Friday, September 22, 2006

"Food" For Thought

A couple of weeks ago I had to chew awhile to digest this post in the Out of Ur blog from Christianity Today...

On August 25th, Chicago Sun Times religion columnist Cathleen Falsani wrote a piece entitled “Weighty Matter: Is religion making us fat?” In the piece, she recited Adam Ant’s lyrics in the 80’s “Don’t drink, don’t smoke, what do ya do?” She raised the question whether those Christian denominations that prohibit drinking and smoking are abusing food as a substitute for these other prohibited pleasures. For support, Falsani quotes a Purdue University study that concluded (after accounting for several other factors) that some kinds of churches seem to encourage the problem of obesity. In fact, the study states that churches where drinking alcohol, smoking, and even dancing are prohibited, “overeating has become the accepted vice.”
My denomination, along with others rooted in the old holiness movements, still hangs on to the holiness codes that prohibit alcohol and tobacco for its clergy. I consider this to be “an adventure in missing the point,” to quote Brian McLaren, and I believe Falsani helps us see why. Let me explain.
If we prohibit certain behaviors for pastoral ministry, are we not really revealing the fear that we lack the mature character for ministry in the first place? If drunkenness and chemical addiction is what we fear, why not name drunkenness and addiction as the symptoms that require discernment? By totally prohibiting alcohol and tobacco we are not really dealing with the issue of whether our clergy has mature character. We are just providing conditions to displace the lack of character (if it exists) to some other object that is safer, i.e. from tobacco or alcohol to food.
I want to be careful here about painting a broad-brush stroke across all of us who have struggled with weight. That’s not my point. I am someone who’s had food and weight problems. And I’ve had my own recent crisis with diabetes as a result. Rather, what I am trying to show here is how the holiness codes of my denomination and others do not address the issue, they merely reveal the symptom of the “Real” underlying problem.
In the end, character is about the ordering of one’s appetites towards God’s purposes in creation through a purified vision of Christ and His glory. If such desires are not ordered, if such desires are not integrated, holiness codes can only cover up the existing problem. The holiness codes then become a case of misrecognition. And as Zizek states, “the Truth arises from misrecognition.” Thus we have obesity as an epidemic in our churches.
More and more, the new generations cannot stomach these holiness codes. I have regularly met with outstanding candidates for ministry who raise their eyebrow at my denomination’s persistence on its holiness codes for clergy. This is because these codes are not holy. Instead, they trivialize holiness. The real question for us holiness denominations, if we are ever to be taken seriously by the postmodern generations (and our credibility slips everyday we hold onto to these “legalistic and unbiblical” codes of behavior—e.g. there is no Bible verse prohibiting drinking alcohol, quite the contrary), is whether we have the wherewithal to be sanctified in such a way as to be trusted with a drink or a stogie.
The real issue that our denominational leaders should focus on concerning the fitness of clergy is the commitment to a holy life and what that looks like in community. Obviously this refers to issues like drunkenness, addictions that reveal our lack of dependence upon God including tobacco, pornography, gambling, and yes, food! But this should also include how we handle money, how we engage the poor, how we speak to our neighbors, whether we engage in conflict in holy and Christ like ways. We should not resort to legalism! To the postmodern generations, “no alcohol, no tobacco” speaks only of rules, not holiness.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Church Leadership #2

A couple of days ago I began a discussion of church leadership in a missional context, and briefly described three roles of leadership: decision making, example, and relational. My thesis is that the relational aspect of leadership most closely parallels the missional work of the church in the community, but often gets the least intentional focus.

