Archive for November, 2008


Thanksgiving church fire

My friend and colleague Michael had just helped his congregation finish the work on a brand new church building earlier this year after two years of sweat and love. They had been worshipping in a small  building that was not allowing them to grow the way they felt called to. It was a lengthy construction project that involved many weekends of labor by members of the congregation and friends from the community. Earlier this week a fire of mysterious origin gutted the entire inside of the sanctuary. Michael’s wife Steffani posted pictures of the burned sanctuary on Facebook Wednesday. It was gut-wrenching to look at the charred cross, the burned hymnals, the scattered and burned pieces of the nativity set and the warped computer and electronic equipment. 

Luckily no one was in the building at the time of the fire and so there were no injuries. But I can’t help but be deeply saddened for the damage to the hearts and minds of the congregation. Being a leader and worker in a church is hard enough when things are moving along smoothly. There are always too many things to do and not enough time or money to do them. The task of being the living presence of Christ’s love does not have hours or a season. Most of the time churches work on the 20/80 principle with 20 percent of the members doing 80 percent of the work. So when something extraordinary and devastating like this fire happens, I can just see the bottoms dropping out of the hearts of the faithful. 

What it does remind us of is the enduring truth of the well-known cliche that the church is what is left after the pastor skips town, the web site crashes, and building burns down. Of course, you hope that none of those things actually happens. 

At the moment I feel completely helpless. Professional clean-up crews are going to clean up the mess. Insurance will likely cover most of the cost of the damage. There is one thing that I can do and that everyone else can do, too. You can pray. Prayer is powerful and prayer changes hearts and minds. Prayer will be the energy that rebuilds the congregation’s saddened outlook and give them a future with hope.


Hey hey we’re the Nielsens!

My family and I are just completing a week of being a Neilsen family and have found it to be a surprisingly illuminating experience. The Nielsen survey, as you know, is the diary-keeping system that tracks the television viewing habits of a slice of the American public so that advertising rates can be set appropriately. The Nielsen people called a few weeks ago and asked if we would like to participate. My wife said, “Sure! Anything in the name of science!” thinking that, naturally, there would be an electronic gizmo we put on top of the TV that would automatically track what we watched. But not so. Several days later our five paper diaries – one for each television set in the house – arrived in the mail, complete with instructions on filling them out and TWO crisp one dollar bills. We were actually being PAID to work for Nielsen! 

At first it was kind of a pain to have to pull out the diary, write down the name of the station, the channel, the program, and note which people were watching. Eventually we got the hang of it and got into the swing of tabulating our viewing practices. 

There have been a couple of interesting awarenesses that have resulted from our Nielsen experience. First of all, we don’t seem to watch nearly as much television in this house as I thought might be the case. Sometimes it seems as if the dull blather of television white noise is a constant companion to every Brown family activity. But check the books… not at all the case! The second aha! for me was a reaffirmation of the sociologist’s insight that the very act of observation changes the thing being observed. For example, I am sure that there were instances when I really felt like plopping into the easy chair and clicking on the tube to do a little mindless channel surfing. But knowing I would have to write down each of the channels and shows I stopped at caused me to pick up a book instead. Not entirely a bad thing. And then there was the time that someone in the home – not to name any names, but one of the people who is NOT me – actually sat down with the intention of taking in 15 minutes of “The Real Housewives of Atlanta.” However, fearing how this might look in the diary, found something else less… well, QUESTIONABLE to watch. 

In the end, I am afraid that if the upcoming television schedule were determined based on the viewing habits of our household there would be nothing on any of your 587 channels of TV but HGTV, 24 hours a day!


dual rising?

