Catering or Creating?
You may have heard the question asked before, "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?" It is sometimes asked in order to be silly and other times asked as a metaphor for a situation where two things are related and one is trying to figure out which thing came first.
Today is what is known in the Church as Good Friday. It is the day when we remember Jesus being crucified on a cross, dying, and being placed into a tomb. It is a somber day of reflection and remembrance as we prepare for the joy that comes on Easter Sunday.
I stopped by the mall today to grab food from Raising Cane's which just opened yesterday. I hadn't eaten there since I left Texas and was excited to see that one was opening here in St. Louis. It struck me while I was at the mall that you would have never been able to tell that today was Good Friday by all of the hustle and bustle there. The whole place was busy and people were coming and going, seemingly oblivious to what today signifies. Now I'm sure that many of them are non-Christians who may not know or even care about Good Friday. But how about the Christians? Is this just another day to "clock in" at Church if you feel like going? Or is it a day for more than that? Do the Christians even know the significance of this day?
It got me thinking about how the trend in many churches is to play down the significance of many historic practices. In my own church body, the practice has become to celebrate "Passion Sunday" the week before Easter rather than simply "Palm Sunday". On Passion Sunday a church will briefly talk about the Palm Sunday processional, but the rest of the service will be focused on the passion week account of Jesus' last days. More than one cynical person has said that we do this because people don't show up for Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services anymore and they need to see Jesus die before they can come back on Easter and see him rise again. Whether this is the true motivation or not, I have no idea.
It makes me wonder, though, if we downplay the significance of these events because people lost interest in them or if people lost interest in them because we downplayed their significance. I think a lot of times we want to believe that it is the first one and that we're just catering to people where they're at. I wonder sometimes if it isn't the second one. If we, as a church, are responsible for peoples' interest or lack of interest in what God has done for them and if we have created a generation of people who don't see much difference between their "Church life" and their "home life".
I don't have an answer for this and I think it is something that would be hard to prove either way, but I think it is worth thinking about.
Searching for Community
Community and community development have been a big part of my life for at least the last 10 years as I've worked and studied at various institutions of higher education. Once I started working in residential life my main job became community developer. Both as a student staff member and professional staff member I was responsible for connecting with the students in my building and helping them to connect with each other so that the community would grow and be successful.
The interesting thing I found was that a community would develop with or without my staff or I intervening. The problem was that the community that developed didn't always turn out to be a positive community. Sometimes community developed around underage alcohol use, drug use or vandalism. This was quite a bit different than the community that we hoped to develop around shared interests, common academic goals, and civic engagement. In other cases, both communities formed and tried to coexist with various levels of success.
I'm thinking about community this week for two reasons. First, my current institution has just announced that they are lifting the requirement that all single students live on campus. The fact that this is a graduate school and that all of the students have at least had 4 years of undergraduate experience and some have had other careers makes this announcement not surprising. We currently allow married students to live on or off campus depending on where they can find space. I think it will be a nice opportunity for those who wish to have more space and flexibility to find a place near campus to live. My only concern is the impact that it will have on community. One rationale for the initial requirement was that it would form a communal bond among the students that were living on campus. Now that this requirement no longer exists, it will be interesting to see if a divide appears between the on campus and off campus students in a similar way that it has between single students and married students. There's no malice in this divide, it is simply the reality of living at a distance from each other and not having regular interactions. We used to tell students who were considering moving into a residence hall with communal bathrooms that they would be amazed by how many people they got to know simply because they had to walk down the hallway to brush their teeth.
My second reason for thinking about community struck me as I was eating dinner recently. I realized how many places I've lived and how easily I slide in and out of different communities. There have been communities that I've felt closer to and some that I felt more at a distance. I was thinking about how nice it is to have a supportive community in which you're able to be included.
The fact that community formed regardless of the "professional" staff's involvement and the way I see over and over again people trying to fit into a community makes me understand how desperately each and every one of us wants to be a part of a larger community. You may say, "But I'm an introvert, I just like being by myself." I won't argue with that. As extroverted as I am, I still enjoy quiet time every now and then.
I think community takes many forms. It can be a large group of people that you associate with or it can be a couple of close friends that you're able to rely on. I'm not sure you always have to experience community in person. Some people can find community through TV commentators who share a similar perspective or online communities. Some cultures have very close knit communities that include generations of the same families living with generations of other families.
We were created to live in community, perfect community with each other and with God. Sin destroyed that perfect community and has left us trying to pick up the pieces ever since. That's why our communities always disappoint us. It may not be intentionally. It can be by what they don't do rather than what they do, but it never seems to fail that we are let down at some point.
