crazy, Patsy Cline
  • Respect, Aretha Franklin
  • (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction, The Rolling Stones
  • In the Summertime, Mungo Jerry
  • Bohemian Rhapsody, Queen

These songs should not be performed by cover bands, karaoke wannabes or established commercial artists.

I am sure that there are more songs that should fit into this profile, but these are the most significant that come immediately to mind. Be on the lookout. Stop song poaching.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Letters to the Editor

The newspaper is one of the great pleasures in my life. I love everything about the newspaper, the news, the size, the noise, the mess. It is all good as far as I am concerned. That is one reason why I am so concerned about the potential demise of the newspaper in print.

Reading the Letters to the Editor is one of the best things about reading the paper. I love them. You get a different perspective on issues that you would have never considered. By reading the letters you learn about issues that do not get reported any other way. But I could never- I think- write a letter to the editor.
  • People who write letters to the editor are often idiots. If you have ever read the letters to the editor you know exactly the ones I mean. These are the same people who forward email that no one wants. They are filled with quotes from obscure philosophers or talk-radio hosts. The worst ones are "religious" in nature. They remind me what a terrible Christian I am if I do not write my Congressman about the 'cause of the week.'
  • The letters to the editor are ineffectual. Because of my own response to the letters to the editor, I believe most other people read them with a grain of salt as well. Letters do not show any level of commitment or purpose. Usually they do not convince anyone of anything.
  • The letters to the editor are too reactionary. In my local paper there is a tradition of non-profit groups sending long thank-you notes to the editor. This is a good and noble gesture. But most other letters are simply reactions to something else. People express their frustrations and fears in these letters and there is very little that is positive or productive.
  • The letters to the editor tend to be too emotional. People are not really interested in how someone else feels. Oh sure, we will look at it, but it is a curiosity that does not rise above casual that causes us to pay attention.
  • Letters to the editor are dismissed by nearly everyone. We read them, but we do not take them seriously. There is one exception to this rule: People who write letters to the editor do not dismiss letters to the editor.
I will continue to read these letters. I read them in every newspaper I look at. I pay attention to magazine letters as well as comments on websites. But, the world moves too fast for me to spend too much time on them.