My perception is that the decision making function gets an inordinate amount of time and attention. I think there may be a couple of factors at work here. One is a cultural expectation. In modern America we expect to have a voice in decisions, and we have an expectation that leadership is representative. There is a tendency to project our concept of democratic government onto church leaders, and leaders often have those same expectations of themselves. We follow established rules of order and methods of conducting business as though we were an elected board of directors. (And when we do focus on the relational aspect of leadership it is often from the perspective of getting to know our constituency so as to better represent them)

A second factor is the inability or unwillingness to let go of control. We can get so focused on details and minutiae that we lose the perspective of what are the more important matters. We get tyrannized by the urgent and are unable to focus on what should be higher priorities. I believe that in Acts 6 the apostles recognized that the same thing was beginning to happen to them and that they appointed deacons to take care of operational details so they could focus on more important matters.

A third factor is frankly that it is easier to deal with the mechanics of budgets, programs, theology, and permission than it is to grapple with spiritual transformation. We do those kinds of things professionally and operate within a comfort zone when we spend our time dealing with them. It takes more energy and personal risk to nurture and develop open and accountable relationships.

These sound like criticisms and I don't really intend them that way. I do, however believe that the process of becoming more missional will require that we rebalance the amount of time and energy we spend on decision making and the amount we spend in prayer, mentoring, and spiritual transformation.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

American Views of God

In 2005 the Baylor Institute for Studies in Religion contracted with the Gallup organization to administer a comprehensive survey of Americans' beliefs about religion and spirituality. Some of the general findings: American religion is startlingly complex and diverse. Americans may agree that God exists. They do not agree about what God is like, what God wants for the world, or how God feels about politics. Most Americans pray. They differ widely on to whom they pray, what they pray about, and whether or not they say grace. A vast majority of Americans are Christians, but attitudes amongst those Christians regarding the salvation of others, the role of religion in government, the reality of the paranormal, and their consumption of media are surprisingly diverse.

The Baylor Religion Survey contains 29 questions about God’s character and behavior. Analysis reveals two clear and distinct dimensions of belief in God. These dimensions are:
1. God’s level of engagement – the extent to which individuals believe that God is directly involved in worldly and personal affairs.
2. God’s level of anger – the extent to which individuals believe that God is angered by human sins and tends towards punishing, severe, and wrathful characteristics.

From these dimensions, the population was classified into four types of believers. Individuals in each of the groups of believers express very different views of who God is and what God does in the world. Researchers found that the type of god people believe in can predict their political and moral attitudes more so than just looking at their religious tradition.

• 31.4 percent believe in an Authoritarian God: Individuals who believe in the Authoritarian God tend to think that God is highly involved in their daily lives and world affairs. They tend to believe that God helps them in their decision-making and is also responsible for global events such as economic upturns or tsunamis. They also tend to feel that God is quite angry and is capable of meting out punishment to those who are unfaithful or ungodly.

• 25 percent believe in a Benevolent God: Like believers in the Authoritarian God, believers in a
Benevolent God tend to think that God is very active in our daily lives. But these individuals are less likely to believe that God is angry and acts in wrathful ways. Instead, the Benevolent God is mainly a force of positive influence in the world and is less willing to condemn or punish individuals.

• 23 percent believe in a Critical God: Believers in a Critical God feel that God really does not interact with the world. Nevertheless, God still observes the world and views the current state of the world unfavorably. These individuals feel that God’s displeasure will be felt in another life and that divine justice may not be of this world.

• 16 percent believe in a Distant God: Believers in a Distant God think that God is not active in the world and not especially angry either. These individuals tend towards thinking about God as a cosmic force which set the laws of nature in motion. As such, God does not “do” things in the world and does not hold clear opinions about our activities or world events.

• 5 percent are Atheists: Atheists are certain that God does not exist. Nevertheless, atheists may still hold very strong perspectives concerning the morality of human behavior and ideals of social order but have no place for the supernatural in their larger worldview.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Happy Birthday, Dad

My dad turns 71 today. He is my hero.

Dad has lived a life of quiet service for all the years that I have been old enough to remember. He has consistently lived congruently with his core values - Faith; Integrity; Responsibility; Commitment; Service. He has been devoted to my mother for more than 50 years (their 50th anniversary was this past June).