Sometimes people think that the church is a perfect community. When they have this idea, they are often disappointed at the first time that there is conflict or strife within the church. They think that the church is being hypocritical and get upset. That's the unfortunate reality, though. There will be no perfect communities, the church included, this side of the end of the age. What the church does have, however, is forgiveness through Christ so that its members may be reconciled with each other. That's the best community I can think of!
Dilbert and Communication
I thought this was funny in light of my post the other day on communication. (The original strip can be found here: http://dilbert.com/strips/comic/2013-03-19/)
What are you giving up for Lent?
This seems to be a popular question this time of year. Christians and non-Christians everywhere can be heard discussing what they will or will not be giving up for Lent. “I’m giving up chocolate”, “I’m giving up swearing”, “I’m giving up facebook” are just a few of the examples that you may hear people proclaim that they are giving up.
It is interesting how much we focus on what we are giving up instead of why we are giving something up. It almost turns into a competition where you hear one person say “I’m giving up cookies” only to hear their friend respond “Well, I’m giving up all sweets”. I think we’ve lost our perspective on why we “give things up” for Lent.
It isn’t surprising since our original sin that we inherited from our first parents is ultimately that of self-centeredness. Adam and Even thought life would be better if they could be like God. I would say that we’d be hard pressed to find a sin that wasn’t based in thinking of ourselves instead of others.
This is why we focus on what we’re giving up instead of why we are giving it up. We want to make sure that we’re the one who is sacrificing the most so that we can feel better than our friends or acquaintances who aren’t sacrificing as much. By sacrificing more, we may believe that we can earn just a little more of God’s favor or that we’re just a little more pious than those other people. It is funny because it sounds just like the pharisees in the Bible who many of us would criticize for their behavior.
This may lead us to ask the question, “Did Jesus say anything about giving things up for Lent?” Well that’s a silly question since Jesus didn’t celebrate Lent when he was alive…..or is it? While it was true he didn’t celebrate the Lenten season, he did have something to say regarding the concept of giving something up.
The Gospel reading for Ash Wednesday comes from Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18 (ESV):
1″Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. 2 “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
The warning that Jesus gives in the first verse is pretty direct, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” Jesus is telling us that if we doing good things just so that other people can see us doing them and praise us for those good things that we will receive no reward from God the Father. Instead, we are directed to do these things in secret so that they are only between us and God. When we are doing these things in secret then we not motivated by the recognition that we may receive but by the desire to reflect God’s love for others.
The Gospel lesson gets even more specific when it comes to giving things up for Lent. One historic practice for Lent dates all the way back to Jesus’s time — the practice of fasting. The pharisees were pretty good at this one and we can gather from the text that they made quite a production out of it. Apparently while they were fasting they would make sure that other people knew it through the expressions on their faces, the way they allowed themselves to appear and the general way they carried themselves. This sounds similar to the way that we sometimes approach giving things up for Lent. We make sure that we tell everyone that we see and we may even complain about how hard it is to give up whatever we have chosen to do away with for the 40 days of Lent. Jesus warns against this and instructs us to clean ourselves up and to make sure that we present ourselves in a way that other people don’t know that we’re fasting or giving up other things. We are to let this be a personal activity solely between us and God.
(I should clarify and say that this doesn’t mean that we can’t enlist the mutual support of close, Christian brothers and sisters to support us in our attempt to give something up during Lent. It is important, however, that the conversations are focused on support and not boasting about our ability to give up something.)
So what should we be doing? We should use this Lenten season as an opportunity to focus on why we give something up. Giving something up for Lent is not to please God or to somehow show him how pious we can be. It is a practice in self-control for us and a chance to reflect on the sacrifice that Jesus made when he became man and dwelt among us and his ultimate sacrifice of giving up his life on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. When we are reminded of whatever we’ve given up for Lent we can use that time to focus more on prayer (The Litany maybe?), or maybe the time can be used to dive deeper into the scripture. Pick a book of the Bible that you’ve never read before and really explore what it has to say.
Repentance is the ultimate goal of the Lenten season as we travel toward Easter. Whatever we chose to do with our time should focus us on the cross and the repentant heart that God gives us. We must make sure that we avoid the temptation to focus on what we’re doing instead of focusing on why we’re doing it.
May God grant us all a blessed and repentant Lenten season!
How do you communicate?
With a title like that, you might expect me to explore the different theories on how people communicate or to discuss communication styles. Although it could make an interesting blog post, that's not what I'm thinking about today. Today I'm thinking about the actual, physical ways that we communicate with each other.
