Sunday, December 10, 2006

On Blogging

So I lead an adult discussion group on Sunday mornings. We are currently discussing current issues. The material I have is dated so I'm supplementing it with internet research. Since I'm looking for opinions and viewpoints as much as facts and figures, I'm following blog links.

There are a lot of good blogs out there. Published authors have blogs. Celebrities have blogs. Editors have blogs. And millions of ordinary people have blogs. There are around 55 million blogs by one count.

I've seen a definition of 'active' for blogs as having been updated in the past month. I guess that makes this an active blog.

55 million. That's an astounding number of blogs. Many of them are inactive, however. How many people read the average active blog? This blog gets around 7 hits a day, down from 13 when my post on front porches was sometimes the #2 hit on an MSN search for that phrase. About half the hits are still on that one post, mostly coming off Yahoo searches. That still leaves a few of you every day who come here intentionally rather than off the search engines.

Have you heard of the 'long tail'. It traces back to statistical graphs and generally refers to the impact of the internet. Say that you graph the sale of all books in print from the most popular to the least. The bestsellers would start the graph with high sales. Then would come books with fewer sales, gradually moving into the area of books that interest only a few people. The internet has made it more possible and profitable to market to the niche interest groups out on the 'tail'.

Graphing blogs by popularity would give a long tail indeed. The most popular blogs get thousands of hits every day. Others get hundred of hits. Way out on the tail are the millions of blogs that get only a few daily hits. That's where this blog falls. Welcome to the long tail.

How many blogs do you follow? I have around 30 bookmarked. I probably most often check the ones with the least amount of traffic because those are the ones belonging to people I actually know.

It's an interesting world.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Still on the Lam

It has been 30 days since the federal government’s mandate, prompted by the Indiana state legislature and county officials, that I change my clocks to Central Standard Time. I have not done so. I keep an eye out for the clock police, but thus far they have not found me. I’ve carefully checked the distance from my home to the demarcation line between the Central and Eastern time zones - three miles. If government officials start to close in on me I may have to make a run for it.

Our household is divided. The clock on my nightstand is on Eastern time; that on my husband’s side of the bed is on Central. When my radio alarm comes on at 6:28 a.m., his clock reads 5:28 a.m. As does the clock in the livingroom, the bathroom, and the stove and microwave clocks in the kitchen. However, the vehicles and computers, as well as my watch, remain on Eastern time. Since he flies out of an airport in the Eastern time zone more weeks than not, he doesn’t complain.

When I announced that I was refusing to change from Eastern Standard Time after over 30 years of not changing my clocks, I didn’t think I would last this long. How confusing it would be to look at my watch and have it consistently read an hour later than that of my neighbors. I would show up early for appointments and be in a constant state of confusion. It actually has worked out better than I expected. In fact, I rather like it.

Morning is my best time of the day. It’s when I do my serious reading. It’s when I’m most motivated to do housework. I don’t like events that compete for my mornings. Being on “fast time” moves my entire schedule later in the morning. Instead of 9:00 tomorrow morning, it will be 10:00 when the library opens. I like that. Instead of 9:30 on Sunday morning, Sunday School now starts at 10:30. Of course, this carries through the entire day, making evening activities also start an hour later. 7:00 meetings are now at 8:00, well past dark. Which is the problem in the first place. We should not be in the Central time zone. Sunset today was at 4:27 Central time. Every evening activity occurs well after dark. When our government leaders decided we should move to the Central time zone for political reasons, they did not take the additional step of delaying the rising and setting of the sun so that daylight would begin and end at the proper time.

This is why I’m still on Eastern time. There’s not a lot of daylight this time of the year. Less than 10 hours a day. I’d like to enjoy all we get. The way to do that is to start my day before the sun does. Sunrise was at 6:43 Central time this morning. My alarm goes off at 6:28. By making it 6:28 Eastern time (5:28 Central), I’m awake at least an hour before sunrise rather than just a few minutes.

Of course, I could always change my clock to Central time and simply set my alarm for 5:28 instead of 6:28 in order to wake up at the same time. Ah, but then we get to the power of the clock. If our clocks didn’t have power, daylight savings time would have never lasted as long as it has. After all, we could all simply rise an hour earlier in the summer and adjust our bedtime accordingly in order to take advantage of the early sunrise. But the only way we’ll actually do that is if the government makes us change our clocks so that we think we’re still getting up at the same time while actually rising an hour earlier.

My radio comes on at 6:28 but it seldom wakes me. I typically wake up at 6:00 or even earlier. Out of consideration for my husband I try not to turn on the light on my side of the bed before 6:30, but am not adverse to using a little book light to start my morning reading any time after 5:00. I consider 5:00 to be the beginning of the new day. Any time before that is part of the night. If I put my clock on Central time, I wouldn’t feel the same about starting my day at 4:00 a.m., even though it would be at the same place in the sun cycle as 5:00 Eastern. Likewise, I wouldn’t feel the same about going to sleep at 9:30 Central as I do about calling it quits at 10:30 Eastern.

A petition is on file with the Department of Transportation asking that five counties in Indiana be returned to the Eastern time zone. No official action has been taken on that request as of yet. It’s looking like it might be spring before the final decision is made and put into effect. Will I be able to hold out? Maybe. Maybe not.

Yesterday afternoon I ventured across the county line into the Eastern time zone. It was a bit of a shock to realize when I entered a city at 5:00 that it truly was 5:00 there, that everyone else’s watches read the same as mine as they headed home from work. That could take some adjustment. Being out of step does have advantages.

Saturday, November 18, 2006


I am a librarian. There are many facets to library work. One job that I don't do well is shelving books. That's because I get distracted by books that are not in their proper place on the shelf and end up sorting books rather than finishing the shelving job. That's not generally a problem because a high school student comes in twice a week to do the reshelving job. However, a couple of weeks ago, as part of another project, I had taken "new" stickers off books that were no longer new and decided to make sure there was room for them on the regular shelves. I discovered another reason why I don't do well at shelving books. I ended up checking two of them out.

The first book I checked out was Night by Elie Wiesel. I hadn't read it and didn't know what it was about; he won the Nobel Peace Prize; it was a thin paperback; it seemed like one of those books that a librarian oughtta read. Preferring to let an author deliver his/her material to me without prior prejudice from reviews or descriptions, I didn't read the cover to find out what I would encounter within the pages.

The second book was Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, another thin paperback. This one grabbed my eye because of Stephen Covey's reference to Frankl's writings in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I knew that Frankl had based his theories on self-observation in WWII concentration camps.

Of course, if you keep up on Nobel Peace prize winners or good literature or Oprah's book choices, you will know that I took home not one but two books about life in the concentration camps. I finished Wiesel's book in a week and finished the narrative part of Frankl's book last evening and started in on the conclusions he drew from his experience.

Two weeks of ending most days by reading about one of the most terrible demonstrations in all of history of the cruelty of mankind. Not exactly what I had in mind when I put those two books in my bag instead of on the shelf, but certainly a worthy addition to my "books I've read" list.

