Two Reactions to the Supreme Court Decision Yesterday

“This opinion may allow the government to compel people to pay into the system, but it can’t compel any of us to abandon our most deeply held convictions,” said the Rev. Rob Schenk, director of an evangelical group called Faith in Action. “This is a moral, spiritual and ethical crisis. People of conscience will need to make difficult decisions, including engaging in conscientious objection or even respectful civil disobedience, which may bring painful penalties with it. It’s time to be prayerful, brave and strong. From here on we will need help from God and from one another.” from CitizenLink an article entitled, “Supreme Court:  It’s a Tax” written by Karla Dial. 
Kathryn M. Lohre, NCC President, “Christians believe that human beings—all of them—are infinitely-valued children of God, created in God’s image. Adequate health care, therefore, is a matter of preserving what our gracious God has made. That is why churches (and other religious communities) have established so many hospitals and other places of healing. And why we are convinced that health care is not a privilege, reserved for those who can afford it, but a right that should be available, at high quality, to all.” “NCC welcomes U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding individual health insurance requirement” from www.nccusa.org

Dying Denominations

Awhile back, Derek Penwell wrote a blog post inviting Christians to reassess the priority we place on the death of denominations.  In this article, he wrote, “Today, denominational loyalty seems a quaint bit of nostalgia, like the gilded memories of neighborhood soda fountains and day baseball.”  Can we roll our eyes now?  The social impact of denominational loyalty is more substantial than soda fountains and baseball given by themselves the number of universities and hospitals started by denominations.  The past accomplishments and social goods gained by denominations do not by themselves justify denominational continuation.  Plenty of long-standing, historic institutions are proving that they must either radically revision their function (as in the case of public libraries) or face the inevitability of their obsolescence (as in the case of the US Postal Service).  If denominations no longer serve a useful purpose, they no longer serve useful purpose.  We can have a dignified burial.  But the obituary should have a broader view of their accomplishments than the one Penwell envisions—that they once provided a shopping guide for people looking for a congregation where their needs were met.

Denominations have provided the institutional structure for education, hospitals, nursing homes, children’s homes, emergency relief, global missions, new church development, ministerial education and accountability, discipleship ministries for young people in the forms of camps and conferences, bible curriculum, political advocacy (occasionally), ecumenical cooperation and the list goes on.  We do indeed need to accept that each of the things I just mentioned is being done differently today.  Few of the large institutions like universities, hospitals and nursing homes can rely on denominational funding solely and consequently balance denominational governance with other stakeholders. Churches of Christ have shown that global ministries can be sustained without a denominational structure.  Ecumenical institutions are facing the very same shifting cultural realities that denominations face.  Ministry education and accountability and church camps, if they are as necessary as I think they are, can be built beyond the formal denominations that have been their loci thus far. I not going to be that person who just thinks denominations have to stay alive because “we’ve always done it that way.”  However, we do need to take stock of what the “it” we’ve done through denominations really is.

The decisions we have to make are indeed bigger than whether our denomination needs rebranding.  These decisions include a lot of things that are important but not readily visible to the typical church-goer.  In a most cases, I don’t think we should spend too much time trying to explain it to everyone. When I go to the doctor, I don’t ask for a lecture on the state of the professional organizations to which he or she belongs.  I want the doctor to be board certified.  I do not want a comprehensive knowledge of what board certification really entails.  It matters to my doctor and therefore indirectly to me.

When parents pass away, the children or grandchildren have the painful task of going through the house and deciding what needs to be kept and moved and what needs to be thrown out.  If denominations are dying, we the children of denominations have that very same task.  If we dismiss our support for denominations too quickly we may discover that we did not make plans for how to accomplish some essential functions at a time when it’s too late to do anything about it–that we threw out something we really did need just because we didn’t think we needed it at that exact moment.  I’m of the opinion that we can be both realistic and faithful as we do so, but I don’t think it’s faithful to point at the denominational house of our parents and say, “all that’s in there are a few quaint memories.”       

Speaking Notes

Here are the speaking notes that I used to present Sunday’s sermon.  There was a full manuscript that I worked through a couple of times on Sunday morning.  This is what it would I had on a piece as notes:

Familiarity breeds neglect—love, compassion, peace, service.  Grace—pictures of grace—frilly lace, a red stamp “paid in full.”
Romans would cause us to rethink it. 
Bible teaching:  (Grace begins and ends with God)
p. 916, “God’s righteousness.”
Understanding 3:23. 
God created us for relationship; we only have relationship by God’s initiative. 
Paul challenged the belief that people could achieve God’s righteousness on their own. 
            Nature of Law. 
            The Effect of Law
            The goodness of law
The agency of Jesus Christ
            note a—the faithfulness of Jesus Christ.
            Atonement
Differences in our typical understanding
            Grace begins with human need. 
            Not a bad place to start. . . but . . . Grow up!
If we’re going to understand the magnitude of the word grace, we have to stem the impulse to make grace about us.  Grace is a word that stands for God’s righteousness—that is, the very character of God—embodied in Jesus Christ—the voice, presence, and power of God to reconcile people to God’s self. 
3 tendencies.  Step on toes/form a support group
-Needy
–Resume Christians
–Tragic Shrug/Cheap Grace
How respond?  The rest of Romans answers.  

Backsliding

It’s Saturday night.  I have now completed work on the sermon for Sunday–a full 27 hours later than I’m comfortable with.  I had struggled with the text for 12 days.  Worked on creating an actual outline for three days.  I finally had to give in and write a manuscript.  The problem is the difficulty of the concepts.

Romans 3:21-31 is a dense passage in Romans with a number of themes from the whole book coming together and overlapping.  Since my church generally frowns on sermons lasting three hours (17 minutes is par), I opted not to try to be comprehensive with the text. So I chose to take one focus on the text.