Dad has always modeled taking care of those who are in need. He could easily been the one James was speaking about when he said that through our deeds our faith is demonstrated.

I am fortunate to have him for a father, and proud to call him Dad.

Happy birthday, Dad. I love you.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Church Leadership

This morning in class we were talking about Peter's words to elders in his first letter, and the conversation evolved into a discussion of leadership and leaders in today's culture. The general consensus was that the expectations of elders by both ourselves and congregations are largely shaped by the surrounding culture. I reflected later on the conversation and tried to put the leadership aspect of being a shepherd/overseer into a missional context.

At the risk of being overly simplistic I think that church leadership can be classified into 3 general types - leading by proclamation, leading by example, and leading through relationship. These are not hard categories and are not mutually exclusive. I think that a group of elders must function within each of these types as circumstances require or allow.

By proclamation I mean that the elders function as decision makers. I am not talking about leadership style or process - autocratic, democratic, consensus building, etc. - but about the idea that leadership must at times make and communicate decisions.

By example I mean that not only do our personal lives exhibit those qualities that Paul described to Timothy, but that our lives and actions - our serving, our attendance, our giving, our behavior toward one another, our personal spiritual disciplines - are also consistent with the decisions we make and the expectations we have for the congregation.

By relationship I mean that we actually get to know our "sheep". This is the thing that takes the most effort, time, and personal commitment, and consequently, for me personally, often gets the least attention. I don't think I am unique in this respect, although I know that there are others who do a far better job in this area, including most of the guys I presently serve with.

As I think about this in a missional context, it seems to me that the process of developing and nurturing relationships within the body most closely parallels the missional process. If that is true, the balance among the three types of leadership I have suggested would need to be heavier on the relationship side.

Just reflecting...more to come.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Ordinary People Contribute to a Masterpiece

The following appears in this week's issue of the Leadership Weekly newsletter....

Morehead, Minnesota, the home of Concordia College, lies across the state line from Fargo, North Dakota, a very bleak part of the country (especially during the winter). All year, the community anticipates Concordia's annual Christmas concert. Each December, a huge choir and a full orchestra give a musical performance in the concert hall at the college.

Every year, the people in the community create a unique background for the concert—a 100-by-30-foot mosaic. Beginning in the summer, about six months before the concert, the community designs a new mosaic, rents an empty building, and the painting begins. Thousands of people, from junior high schoolers to senior citizens, paint the mosaic. They paint by number on a large-scale design that has thousands of tiny pieces. Day after day, month after month, one little painted piece at a time, the picture on the mosaic gradually takes shape.

When everyone has finished painting, an artist goes over the entire creation, perfecting the final work of art. When the mosaic is completed, they place it behind the choir. It has the appearance of an enormous, beautiful stained-glass window. The weekend of the concert, those people who helped paint arrive early, along with their friends and neighbors. Throughout the building, you can hear people whispering, "See that little green spot below the camel's foot? I painted it."

Every year in the middle of the summer in Morehead, Minnesota, thousands of unknown, ordinary people paint a tiny insignificant tile. Six months later, the result is a spectacularly beautiful masterpiece.

Citation: Mike Yaconelli, Messy Spirituality (Zondervan, 2002), pp. 118-119; submitted by Greg Miller, Madison, Mississippi

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


"Have you ever looked in a pickle jar and seen two pickles that were exactly alike? We are all pickles - each one is a little bit different." Yesterday I was rehabbing my knee when I heard the voice of one of the physical therapists responding to the question of one his clients as to how her injury compared with others in the room.

While I can't claim to having ever heard that specific analogy before, it struck me as being particularly apt. Sunday evening in life group we were talking about the differences in how we respond to scripture based on our own natural predisposition and personality. As a church we have been practicing the discipline of Dwelling in the Word, and these differences are sometimes pronounced and sometimes subtle nuance, but they are consistently present.