Meanwhile, I also completed Organic Church by Neil Cole. It didn't come from the library, but off my recommendations list at Amazon because it fits in with my typical book selections. In this book, Cole told the story of "Schindler's List". Being hypersensitive to film drama and disenamored with television and movies in general, watching a movie such as "Schindler's List" isn't in the competition at all as something I'd enjoy doing. However, I think it may finally be time. I've been slogging through the Holocaust anyway. If I'm ever going to watch this powerful film, now is probably the time. I think. Maybe. But not yet. I'll finish the Frankl book first and then think about it.

Friday, November 10, 2006


The internet has had a huge impact on research. I have an incredible collection of facts and figures and information of all kinds at my fingertips. If I want to mention the world population, I can get an instantaneous estimate. If I want to share a song that is special to me, I can find the lyrics and copy them here. If I want to comment on last week’s news, I can pull up countless reports and related trivia. If I’m not sure I’m spelling or using a word correctly, I can go digging for it in either my word processor or in an online dictionary.

Having information so accessible doesn’t make gathering it instantaneous. Nor does the internet contain the resources to make certain everything I want to say is factual. For example, a couple of weeks ago I wrote a short news release for the local newspaper about the historical collection of that newspaper at the library. I wanted to include the dates of the collection. As far as I know I was the first to publish those dates. Thus, I had to make a trip to the library and check and record the dates before I could finish the article.

Sometimes one can write around missing facts. “The library has an extensive collection of this newspaper on microfilm.” “The more than 6 billion people in the world ...” Other times, doing the required research is the only way to produce good writing. This can be quite annoying when one has time to either write or do the research but not both. When is it better to write around missing facts and when is it better to gather the information now and schedule another time to finish the writing project? If that project is part of an ongoing discussion, will what I want to write still be relevant when I return to the project?

We have an incredible amount of information at our fingertips, which makes tossing around unverified information and ignoring readily-available standards less excusable than ever before. I’m sure that’s a good thing. It is also rather annoying.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Reading report

Anyone paying attention to the list of "What’s in My Bookbag" to the left of this post would think that either a) I am a very slow reader or b) I’m too lazy to update the list on a regular basis. Either option contains some truth. It’s not so much that I read individual pages slowly, but I do tend to read individual books slowly because I don’t read enough pages on any given day to make good progress in all of the books (and magazines) vying for my attention. And I don’t take time to update the list.

Nevertheless, I have actually read two books in the past two weeks. One was on loan from a library and needed to be completed and returned – Embracing Grace: A Gospel for All of Us by Scot McKnight; the other one I found abandoned in my daughter’s room – Messy Spirituality by Michael Yaconelli.

These books have similarities. In fact, McKnight references Yaconelli’s book in his, along with several other of my favorite authors. Much of my reading is in books from the "emergent church" community, placing Christianity in a postmodern setting.

So why do I keep reading authors who are quoting each other and saying similar things? Why saturate myself with such writing? The answer is "balance".

Many of my core beliefs are out of step with those of the community in which I live and worship. When I choke on theology that is being fed to me by people around me, there are few if any who comprehend the difficulty I have in swallowing what is being said. I’m left feeling isolated and lonely. That’s where the books come in. They give me another faith community where voices of authority affirm what I discover in the Word of God and those discoveries are fleshed out with articulate words. It’s not the same as having a local church, however.

On one side, I have people who truly care about me and will come see me in the hospital and show me love but who teach and preach Christianity in ways that offend me. On the other side, I have people who write books that speak to where I am theologically, but who don’t know that I exist and certainly don’t want to hear about my hospital stay.

In the natural balance of things, the people who care about me and with whom I interact face to face have more influence in what they say. Their words easily get under my skin and stir up my defenses. It takes frequent, almost daily, exposure to the writing of people who never enter my world to offset half an hour a couple of times a week of listening to a flesh-and-blood person speak words that drive me crazy.

If I can dig in deep enough, I can fully identify with people like McKnight and Yaconelli and view local voices as merely providing a quaint glimpse into a fading religious culture. Reading the Bible helps. That’s primarily what put me out of step with the fading culture in the first place.

How grateful I am for those who write the books I read. And for those who discover those books and recommend them to me, including the people at And for the resources to get them off my recommended reading list and into my bookbag. I am blessed.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

High School Class Reunion

I settled in an area 260 miles from my home town when I graduated from college. That’s far enough to not get back often but close enough to be able to make it to special events such as a high school class reunion every five years. Saturday was our sixth such reunion.

I always look forward to the reunions. I want to go back to the dynamics that left me so intimidated and insecure as a teenager and show off the superior social skills I’ve developed over the years. No longer will I be an awkward outsider looking in, longing to be part of the 'in' group. I’m not that socially inept teenager my classmates once knew and dismissed as not worth their notice. I’ve made many friends over the years and am generally comfortable in group settings.

Saturday brought an interesting revelation to me. I’m still on the outside in that group. So much has changed and yet nothing has changed. Those who were obviously developing good social skills all those years ago have continued to develop them. They make the effort required to interact with me for a few moments, chatting with someone whom they’ve never known well and haven’t missed over the years. I wasn’t part of their world then; I’m still not part of their world. They didn’t notice me then; we have few shared memories to discuss now. But they demonstrate their own social skills by taking time to chat with me.

Those who didn’t bother to interact with people they didn’t find interesting all those years ago still find me dull and uninteresting today. They know almost nothing about me as a person and have no interest in getting to know me. They’re not sure why I’m there. After all, I have no part in their favorite memories. They characterize me as a person with little depth. I was 'smart', always messing up the 'curve'. They remember having my father as their 8th-grade math teacher. They don’t remember if I was in a particular class with them. I was just the smart teacher’s kid.

There are exceptions. I have two friends from high school who have gone to extraordinary lengths to keep in touch with me through the years. We get together every year or two. They interact much more often with each other and could easily give up on including me in their activities. What a blessing that they make the effort to contact me. They were at the reunion and it’s always wonderful to see them.

Then there are those whom I don’t remember well who have turned out to be people I could get to know and like given the opportunity. They seem content to interact outside the 'in' group.

How does that group so easily take me back to the old dynamics? I want to talk about myself rather than about them, to prove that I’m a person of value, that there’s more to who and what I am than 'smart', that 'smart' doesn’t even come close to capturing the essence of my being. That compulsion to prove myself worthy of their notice, of course, only makes things worse. I’m back to being the kid who knows all the answers on the test but has no social skills and isn’t worthy of their time.

Back home today, reentering the central time zone allowed us to be only a little late for an afternoon church picnic. I was back on home territory: catching up on the weekend’s events, reporting on our trip, making a note of an appointment for tomorrow afternoon, agreeing to drop off something for someone, hearing good news, greeting people and being greeted, balancing listening with talking, enjoying the group dynamics, My group. People I value and by whom I am valued.

It turns out that being 'in' or 'out' isn’t simply a matter of having good social skills. My classmates decided long ago who was interesting and who was not. The 'not' group is made up of people very much like those with whom I spend all my days. An Amish man whose name I didn’t recognize despite having gone to school with him for eight years found a point of connection with me and provided one of the most interesting exchanges of the day. And, of course, I never tire of interacting with the two friends who keep pulling me back into their company. They are true friends. (They also happen to be 'smart'.)

It’s time to change my expectations for class reunions and focus on those outside the inner circle, the interesting people I never knew who share some of my earliest memories. Even if they never see me as anything beyond 'smart', I can enjoy getting to know them and catching up on their lives every five years as we grow old together. The 'in' crowd always could party quite well without me and still can. It’s time to get to know the rest of the group.

