Trends in Technology

    I’ve noticed something that seems like a distressing trend in technology.  It doesn’t seem to be about work much anymore.  I’ve been trying to talk myself into or out of a tablet for months now.  The main reason I would like a tablet is because I preach and teach quite a bit and it would be much easier to speaking notes in computer form than constantly be looking for a working printer from which to print.  I’ve decided that a Windows-based tablet makes the most sense for me.  I went looking to see what other kinds of apps were available to help me decide.  My google search brought forth the typical list of “the 33 Best Apps for your Windows Tablet” and “The 10 Best Free Apps for a Windows Tablet.”  The majority of the apps were games, social media, or entertainment.  Very little was about actually getting stuff done. 
    I use a laptop.  Getting a second monitor is one the most effective time saving tips imaginable.  It enables me to work on a sermon or newsletter article on one screen and have the Logos Bible Software or an article up on the other.  I went looking for a second monitor for the Apple computer.  I found very few that were smaller than 27″.  The one I did find didn’t work on the Apple (another story).  It seemed that most external monitors are designed for viewing movies.  Their proportions seem to mimic the proportions of a cinema screen.  monitors designed to entertainment purposes abound.  Monitors for utility purposes do not. 
    All that leads me to wonder if we are not, in the words of Neil Postman, “Amusing ourselves to death.”  I’m not suggesting workaholism or some puritan ideal that the computer is a tool and should only be used for productivity.  But computers are largely solitary devices.  If they are used increasingly for amusement purposes it means that our play time is increasingly private time.  Playing together is one of the chief ways people develop bonds of friendship and connection.  Give me a few good productivity apps and a small monitor but after that, let’s go enjoy the park together, or a museum, or a movie in a good old fashioned crowded movie theater where our hands can brush up against each other as we share a tub of popcorn.   

Rejoicing and Weeping While Rebuilding

  I am currently trying to work through a Bible reading plan that has me read four texts a day.  Consistency is not my gift.  But, it has me reading one chapter from four different parts of the Bible with the goal of reading the whole Bible in a year.  Luckily it one of the initial books is Acts and so I read today from the 3rd chapter of Acts this morning.  I also read from the 3rd chapter of Ezra (if you’re doing the math, yes that means I’ve done this three times).  I happen to be preaching on the 3rd chapter of Acts on Sunday.  My brain tried to connect the other three texts (Genesis 3, Matthew 3, and Ezra 3).  It wasn’t working.  The selections were made on the basis of math not theme.  But something about the Ezra text haunted me. 
      The book of Ezra tells the story of the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem.  The first temple—the one built by Solomon—had been destroyed by Babylonians in 586 BC.  About fifty years later, the exiled Israelites were allowed to return to Jerusalem and rebuild their temple.  Ezra 3:10-13 says, “When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests in their vestments were stationed to praise the Lord . . . and they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord, ‘For he is good,for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel.’ And all the people responded with a great shout when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. But many of the priests and Levites and heads of families, old people who had seen the first house on its foundations, wept with a loud voice when they saw this house, though many shouted aloud for joy,  so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping.”  That was the part that haunted me.  Joyful shouts and people’s weeping intermingled. 
        The joyful singing and the mournful crying could not be distinguished from each other.  We can only speculate as to why they wept.  Perhaps they saw that only the foundation had been laid and the fretted over how much work was left to be done.  Perhaps they feared that they would not see the temple rebuilt in their life.  Perhaps the foundation looked smaller than the temple they remembered and they grieved the lack of grandeur.  The Bible does not tell us why they cried just that they did.  I believe at least part of the tears is this:  Every rebuilding is a reminder that something had been built and destroyed or deteriorated.  The destruction of the temple was a violent and traumatic act in the lives of the people.  Rebuilding the temple caused some to remember when the temple was destroyed.  It opened up old wounds.  No matter how beautiful or grand or well-constructed the rebuilding is, it can never replace what was lost because the way it was lost cannot be undone. 
        American mainline churches are in a rebuilding process.  We are having to rebuild our capacity to truly evangelize—truly talk about how a person accepts Christ as their Lord and Savior.  We are having to rebuild our leadership and imagine how we sustain congregations with smaller paid staffs.  We are having to rebuild our credibility in the culture.  We are rebuilding.  And in that rebuilding process there are signs of real hope and real progress.  But along the way there are also tears.  Some of us remember when we could simply assume that everyone around was a Christian.  Some of us can remember when congregations had credibility in their communities simply because they were congregations. Some of us can remember when the ministry career path was a fairly stable and predictable path.  Perhaps our grief comes not from hopelessness about the rebuilding process but from the painful memories of how we came lose what we lost.  We lost these things at least in part because we released our call to evangelize and depended on preformed or inherited faith and the cultural presumption that everyone should be Christian.  We released the priesthood and ministry of all believers preferring instead to professionalize all the tasks of congregational life.  We allowed the trappings of cultural credibility to pacify our prophetic voice and dull our senses to God’s Spirit.  We cannot undo the way we lost what we must now rebuild.  We can confess it and allow God’s grace to heal it.  In other words, we can cry for awhile and then allow the in-breaking of God’s grace and transformation convert our crying in to joyful songs of praise.  
         Here is my prayer for myself and I offer it to you should you want to pray it with me:  “Lord, dry my tears.  Set me free from memories about what I think was lost.  For you, Lord, taught us that those who would save their life must indeed lose it.  Draw up from me laughter and joyful songs as I see the foundations of rebuilding being laid.  Open my eyes to see what will be and set me free from the exile of what has been.  Amen.”   

