Monday, February 22, 2010

Jack of all trades, master of none

There has been a lot of heady things to talk about.  Obama announced that the stimulus worked last week, then a couple of days later we find that new unemployment claims jumped up again and "unexpectedly".  If this is the stimulus working, I would hate to see what would have happened without it.  Then this week we have the President's own national healthcare plan, with a nearly $1 trillion price tag, new government databases of your information, government oversight of insurance companies, but supposedly not a cent added to the deficit, even though at this writing it hasn't gone by the CBO. 

But I digress.  I'm feeling much less confrontational today.  Haven't talked tech for a while, and the announcement of the poorly named iPad a couple of weeks ago has set my mind a whirling.  My current phone is an older blackberry that was donated by my current boss.  The calender is the best I've found on a phone yet, and I don't have to press a number multiple times to get the right letter when texting or looking for a name in the phone book.  The feature that has gotten the most use (since I haven't been able to justify another $30 a month to get internet on it) is an ebook reader I found. (mobipocket if you're that interested).  It reads .txt files great, so Project Gutenberg is one of my best friends right now, and can even make some pdfs ungarbled enough to read.  Yet, because there is a ton of ebooks, mostly in pdf form on my hard drive, the Kindle and Pocket Reader are of great interest to me.  And of course, music is a necessity, and this particular BB model doesn't have an SD card slot, so there isn't enough memory to utilize it as an mp3 player.

What does this have to do with the iPad?  Well, like the iPhone before it, the iPad is being touted as a great Swiss Army knife gadget.  Internet, music, books, pictures, the whole nine yards.  But I start thinking is how well does it do all these things?  Is it better for surfing the web than your laptop?  Does it offer a better music listening experience than your mp3 player?  Is the phone (for the iPhone) better than your regular, more dedicated device?  Do any of these wonderful, one in all toys really perform their jobs better than three or four dedicated devices?  If not, is the performance loss worth the convenience of the single device, a serious issue when we look to the iPad because that thing ain't fitting in your pocket, and I don't think we've quite reached the age of the man-purse.

I will readily admit that I would rather carry a couple of devices that do things well for everyday use, and save the super device that does everything for special occasions.  When more internet access is needed than the phone offers, that's what laptops and free hotspots are for.  Same goes for music and reading.  Maybe that's just me.  Maybe the whole thing delves into the current "instant gratification" mindset we're running into nowadays...whoops, said I was going to stay light this time around.  Anyway, we've seen "all that and a bag of chips" devices go down hard over the years.  Any one remember the Ngage?  (crickets) There's a reason for that, it tried to be a phone and a gaming system, and by all accounts, did pretty poorly at both. Why is the PSP so far behind the DS in the handheld market?  IMHO, because the PSP is trying too hard to be a great catch all device for games, movies, music and internet instead of picking one thing, maybe two and doing those better than anyone else. 

Granted, right now this is all strictly a question of academics.  I'm not getting an iPad or iPhone anytime soon, or a Kindle or a Zune.  But that's ok.  It's much more fun trying to get these darn electronics to do what you want it to than knowing it does everything out of the box.  The joy of overcoming those limits beats the convenience of no limits.  Maybe....nah better save that one for a more serious entry too.  :-D

Monday, February 15, 2010

Can't think of a wiity, music related title today

A while back, I was pointed at a band by the name of Grave Robber. (If you like metal/punk, they have a serious Misfits sound, check out their Myspace, if you don't, that's ok, just keep reading) The band took the idea of dying to the world and being reborn in Christ and put it to a zombie allegory. They utilize a shock rock show, with masks and lots of theatrical props. Now, would I invite Grave Robber to perform at my church? No. Not because I have anything against the band or their setup, but because that form of evangelism/expression of faith wouldn't be particularly effective with the congregation. Would I invite them to play a show here in town? Yes. Why? Because there are enough goth/emo/mallcore folks running around who would come and listen and be open to the Message in the music. Folks who aren't likely to walk into a church on Sunday morning, and if they do, will (in many congregations) be looked at funny for their Hot Topic clothes and funny colored hair.
When Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, he said this.

And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some and this I do for the gospel's sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you. (1 Cor. 9:20-23, KJV)

To the Jews, he became a Jew, to the them without the law (everybody else from a Jewish point of view), he became one of them. To the punk, the Church is called to become a punk. To the raver, the Church is called to be a raver. While some of us like to focus this on subcultures, we also see it in other cultures around the world. Services in Kenya are completely different than ones in Japan. The hidden "illegal" churches on North Korea worship in a vastly different way than the metalheads attending the Cornerstone festival. Are any of them wrong? No. (not in principle, at least) In the same way the hymn singer is just as right as the contemporary worship music singer is.

It kind of annoys me to see churches with signs out front that say "Traditional Worship Service 8:00, Contemporary Service 10:00".  The idea come off as an unnecessary division.  Hopefully these churches have events and services where everyone comes together, otherwise what is the purpose of being one church, why not break into two separate ones?  Augustine said "In essentials, unity, in non-essentials, liberty, in all things love" (and in a random side note, the article that came up when I googled the phrase to make sure I remembered it right goes into how the statement is wrong and has created issues for the church, bookmarking it for later perusal and likely writing about)  The essentials are doctrine, belief in the God revealed in the Bible, Jesus as our necessary redeemer, that God has a purpose for all of us, and wants us saved to share eternal life in heaven with Him.  Non-essentials are variables, the things we do in life and worship that aren't named specifically in that doctrine.  I guarantee you that none of our church services match the ones the Apostles held as the Church grew in Acts, or in the first several centuries afterward.  Does that mean we are doing it wrong?  No.  It means we are utilizing that liberty that God has granted us.