Or maybe it’s time to put the past behind me and enjoy the many interesting people whose paths cross mine every day without having to drive 260 miles.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

On prayer

It turns out that a lot of Americans pray. People who never step into a church or practice intentional religion admit to praying. (I don’t have statistics to support these statements. You’ll have to take my word for it that someone has done the research and the results do indeed reveal widespread prayer.) People believe in the power of prayer.

So if I reveal to you that I’m a closet pray-er* will you want to hang around with me and tell me about your problems so I can pray for you? Will you be part of my church if we tell you that we’ll pray for you and your friends and family?

I participated in a church survey a while back. We were given a series of statements and asked to indicate our level of agreement with each statement, ranging from “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree”. One of the statements was, “Prayer works.”

I left it blank. Works for what? If prayer is speaking to God (the dictionary definition), how do we decide whether it works or not? Does speaking to your boss work? To your parents? To your friends? Does talking, in general, work? If we were asked any of those questions, we would seek clarification. Or at least I would. Speaking to my boss doesn’t generally work for getting my dog fed. Nor does speaking to my friends get me an appointment with my dentist. However, speaking to my boss can help me prioritize my work, and speaking the right kinds of words to my friends helps maintain my relationship with them. Speaking is part of communication (along with listening), and communication does accomplish much. Does that mean that “talking works”?

What was the thinking behind the survey question? What were they really asking? What does it look like when “prayer works”? Were the surveyors assuming that our speaking to God consists primarily of a series of petitions? In that case, I guess that prayer works when our petitions are granted. So does prayer work? If every petition voiced in prayer were granted, there would be much less sickness and pain and death around us. Is there anyone who hasn’t prayed for someone to live and been disappointed when death came? Or that the diagnosis not show cancer and it did? If success in prayer means getting whatever we ask for and being able to create a smooth path for ourselves and everyone we care about, I would have to say that I strongly disagree with the statement “prayer works”.

Does that mean that I don’t believe in the power of prayer? You might decide that based on the above statement. And I wouldn’t debate with you. Although there may be rare exceptions, I’m pretty sure that most of the time, prayer won’t help you win the lottery. Prayer doesn’t work for that.

Still, I pray. Does prayer work? Yes. It works for what I hope to accomplish by praying, which has nothing to do with physical healing, smooth paths, and winning numbers. I pray because I’m changed by prayer and it’s my only hope for making a difference in the lives of those around me. I pray because I have more questions than answers and asking God those questions gives me insights that I would never have on my own. (Which generally lead to more questions.)

You may not want me to pray for you (although if you’re someone I know, there’s a good chance you’ve been in my prayers already). I’m not likely to ask God to give you smooth sailing and to remove every obstacle in your path. After all, it’s the tough times that help us to grow.** I’m as likely to ask God to grant you strength to endure the pain that has come your way as to ask that He take away the pain. I will pray that you find blessing in the thorns, that you reach the point where you can look back on the tough times and say, “It was intended as evil, but it all worked out for good.”*** I will pray that God will draw up close to you and allow you to sense His calming presence in the midst of the storms you face. I might even mention to our heavenly Father that it seems that you could use some clear skies now and then, although I would probably stop short of actually requesting a break in the storm.

I wonder. Would you be disappointed if I prayed for you that way?

Loose Bible connections for anyone who is interested.
* Matthew 6:6
** Romans 5:3-4
*** Genesis 50:20

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Church – homogenous or diverse

I read an interesting report in the October issue of Christianity Today. (I’m far, far behind on my reading and CT shows up with 154 pages for their 50th anniversary issue!) It seems Willow Creek Community Church has discontinued their “church-within-a-church” for 20-somethings. Attendance had dropped from 2,000 to around 350. Apparently, a program that attracts so few people is considered non-sustainable by Willow Creek standards. Ironically, there are few congregations around here with that many in their entire congregation and most have far less, but that’s not what I want to talk about.

The problem, according to the report, was that the group was isolated from the rest of the congregation. Among other results of this isolation, when young adults outgrew that group they found it difficult to make the transition into the larger congregation. Also, some of the elements that were distinctive to the young adult ministry were adopted by the church as a whole, lessening the need for having a separate group.

I find it depressing to imagine being part of a large church group that includes no one outside a 10-year age span – no children to amuse me, no one from my parents’ generation to put an arm around my shoulders, no teenagers with their boundless enthusiasm and energy. I think I can understand why this format didn’t last at Willow Creek.

I’m reminded of my “It’s not about you” post from a few months ago. I commented that the church is ALL about the people of whom it is composed. Tightening the age-span of those people enables the church to make it all about that one demographic rather than finding ways to minister to a more diverse group. I’m not sure that’s a positive thing. Rather, when we plan for and accommodate diversity, including age diversity, it broadens the horizons of all involved. Young people can find mentors and positive examples among the older adults. They can find places of service using the skills that they have at a particular time and place in their lives. I much prefer the picture of the church as family - children, teens, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings, cousins from Duluth, etc - to that of a college dormitory.

I’m glad that Willow Creek tried this “church-within-a-church” concept and someone reported the results. It increases my commitment to championing ministry designed for people of all ages. It’s all about the children and the senior adults and the young adults and the teenagers. It’s all about the old-timers and the newbies, those who know the ropes and those who don’t. They’re all part of the family and each needs to be given full consideration. There’s a place for activities that appeal to one grouping within the church more than others, but there’s also great value in making sure there’s something for everyone in the large family gatherings and that those gatherings occur frequently. Family is not just for those fortunate enough to be born into one that stays together for a lifetime.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Going to church without getting angry -- revisited

Just some thoughts for a certain someone who is struggling with anger in relationship to the church. (And, no, C., none of this is about you.)

I think I've actually made some progress in this area over the past year. One thing I pondered was why I go to church in the first place. None of my primary reasons for being part of a church (fellowship, accountability, and ministry) require that everyone (or even anyone) have the precise same beliefs that I have. As long as I'm finding common ground with the official theologians of the denomination, I figure there's room for diversity in the local congregation. I also pondered some specific strategies for going to church without getting angry. But I think the thing that has helped the most is realizing that it really is God's church, not mine. He hasn't commissioned me to fix the church. The leadership of the church isn't looking to me for advice or guidance. I will not be held responsible when the doors close at the church where I'm a member.

There are almost unlimited ministry opportunities in the church. There are hurting people there who are searching for healing. There are discouraged people looking for hope. There are lonely people looking for friendship. There are hungry people looking for spiritual nurture. Every week these people gather in the church. How many go away disappointed by what happens there? Some of them may even go away angry and wonder if they can keep coming week after week for no more than they're getting out of it. They need someone who will listen to them and offer them words of encouragement. In Exodus chapter 4 the Lord asked Moses what he had in his hand. The answer was a staff. Moses did great things with that staff. Even when it seems I have far too little influence, there's always something in my hand that can be used to minister to hurting people.

The church is full of imperfect people with various goals and purposes, noble and not-so-noble. Some of those not-so-noble goals cause pain. Which translates into more ministry opportunities.