I read a portion of Timothy Keller’s book, “A Reason for God” last night in which he posed an intriguing question. First he pointed out the observable fact that both doubt and religion seem to be on the rise simultaneously. Those of us standing on the “religion” side of that dichotomy look out at the world and see only the rise of doubt and skepticism. The nouveau atheists like Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and their ilk look at the world and see only the rise of religion. Each camp then flies into a tizzy (not Keller’s word) and makes dire pronouncements about the disaster that awaits us if the aforementioned trend continues. So the question is, what if Keller is right and both religion and doubt are on the ascendency at the exact same time? What kind of forces might be at work causing that kind of dual rising to happen? If you are a “religionist” does that fact give you comfort? Does it change the way you feel about the rise of skepticism and the systematic dismissal of religion by learned and vocal leaders? If this really is what is happening, where might this trend take us?

I heard someone on NPR today talk about a nationwide financial crisis that took place in 1857 that had many similar features to our current crisis. He went on to observe that there was a widespread spiritual awakening that seemed to take place at the same time. This spiritual awakening planted the seeds that eventually led to the Temperance Movement and a new form of religiously-motivated social activism as it turned out. 

Fear of an unknown and uncertain future drives people to many different kinds of shelter. Can we face that future with confidence, trusting in a merciful and just God? absolutely!


To bail or not to bail…

Suddenly the coffers of the U.S. government seem to have been transformed into magical Santa’s stockings where mismanaged American businesses can all go for a new lease on life. I guess that phrasing doesn’t hide my opinion of the various government bail-out programs currently under consideration in Washington, D.C. Our senators and congressmen have already voted to steer $700 billion into fixing the mess in the sub-prime mortgage industry and this week are considering throwing a financial lifeline to the Big Three automakers. The consequences of these companies going down for the count are too frightening to contemplate; millions of jobs would be lost, both in direct employment as well as in industries built to serve Chrysler, Ford, and GM. The loss of those jobs would be devastating not only for the families involved, but also for their communities, Kansas City included. However, I for one really have zero confidence that this will be money well spent. I know someone who decided 20 years ago that she would never again buy an American car as long as she lived. She made this decision for two reasons; first because she said the quality of American cars was completely lacking and second because of the apparent lack of market awareness in Detroit. As economic and environmental conditions in the world changed, increasing the appeal of smaller, more fuel-efficient cars, the U.S. auto industry just kept pumping out gigantic gas-guzzlers that completely wore out in three years. To tell you the truth, I really see no evidence that this myopic, “damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead” outlook has really changed all that much. What has happened is that the proverbial chickens have come home to roost. The golden goose of the loyal “Buy American!” consumer has stopped laying its predictable golden eggs and suddenly no one wants what Detroit is building.

What happens in the real world to a company that stops responding to its customers is that it pays for its arrogance by going out of business. Unfortunately, standing by and watching the Big Three circle the drain is not really an option. We have to save them from themselves. But I would sure like to see some indication that there will be some new thinking at the top if we do. And since it is going to be my tax dollars that are part of that lifeline, I should be able to insist on a true change of heart before I write this check, shouldn’t I?


Why blog?

I am really hoping someone can help me answer this question. I have a blog, yes. But checking the records I see that it has been more than two weeks since the last time I posted anything on THIS page. I posted to another one, sponsored by the church, more recently. But that was because I HAD to. There was an assignment and a deadline involved. This one is purely voluntary and for the life of me, I cannot muster the gumption to do anything with it.

Possible reasons for this might include: 1.) a deeply held doubt that people “out there” in the blogosphere have any genuine interest in a random collection of my thoughts. True, more people than just my wife and mother have told me I am an interesting guy, but really… who isn’t? 2.) My REALLLLLLY slow computer makes the job of getting onto the “WordPress” site and going through the mechanics of posting such a chore that I leave it until “later.” And of course, “later” never comes. 3.) My threshold of what is a “blog-worthy” comment to post is set too high. As I occasionally read other people’s blogs I find myself thinking, “Really? You thought it was important for me to know THAT?” As you can see from today’s comment, that internal obstacle is gradually changing. And finally, reason #4.) I just don’t really understand what a blog is about and what it is supposed to do.

I really hope someone can help shed insight on this question for me. Maybe the best way to answer it is to talk about why blogs are important to YOU. I think if I had some sense that lives were somehow being enriched by the activity of blogging it would rise dramatically on my priority scale. But for now, I am just really stumped.


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