Tips from an Attention-Deficit Minister

I was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in the first grade.  I was on Ritalin in the 70’s before Ritalin was cool.  My mother decided that the side-effects were worse than the behavior issues and so we discontinued it after about the 3rd grade.  I was told then, and repeatedly after that, that I would simply have to work harder to meet the standard of acceptable behavior and academic productivity.  I don’t know if what I suffer from now is ADD or simply too much input running up against my incompetence but, I feel most disorganized most of the time.  I have discovered a few things that if I practice them consistently make my life a little easier.

1.  When visiting the hospital park in clergy parking. (a) it reminds you why you are there; (b) it shows that the hospital takes you seriously; (c) you’ll remember where you parked.

2.  Keep a call log.  Use a different colored spiral notebook so you can find it on your cluttered desk.  Write down phone number you called and notes.  (a) keeps your mind focused on the call while on the call; (b) when you don’t get an answer it keeps the name and number of people you need to call back close by and your brain can quit reminding you constantly that you need to call them back; (c) it saves time tracking down numbers again. 

3.  Create notebooks of areas of ministry.  Do not try to annualize your notebooks as the ministry areas follow different calendars (i.e., worship Advent-Advent; Stewardship—January-January; Property 24/7 365 for infinity).  Clearly label the spines with a labeler.  Do not hand write the tabs of files or the labels on notebooks ever again.  Put the notebooks in front of you rather than behind you.  They remind you that you’ve created them and that you should use them. Put in notebooks:
    —Papers for open projects (bids and contacts for repairs)
    —Schedules of worship leadership, preaching texts
    —Care lists
    Make the notebooks open for others to look at in your office.  Do not put confidential information in them.

4.  Develop a consistent way of naming computer files so that you find them again soon.  Put the year at the front of file names (i.e., 2014 Preaching Texts; 2013 June Habitat for Humanity Work). 

5.  Get a second monitor for your lap top and extend your desktop across two of them (taken from Randy Pausch’s lecture on time management.  Suggestion 5.1–Watch Randy Pausch’s lecture on time management).  

6.  Keep everything on one calendar. Keep in the calendar a directory of the membership. Keep the calendar close at hand. 

7.  Use Norton’s Identity Safe Vault for logins. 

6.  Get multiple cards from people you trust and would refer others to (mainly it’s counselors for me).  Keep the cards in a place where you can find them quickly.  Keep other cards in an available, albeit less organized way.You may not want to put them in your contacts but you’ll need their name and numbers at some point. 