The humbling part is that I am one of the imperfect people. My goals and purposes are not always so noble as I wish they were. I cause pain, sometimes without even realizing it, other times knowing it's happening but powerless to stop it. It's in the rough-and-tumble of church life that I can find both good examples to emulate and bad examples that help me know what to seek to eliminate from my own life. At my best, I'm a missionary bringing the culture of the kingdom of God into a place that claims to know it well but barely recognizes the real thing. At my worst, I need to hear the message of grace and forgiveness and an invitation to do better.

The church may not speak that message so clearly as it ought, but there are always at least a few who demonstrate the truth of that message. I'd like to more often be among those few and be yeast permeating the entire batch of dough. What better place to find dough to permeate than the church? The message of grace is as wanted and needed there as anywhere. When I extend grace to the imperfect people running the church in imperfect ways without inviting me to share my wisdom with them and when I focus on the many needs of those around me, I find that I can go to church without getting angry.

Most of the time.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

On being a layperson

A conjunction of various discussions has given me a new awareness of how theologically freeing it is to be a layperson in the church. That’s assuming that you choose to be part of organized religion. If you do, I recommend lay ministry over vocational ministry.

Some have pointed out to me that those who are called to vocational ministry assume a higher level of responsibility when they accept the ordination of the church. As a member of a denomination which encourages every member to dedicate their entire being to being a disciple of Jesus Christ, this puzzles me. Aren’t we all responsible to devote our whole selves to ministry whether it’s our vocation or not? Am I any less responsible to demonstrate and promote the values of the kingdom of God in a secular job than within the church walls?

As I’ve considered this and observed those in full-time ministry, it has occurred to me that the extra responsibility is not so much to God as it is to the church. The minister is the face of the church. Ordination charges a person to represent the church at all times.

Not only does this sometimes result in significant pressure to meet higher ethical and behavioral standards, it also draws a box around a person’s theology. Here is what the church believes. Thus, this is what you will believe – and teach and preach. To question the beliefs of the church would be to cause schism within the organization.

As a layperson in the church, my level of commitment to doing the will of God 24/7 is no less, but my level of commitment to the church itself is whatever I choose to make it. Anyone who looks to me as a spokesperson for the church is looking in the wrong place. If my pastor’s theology is weird, there’s a problem in my church. If my theology is weird, I’m just a confused layperson with no authority to speak for the church.

I participate in a forum that often has discussions of theological issues. I find it interesting that people often post theological questions and address them to the many pastors who participate on the forum. However, it’s usually laypeople who compose the bulk of the responses. Perhaps that’s because pastors are busy people and don’t have time to discuss silly theological questions being asked on the internet. Or perhaps it’s because the discussion involves accepted beliefs of the denomination and pastors feel obligated to stick to the “company line”. If there’s only one acceptable answer to a question, it doesn’t make for a very interesting discussion. It takes a brave person to think independently while depending for his or her livelihood on an organization that likes to draw boxes around people's thinking.

As a layperson, I can set my faith aside entirely and impact only those who have mistakenly allowed me to represent God and the church to them and whom I tell about my faith crisis. If it is a prolonged crisis, I may need to set aside formal ministry for a while. I may question basic beliefs of the congregation of which I am a part. Doing so will endanger neither my livelihood nor the integrity of the church. If it’s a mild crisis, I can simply keep my mouth shut when discussions in the area of doubt arise.

I don’t have to know the answers. I don’t have to toe the line. I don’t have to be right. I simply need to love the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength – and my neighbor as myself. And act on that love.

You see? This faith stuff is as simple as 1-2-3 so long as you stay out of vocational ministry.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

What I'm reading

I started reading at an early age and jumped quickly into voracious reading. I remember reading all the Oz books in the bookmobile because the editions found there fit into a scarce category of books long enough to last me for a while but with the large print needed for my immature eyes. I couldn't handle the small print that was generally used for books at my reading level.

I don't know when I moved on to small print, but I think it was still in my early years that I discovered the Lone Ranger -- not more than 3rd grade, I imagine. I don't know what it was about the Lone Ranger that attracted me but I devoured that row of books in the bookmobile. They were old even then. Many had little "treasure hunts" scribbled onto their pages, i.e. "go to page 45" and on page 45, "go to page 110" and so on until one would finally arrive at a "you are here" message. There were a smattering of black marks where someone had thoughtfully crossed out bad words to protect innocent young eyes like mine.

As far as I can remember, no one ever told me that the Lone Ranger was a radio character before riding into the series of books about him. I thought the books contained everything there was to know about him and Tonto.

As I matured and became more discerning in my reading, I discovered that one can often tell when a book is based on a television show or movie. The storyline depends more on dialog and action than inner observations and the characters, having lost the body language they could convey on screen without picking up a well-developed thought life, tend to be rather flat.

I've sometimes wondered about the Lone Ranger books. Did they fall into that category? Would I laugh at my childish attraction to them if I went back to them as an adult? But alas, whatever else was true about them, the Lone Ranger books did not survive the test of time to become classics. They faded out of print and off library shelves. I moved away from my beloved bookmobile, which has likewise disappeared off the streets of my hometown, and there were no more Lone Ranger books in my life. Nor large-print Oz books, for that matter.

A couple of weeks ago someone clearing out their personal library in preparation for a move donated several boxes of books to the public library. I glanced through them to see if there was anything that should be added to the library collection rather than being set aside for the next book sale. And there it was -- The Lone Ranger by Fran Striker, copyright 1936.

So that's what I'm reading. It's not bad, although quite musty - definitely not for the asthmatic. There's nothing grand about it, just an old western that is now completely politically incorrect, but at least I haven't noticed that "made for television" feel to it. I'm fairly pleased with the taste of the young reader I used to be. I've been dawdling my way through it, but I may have to push to the end tonight and see if they ever got that east-to-west railroad completed.

Hi-yo, Silver, away!

Friday, August 25, 2006

On church fundraising

A story:

There once was a small town by the name of Podunk with a small Church of the Nazarene. Two men named Jason and Fred were members of the Podunk Church of the Nazarene. There were also other members, but not many. The church was small. The offerings were small. The building was old.

And it came to pass that one bright and sunny day, the pastor of the Podunk Church of the Nazarene saw water where no water ought to have been. He looked at the old copper pipes and sent for a professional. The owner of Podunk Heating & Plumbing walked around saying, "Hmm..." and "Ahh..." and "Interesting ..." for a short while which seemed long and then handed the pastor an estimate for $500. The pastor looked in the treasury box. There were only a few coins in the bottom of the box. The pastor reluctantly cranked the water valve shut and waited for Sunday.

Fred and Jason were in church the following Sunday as was their weekly habit. They heard the pastor announce that the water valve was closed until $500 could be collected for repairs. The regular tithes and offerings were barely sufficient for regular expenses. The extra $500 would need to be gained in a way that would not reduce the regular giving. Jason and Fred were sad because they each had only $40 to contribute toward the $500 plumbing repair leaving $420 for their fellow church members, a daunting figure. How could they do more?

And behold, Jason and Fred were friends and had together attended a birdhouse-building workshop at a craft store in Nabrington, a nearby town. They both discovered hidden talents in this area. They talked together and decided that they would make and sell birdhouses and give the money to the fund for the plumbing repair. And so, they each took their $40 on Monday and purchased supplies for 10 birdhouses. With quick yet careful work, they constructed and painted 20 beautiful birdhouses.