On my drive home from church this morning I was thinking about how much has changed in the last ten years in the way we communicate with each other. Now I'm not old, but the technological developments over the last decade are pretty impressive. Ten years ago the way we communicated with our friends and family, especially those living at a distance, was more limited. If I wanted to communicate with a friend who was living a long way from me I basically had 4 options, I could:
From this list of four, the third was the most casual and easily used. Writing an email was pretty casual too, although getting email was still cool then. The phone was more personal and also signified a closer friendship. Receiving a letter was cool, but I can't say that it happened much with my friends. I did get letters from my grandparents and it was always fun to open the letter and see what they had to say.
Today, however, the number of ways we have to communicate with each other has exploded thanks to technology and there is an even greater perceived set of social standards for the appropriateness of each method. Today we can:
The list could go on and on as you started including all of the various smaller social media sties as well as the various apps that are available for our phones today.
There are "rule for engagement" with all of these different forms of communication. Some people you would send an instant message, some people you'd text message, others it may just be a Facebook message or tweet.
According to some people the rules become more complicated when the person you're communicating with is someone you like and would like to get to know better a.k.a. a potential date. Now you have to decide from all of your options: "Do I call them?" or "Maybe I should just send them a text." or "I think a cute Facebook message is a good choice." Then you have to worry about timing. Was it too soon that it appeared to be overeager or too late that it seemed to be disinterested? They can all make us nervous and cause us to avoid communication all together.
Ultimately, it is very easy to worry too much about our self-imposed rules for communication. While each of these tools is a great enhancement for our ability to communicate, there is really nothing better than being face to face with someone and experiencing the richness of full body communication that comes through tone, gestures, expression, posture, and body language in addition to the spoken word. It seems to be something that we often avoid in favor of our more impersonal tools for communicating. I think we'd be surprised at how much we'd learn if we spent more time really communicating with each other!
With those words the Roman Catholic Church announces to the world that they have selected a new pope. It's a chance for the media to give us a mini Latin lesson and for folks who don't know Latin to attempt to decipher the rest of the phrase and learn who the new pope is before it is translated into English.
I found myself watching the papal announcement because I had just sat down to eat lunch in front of the TV when the white smoke appeared. Now, between the time the white smoke appears and the time the world actually gets know who he is there are quite a number of things that he needs to do which means that it can seem like an eternity before the world gets to find out the identity of the new pope.
This gave me a little time to think and then I realized that the church had the perfect reality show before reality shows were cool.
Just think about it:
I'm sure there are more ways but as the suspense was building this was all I could think about. Now that the new pope has been selected it will be interesting to see how he contributes to the Roman Catholic Church and world Christianity.
My third first time....
Thanksgiving Day 2012 - Northeast Indiana
This is not my first blog. In fact, I've tried to start a blog at least three times before, but it has never stuck. There are a number of reasons that I've never been able to keep up. The first is that I get distracted with real life. Between school and other responsibilities I usually don't find extra time to sit down and write for fun. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy writing, it's just that it is easy to forget about.
Second, I often find myself writing to work out thoughts that I have in my head. This means that whatever I'm writing isn't necessarily my best perspective or argument for something. I think that makes me hesitant to publish something that isn't completely worked out so that it isn't taken out of context.
Third, one's ability to appear impartial and open to both sides of an argument in a conversation is difficult to maintain if one has taken a specific stance on an issue. That doesn't mean that I don't have a specific stance or position on a topic but it does mean that I value the opportunities that I have with people to be able to listen to both sides and mediate and I believe that would be harder to do if they could say, "But what about that post you had on your blog, you're not really listening to my side."
All of these may be true and valid reasons to avoid the blog, however I think I've come to the conclusion that it will be a good exercise for at least two reasons. First, it will allow me to formulate ideas in a relatively concise manner. Blogs aren't good for long papers that contain a ton of footnotes. I'm taking this as a challenge to think critically and be well spoken while also being concise. Second, the conversation can be productive when people from different perspectives engage in respectful conversations. You may be thinking, "But Tom, when is the last time that you saw any respectful conversations take place on the internet?" I would probably agree with you. The good news is that I'm not that popular and I don't anticipate this blog being picked up by the mainstream media any time soon. Odds are that if you're here you're probably related to me or we know each other at least fairly well. I'm banking on that to keep people in bounds. If it gets out of hand then I guess we can cross that bridge when we come to it.
Until then however, sit back and enjoy the ride. I look forward to taking up this experiment again and hopefully finding some exciting things along the way.
My name is Tom. I'm fascinated by the ways that people, ideas, current events and theology interact with each other.