Saturday, October 30, 2010

Halloween--Yea or Nay?

Christianity Today has a Hermeneutics blog post by a woman who likes Halloween and defends it by saying that the Bible is as creepy in its narratives as the Halloween trappings. I am not sure if the Bible stories are creepy and spooky or just what they are, real; actually, I found the posters' comments more interesting.

It comes down to your understanding of Halloween's origins: was it a pagan feast that was brought over by the Irish, or was it a celebration before All Saints' Day, done by Christians in the Dark Ages, where they tried to scare away evil spirits with scary costumes? I have heard and read arguments on both sides.

I will invoke another controversial pop culture icon: Harry Potter. The evil character in the Harry Potter stories (I have only read the first one) is called "He who is not to be named." But in the stories it is pointed out that not calling him that gives him more power. One of the commentators on the blog states that we are giving the day (October 31) to Satan and therefore giving him more due than he should get. This is the day that the Lord has made, and God is sovereign; Satan doesn't own a day.

I tend to agree with this person. I don't see that we are supposed to be afraid of Satan, only aware of him and his devices and prepared to do battle when there is true spiritual warfare. We are not to live in fear, anyway--greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world, and God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and sanity. That's not to say Satan has no power; of course he does, but I am not serving Satan or ceding him any power if I give out candy at my door or allowed my son to dress up as Robin Hood when he was six.

A speaker on Moody this week was very critical of anyone who allowed their children to trick or treat or dress up, saying that the child would succumb to peer pressure later in life. She had been very involved in Halloween before her conversion. I think for those people we have an issue of conscience and the weaker brother, so I defer to anyone who doesn't want to "do Halloween." That's cool. I am not going to push it either way. But I am not going to bow to unnecessary fear. Satan is not captain; he doesn't run my world, God does, and Snicker bars to the neighbor kids tomorrow night is a better gesture of friendship than a scowl at the door.

Money and the Church

I find it easy to get a very bad attitude, very quickly, about how money is discussed in the church. Our church is having a second push this year about giving. I really don't see this in Scripture. Giving is an outgrowth of spiritual maturity, not a guilt trip. I am not saying my church is making it a guilt trip--I think the leadership's heart is in the right place, but I struggle with the following:
1. There are so many parachurch organizations doing great work, who need the money, and are doing what the church should be but isn't--Prison Fellowship, World Vision, Moody, Camps.
2. I don't see anything about storehouse tithing in the New Testament. At all.
3. I do read in Ephesians, "Work so you have something to give to those in need." Our giving is supposed to meet human need and the advance of the gospel, but not a big church staff.
4. Do we always know where the money goes in the church? I know that the biggest part of an organization's budget always goes to salaries. See #3.
5. People have understandable concerns about the economy right now.
6. The Bible also tells us to save money.
7. I don't like to see the staff of my church living better than the majority of the people in the pews.
7. And the biggest struggle: my own cussed selfishness. Let's be honest--1-7 have some validity, but ultimately giving is a heart issue. Some day someone else will own everything I now "own"--so why be so grasping?

It's Saturday morning, so......

That means time for some blog posts.

1. I finished two novels this week: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society was the first. Good read, ending a little creepy. I liked her epistolary technique (it's all written as letters). I may be the only one who thinks the ending is a little creepy or unbelievable.

2. Brava Valentine, an Adriana Trigiani novel; finished last night. It's ok, a beach read, tad trashy. She has a great eye for description, but the references to designers (furniture, clothing, handbags, etc.) and all the talk about shoes just gets to be too much. And in both her series (Big Stone Gap being the other), the main character is what my husband calls a "fag hag." Sorry--that's inappropriate, but the device is rather a cliche. The thirty-something character, unlucky in love, whose best friend is a flamboyant gay man who of course is sensitive, artistic, creative, etc., and also unlucky in love. (How many places have we seen this?) Of course, in my next novel I am finding myself again using the cliched character of the magical mentor who is African American, and I'm stuck on that--I think it's keeping me back from going forward with the work.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Yippee!