"Fred," said Jason. "I propose that we put up a table in the town square with a sign announcing that the proceeds from the birdhouses will be used to repair the plumbing at the Podunk Church of the Nazarene and thus sell them to our friends and neighbors." However, Fred was not in agreement with this proposal and the discussion became so sharp that they parted ways, Jason to put together a birdhouse display on the town square and Fred to take his birdhouses to the craft store in Nabrington where he proposed to the storeowner that the birdhouses be sold for $10 each, with a $1 commission. The storeowner was pleased, for the birdhouses were beautiful. They were thus put on display.

Five customers came to the store on the first day. The first customer looked at the birdhouses and said, "What marvelous birdhouses! But, alas, there is no room in my garden to display such a marvelous creation. I must pass these by."

The second customer looked at the birdhouses and said, "What marvelous birdhouses! But, alas, there is no money in my pocket. I must pass them by."

The third customer looked at the birdhouses and said, "What marvelous birdhouses! However, the $10 in my pocket is for the offering plate at my church. I must pass them by."

The fourth customer looked at the birdhouses and said, "What marvelous birdhouses! I will buy one for my garden." And he did.

The fifth customer looked at the birdhouses and said, "What marvelous birdhouses! I have no place for one but I will buy one for a friend." And he did.

On the second day, the same occurred and on each day thereafter until the last birdhouse was sold. On Saturday afternoon Fred returned to the shop and the shopkeeper placed in his hands $90 for the birdhouses, keeping $10 for commission. He offered space in his store for 10 birdhouses per week if Fred decided to build and sell more.

Meanwhile, Jason set up his display on the Podunk town square with a sign reading, "Please support the plumbing repair at the Podunk Church of the Nazarene."

And people came past. The first passerby said, "What marvelous birdhouses! But, alas, there is no room in my garden to display such a marvelous creation. Still, the Podunk Church of the Nazarene needs repairs and Jason is my friend and neighbor. I will buy one anyway." And he did and put it in storage in his garage where it gathers dust to this day.

The second passerby looked at the birdhouses and said, "What marvelous birdhouses! But, alas, there is no money in my pocket. I am unable to contribute to the plumbing project at the Podunk Church of the Nazarene or to purchase a birdhouse. I must pass them by." And he went away sad because he could not purchase a birdhouse and participate in the fund-raising project.

The third passerby looked at the birdhouses and said, "What marvelous birdhouses! The money in my pocket is for the offering plate at my church. However, I see that the Podunk Church of the Nazarene has a great need. I will buy a birdhouse with the money. It will still go to the work of the Lord and I will be able to carry home one of these marvelous birdhouses."

The fourth passerby looked at the birdhouses and said, "What marvelous birdhouses! I will buy one for my garden." And he did.

The fifth passerby looked at the birdhouses and said, "What marvelous birdhouses! I have no place for one but I will buy one for a friend." And he did.

And in this way, Jason was able to sell birdhouses to 80% of passersby and quickly liquidated his inventory and packed up and went home with $100.

On Sunday, Jason and Fred brought their money and laid it at the feet of the elders. Fred said, "Behold, I took $40 and built 10 birdhouses and sold them on their own merit at the craftshop in Nabrington for a commission. The Lord has blessed me and I am overjoyed that I can now give $90 instead of $40.

Jason said, "Behold, I took $40 and built 10 birdhouses and sold them in the town square to our friends and neighbors whom I asked to help us fix our plumbing problems. By investing only $40, I can now contribute $100 collected from the community.

Which of these men most blessed his church and community?

To many, there may be no difference. To me, there's a big difference. Fred received the joy of giving his own money multiplied by labor invested. All his profits came from uncoerced, willing buyers in a free market. Jason gave other people's money and collected it by using the church name to persuade community members to take on the needs of the Church of the Nazarene in addition to their own churches. The church became a charity project for the community.

I can see that sometimes having the church name attached to a fund-raiser is less to persuade people to give where they otherwise would not than to give name-recognition to the church in the community. I'm still not comfortable with it, however. It reduces the joy of bringing our tithes and offerings into the storehouse as a personal sacrifice and an act of corporate worship. And some who might have given will be content to let the community meet the needs of the church, rather than the church meeting the needs of the community, thus losing the blessing of giving to both the church and community.

I'm not ever comfortable with fund-raising for the church, but find it less offensive if it is limited to children and youth who have no marketable skills to use to earn money to give to the Lord and who, thus, must depend on the charity of adults either in the church or in the larger community to fund their activities. In those cases, fundraisers can help the child with less financial support at home participate in activities from which he or she would otherwise be excluded. As for the adults:

When a group of Christians come together for worship, fellowship, discipleship, and ministry they are blessed in the pooling of their resources to support the activities of their fellowship. Asking the community to support the needs of that fellowship group poses a significant threat to the health of the church they have formed together – in my opinion.

Since this is my blog, I suppose I'm allowed to express that opinion here. But if you're ever in Podunk, be kind to Jason, all right? He's really a good guy doing his best to support the church. We just have different ideas as to the best approach to doing that.

What do you think? (Feel free to add a comment expressing your own opinion.)

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

On Brevity

I was looking around at some blogs by writers this week and noticed that most of them contain frequent, short posts.

How do they say anything?

Monday, August 14, 2006

Melancholy evening

What makes for melancholy days? Hormones or lack thereof? A chemical imbalance? Is it more a product of physical forces or psychological? Is it entirely caused by internal disturbances? Do external disturbances have anything to do with it?

I tend to hover not far short of euphoria. I enjoy my life. I enjoy knowing that I am loved and have love to give to others. I love being competent for at least some percentage of the tasks I face. I love being self-determinate to some extent. I enjoy thinking that I am in relationship with the God of the universe. Even if my faith someday turns out to be totally in error, for right now it seems that following the law of God as recorded in the Bible produces blessings not rivaled by any other path. I have no complaints about where life has brought me. Most days.

Then there are days like today. Chris Rice has a song that speaks of the good days and asks, “Why should any day be like today?” Then it speaks of the bad days and asks the same question: “Why should any day be like today?” Both are good questions. I certainly don’t deserve the good days. But given that most days are good, what is the source of a melancholy day?

Today didn’t start off blue. I think it was late afternoon when it started to go downhill. Ironically enough, the initial trigger might have been someone asking how I was with genuine interest. “Are you okay? You seem ...uhmm...”

I don’t know what word would have come next. Rather than waiting for however long the search for it might have taken, I stepped in after a brief pause to affirm that I was fine. And I was. But the question went with me as I moved on to my next interaction. I felt that my assertion that I was fine rang empty. Isn’t that what people say when they simply choose not to share their grief? Wouldn’t it have been more considerate to share whatever was bothering me? But what was it that made me seem ... uhmm ...? I couldn’t imagine. Particularly since I have no clue as to nature of the elusive adjective.

A while later, I found that two communiques I had written had been misunderstood by two different people. When I pointed out one misunderstanding and took credit for not communicating clearly, the response was “You probably think you write well.” Well, yes, I must admit that I have sometimes entertained the idea that I might communicate better in print than verbally, not because of my own evaluation but because of unsolicited positive feedback from independent sources. But today all those positive words seem empty against the evidence of my failure to communicate and the mockery I thought I detected in the assessment that I only think I can write effectively.