Sometimes we can get so focused on the differences between us it can be easy to forget that the similarities are far greater. Differences in language, in skin color, in socio-economic status, in politics; the differences that tend to separate and isolate us - these diminish when we consider that we are all pickles. Each of us is a little bit different from the next, but we are pickles nonetheless.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Friday, Mike Cope posted a quotation from Dallas Willard that I think is worth repeating here....

From Dallas Willard’s The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus’s Essential Teachings on Discipleship:
“For at least several decades the churches of the Western world have not made discipleship a condition of being a Christian. One is not required to be, or to intend to be, a disciple in order to become a Christian, and one may remain a Christian without any signs of progress toward or in discipleship. Contemporary American churches in particular do not require following Christ in his example, spirit, and teachings as a condition of membership — either of entering into or continuing in fellowship of a denominationn or local church. I would be glad to learn of any exception to this claim, but it would only serve to highlight its general validity and make the general rule more glaring. So far as the visible Christian institutions of our day are concerned, discipleship clearly is optional.”

Friday, September 08, 2006

John Kerry to Speak at Pepperdine

I'm sure that there will be some things over the next few years that do not excite me about Taylor's Pepperdine experience, but for now there are a couple of things that reinforce my conviction that he made a good choice.

The first occurs this weekend with what the university calls "step-forward day". Roughly 1500 students will be spending their Saturday volunteering with Los Angeles community-based organizations - cleaning, building, serving food, working with children, etc. - and for many this is the beginning of a longer journey on which they learn how to give their strengths, talents, and gifts back to their communities.

The second is that while Pepperdine is a conservative institution - you might recall that the Dean of the Law School is Ken Starr - the administration is not afraid to invite speakers like Jim Wallis, who spoke at this past Wednesday's convocation, or Senator John Kerry, who will be speaking later this month on campus.

According to the student newspaper, Seaver College Dean David Baird said Kerry was invited to campus after the university received word that Kerry was looking for a Christian university, where he could address his own faith as an important part of his political agenda. Baird said he extended the invitation to Kerry and felt the senator’s presence could enrich campus life. “I am well aware, of course, that Pepperdine’s public image politically is conservative and Republican, but I am also aware that an educational institution that is worth its salt welcomes diverse perspectives in the public square,” Baird said.

Kudos to Pepperdine.

Thursday, September 07, 2006


It has been 6 months and 105 posts since I began this blogging thing. Sometimes I sit at the keyboard and no words or thoughts come to mind and other times the words just flow. One of the ways I get by the barren times is to borrow from some of the others I read. One of those is Edward Fudge, whose gracemails usually come once a week or so. This one from last week struck a nerve....

(gracEmail) The rich man of La Madeleine
Edward Fudge
Aug 30, 2006 (Reprinted from April 16, 1998)

"I'm eating a rich man's lunch today," I say to myself, pulling up my chair to the feast of rotisserie chicken, Caesar's salad, fresh-baked bread and assorted jellies and marmalades spread before me. I usually lunch on the cafeteria "special," but today I am splurging at La Madeleine, a charming French bakery and cafe with locations around Houston.

Suddenly a voice interrupts my reverie. "Sir, will you give me anything to buy some food?" I look up to see a derelict, moving from table to table. Although I frequently give to such askers, I react negatively to this man's sheer audacity. "What nerve!" I instinctively think. "Coming right here inside this nice restaurant. Any respectable panhandler should at least approach people outside."

I look him squarely in the eye. "No," I say. Without response, he moves to the next table. "He's a BEGGAR," I think, with a tinge of disgust.

Then, with lightning speed, another thought flashes through my head. "Beggar at the rich man's table." Conscience pounds me like a sledge-hammer. "I am a beggar before God. God is generous to beggars. I show his grace and character by imitating his generosity." Suddenly I remember the judgment scene of Matthew 25. "When did I see you hungry, Lord, and not feed you?" I am asking. "That certain noon at La Madeleine," comes the dreadful reply. "And, as for audacity, who do you think you ARE?"