Today I signed the contracts for my new two novels! Finally! Yeah! Let's hope it won't take much longer to get them in print.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Word From the Pew

This is something I've wanted to do for a long time; a letter to preachers and pastors about what it's like to sit in the pew.

1. Study the concept of attention spans in the 21st century. If you can't say it in 20 or 25 minutes, don't say it. This is not the 18th century, and you are not Jonathan Edwards, and this is not New England. I wish we did have longer attention spans, but you are not going to increase them by preaching for 50 minutes. OK, I'll give you 30 minutes, but no more. Now, I will admit, for some people, 50 minute sermons are not too long. But for most people they just are.

2. We don't like interim pastors and looking for new pastors. Don't come to a church you aren't sincerely going to stay at and minister to for a reasonable amount of time. Please don't think of a church as a career move to something bigger. OK, interims can be good; we had two good ones last time around, but they have their limitations. Pastors change churches far too often. And don't lie about why you are leaving.

3. Most people don't come to a church to enhance the pastor's career. I believe strongly that the lay people are to do the work of the ministry and the pastor's job is to equip us. But the work of the ministry is not building a bigger church in attendance and finances so you have a better resume. Why should we build a bigger church? If it's not for the glory of God, if it's not to build a more obedient and missions-oriented body of believers, size is just size so somebody can brag.

4. Don't live better than the bulk of your congregations. Don't live in a 300,000 dollar house when the rest of us are living in 100,000 dollar houses. That's just not right.

5. Remember the operative pronouns are "we" and "us," not "you."

6. Don't preach on giving and money divorced from the whole picture of the Christian life. It comes across as mercenary.

7. Equip us with knowledge, skills, and confidence. Most of the people in the pews are equipped to do the work of the ministry, but for some reason they don't feel as if they are equipped. Why might that be? Sure, it could be lack of faith, but it could also be for other reasons.

8. Don't have favorites in the congregation. By that I mean favorite social classes or age groups. Obviously, everyone is more attracted to some people than others, so it's understandable if you have friends. But don't act like young marrieds are the only real members. There are lots of singles, elderly, and middle-aged in your church.

9. Realize some people in your congregation are as educated--and wise--as you are.

10. Don't get off on doctrinal tangents.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Mea Culpa

I regret that I have ever given money to NPR.

I won't listen to it any more. That is hard because I like their programs although I overlooked their ridiculous viewpoints and snide remarks about conservatives. I liked getting a different perspective. But they have proved that they disdain anyone who doesn't fit their little world view.

I am even more surprised that they fired a black man, the only black man on their programming. Not smart, people.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Antidote for All that Ails You: Study Ephesians

I am teaching Ephesians this quarter. Wow. Three times in the letter Paul prays. And what does he pray for? Spiritual knowledge, depth, Christlikeness, and unity for the Ephesians. That in itself stops me in my tracks, because we usually pray for others to be healed or get a job. Nothing wrong with that, but I am not sure we pray for others to be more like Jesus, no matter what it takes (that would seem like praying for them to have trials).

Secondly, over and over Paul emphasizes unity. And this is not your "why can't everybody just get along" unity, but true unity not based on internal realities, not external or superficial appearances. Christ has broken down the wall; Christ has put to death the enmity. There is one Lord, one hope, one faith, one baptism, one Spirit, one calling, one God and Father of all.

I had to go to diversity training last week. All of us did. It wasn't the worst thing I ever sat through, and the fellow running it was fair-minded. But I walked away with the sense that, "Aren't we making more of differences than of similarities? Wouldn't we get further if we emphasized how we are alike rather than how we aren't?" Of course, there has to be a starting point.

I feel the same way in church. We spend way too much time being aware of how we are not the same. Other people at my church drive much nicer cars than me and live in better subdivisions. Others don't even have cars to drive and rent apartments. Can we get together, or just sit in separate pews, facing the preacher and then acting like the others aren't there? Are rich people more uncomfortable with poor people, or poor with rich? Why does being rich qualify a man to be a deacon more than being a hardworking janitor does another man?