How many positive words does it take to balance negative words? The positive words could be spoken out of kindness or pity or someone’s desire that I like them. Negative words seem so much more honest and substantial. Perhaps they represent what the majority of people are thinking but are too nice to say. It takes independent thought to speak the negative when others are voting together in a positive manner. Isn’t it likely that it’s the unkind people in my life who are most willing to speak the truth to me, since they are obviously the least concerned about whether I like them or not?

Time to sing the blues. I didn’t actually sing, but I did dig out some old piano music. Neil Diamond had a point in “Song Sung Blue” about how blues music can sometimes make you feel better. I distinctly dislike Neil Diamond music so I didn’t play that one, but there are plenty of others. It was nice, but didn’t last. As the chords faded away, the cloud of melancholy crept back in again.

Writing. Sometimes that’s a good antidote for the blues. Even if my communication skills are lagging, I know for myself what I’m trying to say and enjoy wrapping words around my thoughts. So here you are – a melancholy post for a melancholy evening. I had to do it quickly. The borderline euphoria is already threatening to disperse the clouds and by morning light is likely to have sent the blues packing.

I'm glad that there are sad songs and empty lines waiting for print when the blues come along. I may as well enjoy being melancholy while it lasts, which is seldom long.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Seasonal amnesia

After long days of stinking hot weather, the window air conditioner is turned off tonight and the whole-house fan on with windows open. The night noises coming from the woods outside my bedroom window are those of late summer -- the loud and incessant songs of crickets, locusts, and whatever.

If you asked me in March about the characteristics of August in southern Indiana, I would tell you it tends to be hot and humid without a lot of rain. The rivers are low, the garden overrun with weeds and overripe cucumbers. I would not mention the crickets. That’s because I forget about them when it’s not late summer. I don’t even know when they start their season of singing or when it ends. In fact, I don’t know during which hours of the day and night they perform their serenade. It’s 9:15 pm (Central) right now and they’ve been singing for several hours.

The seasons come and go and bring me surprises. I forget how loud the morning birds are in the spring. When I long for warm weather in the winter, I forget about the bugs that are part of summer. I also forget how difficult it is to keep up with housecleaning during summer break. When I long for cooler weather in the summer, I forget about having to keep the fire going and dealing with outerwear and mud. When I look ahead to spring, I forget about the capriciousness of March and the tornado warnings that come with April showers. My focus is on the flowers and those rare days of perfect spring weather.

Every season brings pleasant moments. And unpleasant. I tend to remember the pleasant part of each and forget the unpleasant aspects. Sometimes. Other times I focus in on the unpleasant and forget some of the pleasant side effects, such as the smell of summer rain after a dry spell.

Perfect days are rare enough in southern Indiana to be treasured. A week ago I spent half a day in a canoe on a river that was just the right depth and the right width, with a pleasant mix of sun and shade and a good sampling of wildlife on a perfect sunny day with temperatures in the high 80s and a pleasant partner in a pleasant group. A sudden dip in the river when the canoe hung up on a rock and tipped us over, was not at all unpleasant. (At least not the first time.) It had been many years since past canoe experiences. My memories of those times are fringed with frustration and maybe even some tears in connection with a canoe that refused to respond the way I wanted it to. Is my memory focused in on the unpleasant side of those times? Were there pleasant moments that I’ve forgotten? Those past experiences could not have been nearly so satisfying overall as this recent one or I think I would have remembered more about the good parts.

School starts this week in the local public school systems. My college kids will be heading back in the next couple of weeks. The nest will be empty again. There will be opportunity to reestablish daily routines. Household chores can be scheduled with less likelihood of interruption. I might even be able to post blog entries on a more regular basis and finish up some books and update my reading list. This seems like a very good thing to me. I think I like fall. I think I like it a lot. But I’m probably forgetting something.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Confessions of a Geek

A little over three years ago, for our 25th wedding anniversary, my husband gave me a Dell Axim PDA. After 25 years he’s well trained in the rules of buying me gifts – no clothes; NO kitchen appliances! Garden tools are all right as long as they don't come with small gasoline engines. (The "Weedeater" for our 15th anniversary was a bit of a bust but still better than a blender.) Technology is good. I loved the PDA. It’s even appropriately silver.

The point of a PDA was to have easy access to the library holdings while shopping. Most of the videos for the library come from Wal-Mart. With a Pocket Excel file of all the videos in the library, I can stand in the store and make sure that the video in my hand is not already on the shelf at the library. Or if I see bargain books in a bookstore, I can check to see which titles we don’t have. Very nice.

It turns out that getting the list of holdings out of the library database and into manageable Excel spreadsheets on the PDA is not as trivial as one might hope and it’s past time to update my files again, but it has been useful. And, besides, PDAs do more than spreadsheets. My Dell has calendars, notes, contacts, and task lists that sync with Microsoft Outlook. This means that in one small silver box I keep my address book with phone numbers, my datebook, my grocery list, my to-do list, and miscellaneous notes such as the estimate for a car repair, the hours of the recycling center, the part number for buying vacuum cleaner bags from Sears, and how to update the cell phone. That’s nice. It’s not perfect. I’ve totally missed meetings and appointments because I forgot to check the calendar and didn’t notice the reminder message, but it’s still nice.

Back a year or so, someone mentioned on an internet message board that they used their PDA to play midi files for church services, plugging it into the sound system. This caught my attention. I knew that my PDA would play .mp3 files but the sound quality is certainly nothing to write home about with its chintzy little speaker. I seldom messed with music on it. What was this about plugging it into a sound system? I examined it and discovered something I had completely overlooked – a headphone jack! Voila! I have an mp3 player! It does playlists and shuffles between songs and works with the tape adapters we already had in our cars for portable CD players. This opened up a whole new career for my PDA. Except I needed more memory. I could only squeeze 16 songs onto the SD memory card I had for it. I put a bigger card on my Christmas list. I also found a small CF memory card for the other slot that would hold four songs.

Last week I attended the “Women of Faith” conference in Chicago. During a break, the bag I was carrying somehow became inverted and the velcro pocket holding my PDA wasn’t fastened shut. The PDA hit the floor and the stylus fell out. I gathered it up and was relieved to discover that it still worked. It wasn’t until the following day on my way home that I discovered my music selection was drastically reduced. Closer examination revealed that the SD card slot was empty. All my nice music was in a little memory card left on the floor of a restroom in the United Center in Chicago. I felt such loss. Which is ridiculous. I still had the PDA and it still worked. I still had all of the songs on my laptop at home. I had actually lost nothing except the memory card. But it was gone. Forever gone. (OK, I could contact the United Center and ask them to check lost-and-found and mail it back to me, but short of making that effort it’s gone.) I was sad.

Less than a week later, my husband and I took our daughter to the airport and had time to shop on the way home. At the first store, we headed to “Electronics”. And there it was! The purchase of my dreams. A 512 MB SD card packaged with a translucent reader which converts it into a USB jump drive. I excitedly made the purchase and started the arduous process of extracting it from its plastic armored packaging. So much memory. I wondered about adding more software to my PDA. The one thing it hadn’t become was a portable Bible for when I found myself facing a sermon without the proper resources. I started looking around stores for software and discovered it’s rather pricey.