Christians Don’t Do Optional

            Ann Hulbert writing for The Atlantic Monthlyrecently wrote about a way for Community Colleges to curb their low graduationrates.  According to the article, nearly 45% of US undergraduates are enrolled in two-year community colleges (what we used to call “junior college”).  In principle a person can complete a two-year associates degree in, well, two years.  However, the graduation and transfer rates are remarkably low.  Community colleges have tried offering ever increasing flexibility in order to enable students to complete their course of study.  Community colleges offer evening courses, one day a week courses, on-line courses, hybrid courses, weekend courses, fast-track courses.  Nothing seems to work.
            The article then went on to describe a program that has had tremendous success.  The program called ASAP functioning out of a urban community college in New York.  ASAP swims against the stream by demanding that students enroll full time, attend meetings with their advisors once every two weeks, attend class, and meet deadlines.  The program’s director said that the motto of the program that will be engraved on her tombstone is, “students don’t do optional.” 
            Compare this to congregations.  Congregations have turned themselves inside out hoping to appeal to prospective members.  Disciples churches in particular have resisted anything that resembles a demand.  We have looked at “demanding” churches and judged them as judgmental, mindless, and guilt-dependent.   Congregations have tried to be all things to all people.  The effort to accommodate people has largely failed.  Fewer and fewer people attend church regularly.  People’s definition of “regular church attendance” has dropped from “weekly” church attendance to “monthly” church attendance.  Said bluntly:  we have become a church of the optional and Christians, by and large, don’t do optional.
            Perhaps the Bible’s capacity to endure comes from the fact that it doesn’t speak in optional language.  “What does the Lord require of you” (Micah 6:8) and “They devotedthemselves” (Acts 2:42) and “This is the way, walk in it!” (Isaiah 30:21).  Strong language.  Non-optional language.  Of course a congregation like ours that was built from the very beginning on doctrines that emphasize human freedom cannot change their character over night.  We depend on people making their own choices.  Right now, the challenge we face is that people are making their choices and not choosing the optional things we have designed the church to be. 

My testimony

I recently read Sandya Jha’s blog post calling on progressive Christians to think about how they become more proactive in sharing their message.  I’m not a particularly liberal Christians but, I belong to that group of Christians who believe that you aren’t necessarily going to hell because you don’t believe in Jesus.  To be clear, I belong to that group of Christians that believes its wrong for people to try to identify where people spend eternity.  How do we share our story?  How do we bear witness to the effect Christ has had in our lives?  Too much of evangelism goes astray in either promoting the church and church membership or in threatening consequences for people who don’t believe.  The church isn’t the Savior and we ought to quit promoting it as though it were.   And the authority to assign people to places in eternity has not been entrusted to us.  We really have to quit pretending that it is.  What we have is the power and truth of our experience. 
Here’s a part of mine. 

I came to faith through the ministry of people who believe if you don’t accept Jesus your in peril of eternal punishment.  However, my actual experience of confessing faith in Christ didn’t come from a fear of hell.  As a ten year old boy, I struggled in school both behaviorally and intellectually.  I grew up in a family of very intelligent people with a strong commitment to good grades and good behavior.  I didn’t measure up in either category. Needless to say, my self-esteem was pretty low at age ten.  My children’s director, Mrs. Janet Erwin, did a class in February for fourth graders to introduce us to faith.  If we had been Disciples we’d would have called it Pastor’s Class but we were Baptist and I can’t remember what we called it.  I remember that Mrs. Erwin used the analogy of caterpillars and butterflies.  That we are like caterpillars and that baptism is a wrapping in the cocoon of Christ’s death and burial and that we are raised to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4).  That’s what I was wanting when I walked the aisle and prayed a prayer and accepted Jesus into my heart.  About four years later, in the eighth grade, I went to a retreat.  I was in a really bad mood.  The retreat speaker was speaking from Ephesians 2:10.  He spoke of how “workmanship”(NIV) meant “poem,” “work of art” “masterpiece.”  He looked at me–in this crowded room of middle schoolers–and said, “you are God’s masterpiece.”  And I said yes again. I tell people sometimes that Ephesians got me through the 8th grade alive and in one piece.  That is the experience I am referencing. For me, the authority that James has comes from a foundational experience of deliverance.  When he speaks about how we treat those who come into our assembly, I am reminded that I felt worthless and out of place (it doesn’t really matter why) and Jesus welcomed me.  Not the church, not the preacher, Christ himself.  I know that it is a sin to exclude or deny others because I know I didn’t deserve acceptance.  I received it as a gift. 
I appreciate the recent TED Talk given by Ash Beckham.  She spoke about coming out of the closet.  She was using her own experience of letting her family know she is Lesbian.  But, she said that we all live in closets of some kind.  It’s difficult to say aloud to others the realities that are defining us either in the moment or a long period of time.  She said that coming out of the closet may be admitting that you’re going bankrupt or explaining to your five-year-old that you’re getting a divorce.  We all have closets that we live inside at some time.  They are all hard to leave. She ends the speech encouraging the audience of come out of the closet–whatever closet they are in–because a closet is no place to live.  It’s a good message.  But my message would be this:
Jesus Christ comes to the closets of our lives and knocks.  Like the woman who swept her house clean looking for one lost coin (Luke 15), Jesus says to each of us, “I have been looking everywhere for you.”  Come out. Stay in.  Either way, know that I accept you and love you and will rejoice if you will simply open the door.