What strikes me about it is that “Grace” is generally something we view as very personal and very individual.  “I once was lost”  Grace saved “a wretch like me.”  Paul’s point seems emphatic that grace emerges from the nature and character of God.  It emerges out of God’s righteousness.  This is contrary to some of my embedded theology that always regarded grace as somehow a suspension of God’s righteousness.  Grace begins and ends with God and if grace doesn’t overwhelm us then we probably haven’t understood it.

I gave in because I couldn’t convince myself that I was going to be able to say all that clearly without having written the words out at least once.  I’m not claiming that the manuscript I have written is coherent.  I’m just saying, I feared that working from an outline given the complexity of the thoughts I want to convey would have been disastrous.

This tends to be my problem with the prevailing dogma in speech instruction about extemporaneous speaking it over looks the necessity in so many instances to write your thoughts down word for word.  (1) Sometimes people need to write a manuscript in order to get thoughts clear in their own minds–that was the case this week; (2) Sometimes people need to write a manuscript or else risk venturing down too many concepts (chasing rabbits)–a danger with this text; (3) Sometimes people need to write manuscripts so they can carefully choose wording that can will be clear to their audience.  

Quotations

I like quotations, pithy words someone else has written that say things better than I can say them myself.  I recently encountered this quotation from C. S. Lewis, “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.'” I also like finding quotations in context, being able to read what’s around them.  Google Books is a great aid in that effort.

What I found when I went looking for this quotations is this from The Four Loves, “The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, ‘What? You too?  I thought I was the only one.'”  Then a little bit later in that paragraph, “It is when two such persons discover one another, when, whether with immense difficulties and semi-articulate fumblings or with what would seem to us amazing an elliptical speech, they share their vision.  It is then that friendship is born.  And instantly they stand together in an immense solitude.” 

It’s entirely possible that somewhere else C. S. Lewis said, “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: “What! You too? I thought I was the only one” but, I didn’t find it. I did find dozens of books quoting it this way without any citation.  This example is fairly harmless as the reworked quotation–if it is indeed reworked–says more or less what Lewis was saying.  Lewis wasn’t as absolute in the context I found but, people generally understand hyperbole as hyperbole.  It’s is a good example of how some ways of expressing things begin to take a life of their own.  It is is easy to become reckless with quotations in writing and speaking–especially when the quotation is that good.

Assessment

My third purely extemporaneous sermon in a row can be found here.  It was the first sermon in a series on Romans.  The experience around this sermon shows both the benefits and the pitfalls of extemporaneous sermons. 
Benefits
1.  Decreased preparation anxiety.  When I was preparing the sermon in manuscript form, Fridays—sermon writing days—were filled with tossing, turning, and sweating.  The outline is a lot less stressful to create. 
2.  Ability to think about the flow.  When you outline a presentation, you’re able to see clearly how the pieces fit.  That’s not always easy with a manuscript. 
Pitfalls
1.  Sloppiness.  One of the biggest reasons given for preaching from a manuscript is precision.  And this particular sermon lacked a lot of it.  The edict of Claudius expelling the Jews from Rome came in 49 CE not 54 CE.  I used four examples—Augustine, Luther, Wesley, and Barth.  Three out of four were European, not four out of five (I said “four out of five”).    
2.  Another problem that I experienced with this sermon that I frequently experience is running out of air toward the end of sentences.  When I prepare the sermon for podcasting, I use Audacity.  I can see the wavelengths and notice as the sermon progresses that voice strength gets measurably lower.  Part of that could be fatigue.  This would have been the third time that day I preached the sermon.  Part of it also comes from declining confidence.  My mouth is speaking, my brain is trying to process the next thought, and somewhere in between the two, my volume goes down. I don’t know that this is better or worse with extemporaneous sermons.  It doesn’t happen with a manuscript but there are many other deliver problems that tend to come with manuscripts (like of eye contact or the frequent head bob, monotone).  The comparison would really need to be between preaching from a memorized manuscript versus extemporaneously.  

OneNote on computer and on iPhone

Here are screenshots of Sunday’s outline expanded and collapsed.  OneNote also has an iPhone app.  I can edit the note but it will not show the numbers on the outline.

To the left:  Here’ how OneNote Looks collapsed.  You see that right above the “Romans 1:7-17” label is a tab that says “Roman Sermons.”  On the right hand side you see a column that has the name of the page.  Pages can be added to each tab and reordered.  The parts of the outline can be expanded and collapsed with a button click.  Formatting the outline–i.e., creating Harvard-style–is relatively simple but not automatic as far as I can tell.

To the Right:   Here is how OneNote looks expanded.  The outline looks and functions
the way I’m wanting  my outline to work. 

Here are how the same outline looks in the OneNote iPhone app.
The home screen shows the notebooks that you have in a SkyDrive (cloud files through Hotmail and maybe some other programs).  Once selected, the notebook shows a list of the pages.  Unlike in the computer version the pages cannot be reordered here.  So far as I can tell, you can’t put new notes into a notebook on the iPhone either.  You can simply create unfiled notes–I think.

Finally, the outline above looks like this on the iPhone.  Levels are indented.  No movement, collapsing or expanding.  But you can add text to an existing note.  There is an upgrade option, I’ll see later if that’s worth it. 

MicroSoft OneNote

After a few years of ignoring OneNote, I was playing with it this afternoon–I recently acquired a full version of Microsoft Office with OneNote.  It does pretty much everything I need an outliner to do. I don’t know if it will import/export to OPML yet.  At the church office, we have Apples and I’m still trying to decide between OmniOutliner and Tree. The difference is about $25.  OmniOutliner is about $40 and Tree is about $15.