The third lesson of Ephesians is that Satan has one weapon: lies and deception. I don't know what other weapon he would have. Keeping that in mind takes some of the bite out of him, but doesn't mean we can be any less on our guards. There are lots of lies around us.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Let's Clear This Up

With the popularity of "autism" (I mean that ironically, of course; it is a good thing that the condition is being better diagnosed and more discussed) has come a realization that people don't understand it.

I like to think myself better informed on it than most, since my brother has autism. He is very low-functioning, unlike some of the high-functioning, very intelligent persons with autism disorders that we hear about in media, such as Temple Grandin.

But somewhere people have gotten the idea that autistic persons are jerks. Thus, we read of the founder of Facebook, who is portrayed in a recent movie about him as manipulative, mean, and insensitive, "he probably has Asperger's."

Folks, Asperger's is not a new way to excuse people of being inhuman or inhumane. Study what the disorder is about. It's not a choice, for one thing, and it's not defined by personality. It's a brain disorder that has to do with perception. The behavior of Asperger's may seem odd and off-kilter, and I'm not saying a lot of folks may or may not have it. But don't assume.

It's the same with bipolar disorder. A person with a bad, uncontrolled temper does not have bipolar. He or she has just learned that acting that way will get him/her what is wanted. That person is exhibiting a learned behavior, not living with a chemical disorder.

I say this with some guilt, having done it myself out of ignorance and because yesterday I began taking a medication for panic attacks, which I have been getting the last few years in front of audiences (again, ironic since I teach public speaking and never had the problem before), in crowds, and when driving. I am not happy about the medication, although the jury is still out. The panic attacks started a few years ago, probably an age thing. I would prefer a spiritual solution to the problem, and of course will not stop praying or expecting greater spiritual strength for the panic attacks, which are debilitating and not understood by those who don't have them.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Some Recent Movies

I had the house to myself last weekend and watched five DVDs.

1. Temple Grandin. Excellent view of how this brilliant woman who suffers from autism has experienced the world. But I confess I got tired of the cows in the second part.

2. That Evening Sun. Hard to watch--very Cormac McCarthy-ish--but well acted and thoughtful story of aging, revenge, hatred, and bitterness. At one point in the height of the conflict, the old man, played by Hal Holbrook, says, "Only Jesus Christ can fix this mess." As the movie progresses, we see how true that is and wish devoutly that the characters had let it be so.

3. Me and Orson Welles. Now, I am not a fan of Zac Efron, who is just too pretty. But this is an interesting look at a point in theatrical and movie history, when Orson Welles was gathering his groupies (actors) at the Mercury Theatre while he was doing radio and was preparing to go to Hollywood. They are all working on an avant garde production of Julius Caesar (shortened, modern dress) and Efron, a kid who wants to be an actor, wanders up to them one day and has a stroke of luck to be cast in the play. What struck me about this movie is that the actor playing Welles is uncanny in his portrayal, and that the actors around him defined obsequious. Why did they put up with the jerk? Were they riding his coattails to Hollywood and success? (I only heard of Joseph Cotten, who is portrayed in this movie). It reminded me, however, of Christians who suck up to charismatic pastors and speakers, getting some kind of jollies from being around a famous person. Oh, well.

Interestingly, I watch Citizen Kane last night again, a movie I can watch several times and see something different. Last night I noticed how gothic it is.

4. Ghostwriter. Great setup. Strange ending. Massive plotholes. Annoying political message. I didn't realize it was Roman Polanski; I wouldn't have rented it if I had known. I don't need a rapist preaching morality at me.

5. Pollock. Another hard to watch movie, this one about an artist's rise and disintegration. But I did learn something and gained some appreciation for his painting--it is far more textured than I realized. But why do artists have to be some royal jerks?

Fresh Look at Matthew: Matthew 18 in total

I have decided to post all of my thoughts on Matthew 18 at once.  After this I will take a short break from posting about Matthew, not becau...