As we made our way home, my husband spotted a Verizon dealer and decided to take care of a family cell phone crisis. I asked to be dropped off at a nearby K-Mart while he did that. I thought I’d look at clothes. Or maybe luggage. But where did I end up? “Electronics,” of course. This time I found a 64 MB CF card – four times as big as the one I had – marked down to $7. How could I pass up such a bargain?

I came home and, with a greater awareness of the value of software for the device, downloaded a couple of demo programs, including a $14 Bible reader and one free Bible translation. Now, along with the address book, notebook, library card catalog, and .mp3 player, my little silver box contains a portable Bible for life’s little emergencies. And there are yet untapped capabilities. It would happily serve as an alarm clock if I found myself in a Motel 6 and had forgotten to bring my clock radio. I have map software that I need to find a way to load onto it.

I was so excited about my buys I wanted to tell all my friends. But who really cares about memory cards and software for my geeky PDA? I didn’t have a single sensible “girl purchase” to show for my day.

It’s true. I’m a geek. I love my technological toys. Did I mention the GPS I thought I was buying for my husband a few years back? Oh well, maybe another time.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Celebrating God and Country

Being a critical thinker can be a pain sometimes. For one thing, it tends to make one critical, which is not exactly the way to win friends and influence people. Who could ever love a critic?

This morning I found myself participating in a church service designed to celebrate the independence of the United States of America. It was nicely done and attracted a good crowd. There was a color guard with several World War II veterans. All former service personnel present were given Bibles. The songs that were sung spoke of God and country. The speaker spoke of maintaining his Christian faith while serving in the military. The congregation pledged allegiance to the flag of the United States of America.

Wait. They did what?! They pledged allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. And to the country for which it stands. In the sanctuary of a Christian church on Sunday morning. They did not pledge allegiance to the Christian faith or to the God they gathered to worship. They pledged allegiance to a particular flag representing a particular citizenship.

Now, granted, every single person present in the service was born in the U.S.A. and learned the pledge to the American flag at an early age. This is in the center of the U.S., hundreds of miles from the closest border. While there are many non-citizens in the county, there are few in the immediate community and none of those have ever stepped foot into this particular church. Everyone present was a red-blooded American and glad to pledge allegiance to the flag. Well, almost everyone.

It’s the internet that has ruined me for this type of service! Where else would I have had personal conversations with Europeans who are shocked by the way Americans mix up God and country? Where else would I have learned to cringe when Americans cite our country’s great wealth and power as indicative of God’s special favor? Where else would I have encountered the crazy assertion that God is not a Republican? Worse, that He’s not even an American? Certainly not in this community where almost all local officials are selected in the Republican primary.

I’m torn. Even before the internet I was bothered by secular holiday traditions being brought into the church. Santa Claus. The Easter Bunny. There’s nothing evil about those symbols but they are irrelevant to the mystery of the Incarnation and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The secular side of the holidays can be found anywhere. Only in the church is the holy lifted out of the holiday and the mystery of God in flesh dying on behalf of mankind and being resurrected from the dead made known. Why would we invite Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny into the church when we have the real deal! Our entire faith rests on the events behind Christmas and Easter. Shouldn’t we focus on those awe-inspiring events and provide a sanctuary away from what they become in the hands of retailers?

I noticed on my own how shabby Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny look when set up against the Incarnation and Resurrection. It took the internet to show me how shabby the worship of the most powerful country on earth looks when set up against the least powerful aspect of the kingdom of heaven. This world is not our home. Why are we pledging allegiance to a civil government during the one time of the week set aside for the express purpose of renewing our commitment to living as aliens in a country not our own?

Like I said, I’m torn. There was an unusual air of excitement this morning. Something was happening. We weren’t gathered simply to pay homage to a God who declines to send fire to ignite the sacrifice on the altar. There’s so much more substance to the worship of country than of God. The color guard was lined up on the platform stirring our hearts to patriotism. The sanctuary was much fuller than usual. The singing was more enthusiastic than usual. We finally found something that will bring people through the doors so that we can teach them to appreciate how special it is to worship God. By making the worship of God secondary in importance for just one morning. How could anyone be critical of something that gets people into the church who would not come for an ordinary service where all we’re doing is ordinary worship of the "immortal, invisible, God only wise, in light inaccessible hid from our eyes"?

How, indeed?

Monday, June 26, 2006


Thus far, I have failed to introduce any thematic cohesiveness to this blog. Subjects have ranged from gardening to writing to religion. The overwhelming majority of out-of-town (off the search engines) visitors come by to read my front porches entry from last September. It doesn’t appear from the counter stats that they bother to wander around once they get here, just pop in for that one entry and leave. I’ve done a couple of follow-up posts but Yahoo is happy with the one from September and after a brief moment of fame as the #2 hit for a search for "front porches" on the MSN search engine, I'm no longer getting traffic from that direction. I guess I could make the entire blog about front porches in response to obvious interest among the general public but there are too many other interesting topics.

One subject I don’t think I’ve tried is politics. For the most part, I don’t get too excited about the subject. It took me a while after I was hired by the public library board to figure out that I work for a local government unit. My small salary is underwritten by the taxpayers of the township in which I reside. The library is governed by state law and I’ve become acquainted with such agencies as the Library Development Office which is part of the Indiana State Library, the State Board of Accounts, and the Department of Local Government Finance. I’ve been favorably impressed with the "bureaucrats" I’ve met in these agencies.

I’ve also become better acquainted with the state legislative process. I’ve discovered that the quest to impress the voting public often outstrips the grasp state politicians have of the true nature of the issues they address. It turns out that being a politician at the state level doesn’t require a degree in rocket science. (Not that such a degree would qualify one for governing.) Rather, it requires the ability to sound good and argue persuasively even when you don’t know what you’re talking about. This may sound cynical but I write it not in derision but simply as an observation. It's a skill I can admire from a distance but which I have little desire to learn.

This week I attended a town meeting. I’m not sure I really belonged there. I live one mile outside the city limits of the town I call home. I don’t vote for town officials. I don’t pay town taxes. I don’t have town services. However, the library is inside the city limits and the topic of discussion was the future of the town, a subject in which I have a stake both as a resident of the larger community and as the town librarian. So I went. I like meetings. I like people and there are almost always people at meetings. Plus, meetings tend to be held in those elusive, neutral "front porch" settings.

This particular meeting was on Thursday evening. Sometime over the past week or so, the three members of the town council met and ended up in conflict with the town park board. By the time the weekly local newspaper went to press on Tuesday afternoon, three of five park board members had resigned, as well as the entire seven-member board of the annual town fair to be held in less than two months, throwing the local political scene into chaos. I was a little leery of the Thursday meeting but headed out into a stormy night to catch the action firsthand rather than relying on the newspaper report.

The meeting itself didn’t strike me as being particularly tense, but I did notice a lack of professionalism and competency for the task at hand. I wasn’t sure the facilitators were collecting anything of value or that they’d know what to do with it if they did. However, I could be surprised. Perhaps there was more going on there than I observed.

The meeting was adjourned as another storm moved through the area and the rain was falling in sheets. I found no conversational opportunities in the building and moved out to the covered front porch to wait for a break in the rain. The group that followed me out the door didn’t appear to notice me as I edged towards the back of the porch. One attendee, the most offended in the blow-up with the town council, treated us all to a colorful report of the ongoing conflict. The contrast between his generally positive contribution to the meeting itself and his bitterly negative attitude on the porch startled me. I later heard a second-hand report from the other side of the conflict that only two of the attendees were truly interested in the meeting and the rest were there simply to agitate.