I push back my plate and jump to my feet. Quickly I walk through the restaurant looking for this modern Lazarus. "Let me divide my food with you," I will tell him. "I haven't touched it yet, and there is enough here for us both." He is nowhere to be found. The Lord's hour of visitation has come, and I have failed to recognize his presence. All I can do is repent and ask God's forgiveness.

"Rich man's lunch," indeed! If only those incriminating words had never crossed my mind. "God, please give me another opportunity."

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

More Labor Day Musings...

Spent some time reading more of The World is Flat. Friedman describes three causes contributing to what he describes as a coming crisis in American science and engineering research and development as it relates to the rest of the world. He describes a numbers gap, an ambition gap, and an education gap. He made 2 specific statements that caught my attention...

In illustrating the ambition gap, he talked about how Bill Gates draws crowds of young people on any occasion he speaks in China. He describes it like this. "In China today, Bill Gates is Brittany Spears. In America today, Brittany Spears is Brittany Spears - and that is our problem."

The second statement is related to the competition for top educational opportunities in China, where the population is roughly 1.3 billion people. He says they have a saying - "In China when you are one in a million, there are 1300 other people just like you."

Monday, September 04, 2006

Labor Day Musings...

Today as I was resting and relaxing I reminisced a bit about the jobs I have held over the years. The list as I remember it includes several part time and summer jobs, beginning with a paper route in the 6th grade. My mother and sister helped quite a bit through my sophmore year when we finally gave it up. It was an evening paper and I had practice after school for one sport or another all through school, so my responsibility was primarily summers, weekends, and collecting; they did a good job with my paper route...

There were also the occasional odd jobs - lawn mowing, fence painting, etc until the spring of my sophmore year when I began working after school and on weekends at the garden center of the area's largest florist. That summer I worked at the nursery owned by the florist for $1.85 an hour - minimum wage was $2 but they had an agricultural exemption to pay less...I also sold Christmas trees and delivered flowers after I got my drivers license. The following summer I was set to work again on the farm(nursery) and had actually worked for a week when I was informed that I would be required to pay union dues - a good idea run amok. Labor unions have served an important function for the workers in this country, but have at times gotten a little carried away; this was one of those times - I was a high school kid working a summer job for less than minimum wage, would receive no benefit, and would have to forfeit my first 2 weeks earnings to the union. In the righteous indignation of youth I refused, and no longer had a summer job. A couple of days later I found a job for the summer with a home builder for more than minimum wage and spent the summer as a laborer helping build a house.

Beginning the summer after high school graduation I worked as a summer laborer for the gas company each summer until I graduated from college. I also worked in the university media center, at a Bonanza restaurant, and later as a stockboy at a pharmacy while I was going to school. The summer after I graduated from college I worked as a teachers aide in a migrant head start program and umpired little league baseball. The next school year I got my Masters while working as a graduate assistant and part time as a custodian at the College Church. After graduating with my Masters degree I spent the summer working in a plastics factory until I started my coaching/teaching career in the fall.

I worked in a lot of different conditions during all these part time jobs. Some jobs were physically exhausting, some consisted of mind numbing repetitive tasks, some involved interactions with customers. There were lessons to be learned in all of them, but I think the most valuable is the importance of how you treat people. Whether employer, employee, customer, or co-worker, to treat others as you would want to be treated is one of the teachings of Jesus that applies to any situation.

I also worked for a number of bosses and experienced a wide range of effectiveness and ineffectiveness. The most effective have been those who treat subordinates with dignity and respect, provide a clear expectation of the tasks to be accomplished, and to the degree within their control provide the resources or tools to accomplish the task. And did I mention treat people with dignity and respect? I have been somebody's boss for most of my career; I haven't always done a good job on the expectations part, and sometimes have not provided adequate resources, but I have always tried to treat everyone with dignity and respect.