Personally, I hear a lot of great things in those old hymns, and a lot of great things in the new worship songs.  Of course, I hear great things in the Christian black metal, hardcore, and industrial music I find, too.  The last couple of churches I've attended have always happily mixed hymns and contemporary music.  Hopefully we can come to a time when we can all listen with open hearts, and take that open heart into other parts of our worship and daily lives.  Then we might see fewer divided services and more united forces.  Just a thought, we all know the power of music don't we? 

Monday, February 8, 2010

Near the Sword, Near God

The title of this week's blog is a quote attributed to Ignatius of Antioch, an early Christian martyr.  He was thrown to the lions in the Colosseum.  Before that he rose to the position of bishop, and penned seven letters to different churches that are still believed to be authentic.  (Other letters showed up in centuries past that were attributed to him, but are no longer considered genuine.)  It is amazing to study history and see the persecution that so many faced just for proclaiming faith in Jesus.  It is more amazing to study current events and see the persecution so many face today just for proclaiming faith in Jesus.  There are many parts of the world where being Christian is a crime punishable by death, and yet the Church (the whole body of believers, not a specific church or denomination) is growing by leaps and bounds in these areas.  Yet here in America, where we are free to announce our faith to any who will listen, churches are struggling to keep people in the pews.  Why the difference? 

I think it stems from the idea that Ignatius is referencing, and the one Jesus referenced when He was speaking to the rich young man. (Matthew 19:16-30)  What do we give up for our faith here in America?  Sex, drugs, booze?  A few hours a week?  What is it we stand to lose for our faith?  Some people might unfriend or unfollow us?  Most people, probably without much prompting, can think of a or two church they are familiar with that has split due to less than earth-shattering matters.  I'm sure most of us know at least one person who switched churches or stopped going altogether over some trivialities, like music or dress, or which translation of the Bible was used.  Sometimes it's as little as "we've never done things that way before".   Then we wonder why numbers like divorce, drug and alcohol abuse, out of wedlock births and the like aren't that much different between the Church and the secular world. 

America is blessed with a culture that, even as bent out of shape as it is, still allows us to practice and proclaim our faith.  There is some social stigma that comes with it, a little name calling, but nothing severe.  I don't worry about a cop stopping and searching me, then taking me to jail for the Bible on my blackberry.  I don't worry about a gang of thugs deciding to kidnap me off the street then behead me for my Promise Keepers tshirt.  Maybe that lack of resistance is making for weak spiritual muscle.  We all know that lifting a barbell with only 5 pounds on it will not turn us into a Schwarzenegger, no matter how many times we repeat it.   

Do we pray for persecution then?  No, I say not.  Instead be mindful of the blessing we have, give thanks for it, and take advantage of it.  Read the stories of those who suffered in the past, and those who suffer now.  Voice of the Martyrs is an excellent resource, in addition to their website, twitters, and facebook pages, they put out a monthly newsletter you can subscribe to for free.  We can use our prayers and support for those suffering to add weights to our spiritual barbells, and work those muscles out of their atrophy.  The American Church has so much potential power in it, waiting to be released.  But I think because we are not facing swords, we are letting it wither.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The old rugged cross...

We are very blessed in our church to have a very wizened retired preacher who still teaches a Sunday school class.  Ralph Hessel is a frequent source of inspiration, and one of his many comments has been bouncing around in my head for a while.  The topic that came up was the ubiquitousness of cross necklaces, and Ralph mentioned that for all the beautiful, jeweled crosses we like to wear, he would like to see more people wearing crosses with blood on them.  For the numerous issues that I have with Catholic theology, the older crucifixes with a bleeding Christ is one place where they are looking in the right the direction.  Crucifixion is one of the most painful, drawn out methods of execution that mankind has come up with.  While there is debate over whether the nails actually go through the hands or are behind the wrist, in between the two forearm bones, either way has weight pulling on muscle, iron grinding on bone, along with being left to die from exposure, sped up with breaking the legs if needed, on top of the likely police brutality before the execution all adds up to a long, inhumane torturous death. 

Our fancy jewelry can make us forget the brutality of the cross.  The nice bronze crosses up on the walls of our homes or at the front of the sanctuary can do the same thing. We see them around the necks of rappers spitting out all kinds of sex and violence, oblivious the the meaning of what they are wearing.  Crosses are little more to some than a lucky charm.  Would these same folks wear a cross of wood and bloodstains and nails instead of platinum and diamonds?  I'm sure the goths wouldn't mind the switch, but what about the rest of us? 

The sanitizing of Christianity comes to mind when looking at these things.  Instead of a cross smeared with blood and other gore, Christians are decorated with precious metals and jewels.  We don't discuss the how Stephen died, instead focusing only on his words as he died.  Think for a moment about how a person dies when being stoned, another ugly death that many believers have suffered over the centuries.  The world likes to think that the church is anti-sex, and the mindset has creeped into parts of the Body.  Read the Song of Solomon, folks, whether you're a believer or not.  It will knock out a number of preconceived ideas.  The whole Old Testament is full of sex, murder, war, and deceit.  In their right context, all of those events are great teaching tools.

I'm with Ralph.  It's very hard to appreciate what happened on that hill 2000 some odd years ago while looking at a sculpted piece of silver or gold.  I'd like to see more blood on our own brows, whether it be from accepting the worldly crown of thorns we carry, or from praying with the same intensity of Jesus on the Mount of Olives.  I'd like to see us using more of our own failings for those teaching moments, not just learning ourselves, but sharing them with others so they can learn the way we can learn from those Old Testament tales.  When statistics like divorce show little or no difference between the church and the world, we definitely need to see the blood on the cross.