I take back all I’ve written about community groups being easier to work with than church groups. It may be generally true for community groups that aren’t caught up in politics but right now I’m deeply grateful that I don’t have to be involved in local politics beyond working with the library board, the seven members of which are appointed by five different elected bodies in the county.

I have seldom heard such bitterness and lack of Christian charity as I’ve heard this week. The conflict involves some of the most concerned citizens of this small, struggling town. It will be interesting to see how they manage to resolve their differences so that they can live and work together.

I think I’m glad for the one mile between my home and the city limits and the two miles to the town hall. It's nice to live outside the war zone.

Friday, June 16, 2006

God's church. My community.

I hear a lot of sermons. The cumulative effect keeps me grounded within the Christian community but most of them pass over me with little impact on an individual basis. Each is one person’s attempt to interpret the message of the Bible and apply it to my life. It’s the time I spend actually reading the Bible with openness to being changed by it that has greater impact on my life, along with carefully-selected books.

Sermons, however, leave echoes in my mind. One of those ehoes has been reinforced multiple times: “It’s not your church; it’s God’s church.” This is used as a rebuke to those saying this or that about “my church” and is said by the same people who remind us, “It’s not about you.” The idea is to discourage power struggles in the church by lessening the sense of ownership.

I recently wrote something about my community and the echo popped up with a slight modification. Is it my community? I tried to think of how that phrase could denote an unhealthy sense of ownership. I couldn’t quite get there. Who could ever claim to own a community in the sense of having authority over it? A mayor? A police chief? Anyone less than a liege lord? Obviously, I’m none of those and I’m not claiming blanket authority when I refer to “my community”. Rather, I am identifying myself with the people living around me, primarily those in the local public school district. I have chosen to make my home among them and to be part of the common life they represent. It’s not simply the community in which my family lives as outsiders, keeping some separate identity. It’s part of who we are. It’s the community my husband and I have chosen to embrace as home for the past 27 years and for which we take some sense of responsibility, not because we own it but because it has taken us in and we owe it loyalty and generosity. It’s my community, and building it up by every means available to me is to my own benefit.

Those same sorts of things could be said about the local church of which I have been an active member for the entire 27 years I’ve been part of the local community. It’s “my church” in that I have chosen to identify myself with it and to take some measure of responsibility for its welfare. I owe it loyalty and generous support. I work to make it better. Building up the church is mutually beneficial to all involved.

When I talk about my community and look for ways to make it a better place to live, doors open wide with opportunities for me. I am the director of the only public library district within the school district. I represent the community on the county adult literacy council. I could do much more if I had more time. No one ever says to me, “It’s not your community. We don’t need your interference here.”

In contrast, if I mention “my church” and look for ways to make it a better center for Christian worship, the echoes pop up and remind me that it’s not my church. There are service opportunities there but no roles equivalent to those offered to me by the broader community. It’s God’s church and He hasn’t chosen me for His leadership team.

I’m finding that I’m slowly adjusting my viewpoint to accept this message that the church I attend and of which I am an official member is not my church. The challenges facing leadership are daunting and, if there is a way out of the wilderness in which we’re wandering, finding it will require significant wisdom and insight. I would gladly accept an invitation to be part of a team effort to find that elusive path. That invitation has not been issued, either formally or informally. My views are too radical by local standards to make me a good candidate for the leadership team of a rural, conservative, evangelical (dying) church.

Combining the message that it’s not my church with that lack of invitation to be a part of the leadership team leaves me with little choice other than to let it go and drop all sense of responsibility for the future of the church. It’s not my church. I’m not responsible for what happens there.

On the other hand, the church-of-which-I-am-an-active-member-but-which-is-not-mine is part of my community. One way to serve the community is to serve within the church as I am able and to share the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ that is at the core of the church. I believe that the best thing I can do for my community is to take the good news from the church out of its stale, musty housing and offer it to those outside its walls. The church may be dying but the good news of reconciliation with the God of the universe through Jesus Christ and the resulting life of grace and peace is as fresh and welcome and vital in the 21st century as ever.

God’s church. My community. I think it’s time for me to leave the church in God’s hands and focus on the people who are willing to be part of my community.

Comments, anyone?

Sunday, June 04, 2006

The influence of books

The subject of this entry comes from two different stimuli: 1) A suggestion that for Memorial Day, we honor someone who has been a great blessing in our lives. (I’m slow in getting around to responding.) 2) A sermon series based on a book I’ve been through twice, once as a personal encounter ten or more years ago and once as a teacher.

I dug out the book behind the sermon series, thinking it would be of value to go through it again. There are eight chapters. As I scanned the titles of the chapters, I realized that the lessons in the book have already been incorporated into my life as much as they probably will be. They’re fairly good lessons. If I find the time and my shared internet connection is available enough I will listen to the sermons, but I think I’ve pretty much mined the book.

I mentioned in an earlier entry that I was surprised by how many of my current habits find their roots in Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I don’t know that I’ve incorporated enough to be even moderately effective, but that book has made a difference in my life.

Obviously, my life (and everyone else’s) is a conglomeration of influences. Most of those influences are people. Yet, I can’t point to any one person who has played a “larger than life” role. Each has their place in sculpting me into what I am today, chipping away here and there, changing who and what I am. Many have been a blessing to me. None that I can think of have stepped beyond their place and prompted a complete change in direction in my life.

In contrast to the people, I can point to several books that had immediate and lasting influence on my life. Perhaps the strongest entry in the field is, A Christian’s Secret to a Happy Life by Hannah Whitall Smith. It was an accidental meeting when I discovered that book. My first clue that it existed came from a Catherine Marshall book given to me by my sister-in-law. Marshall mentioned it in passing as an example of a book that had been of great value to a friend but which she found dull and lifeless. When I later found a little paperback edition on the shelves in the church office, I recognized the title and decided to see what it was about. It was the exact book that I needed at that time in my life. I invited it in and it took up residence in my heart. That was 20 years ago and its influence continues to this day.

There have been others along the way. My Utmost for His Highest, a classic daily devotional of the transcribed words of Oswald Chambers. Stephen Covey’s book. Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster. That was another accidental encounter. If I remember correctly, it was a delivery of kids to church camp that took me past a Christian bookstore. I stopped in to browse the shelves for a book I wanted to read but which I couldn’t even begin to describe to myself. I couldn’t figure out what I was searching for; I only knew that I wasn’t finding it. I left the store empty-handed. Back in town, I stopped past the church and chatted with my pastor for a few moments. I don’t know what I said but he said, “Here’s a book you need to read,” and handed me Richard Foster’s book. It was exactly what I had been seeking. Several habits of my moderately effective life trace back to that book rather than the Covey book. (Perhaps that pastor who shared his library with me counts as one of those “great blessing” people, simply by knowing what book to hand me and when.)

Maybe the difference between people and books is that I can go back to the books and find them unchanged. I can find within the pages the same message that spoke to my soul and prompted change in my living. I’m often surprised to find the headwaters of a stream I now take for granted in a forgotten book. In contrast, the people have all changed and my memory is unreliable. I don’t know which of my character traits trace back to a stray comment here or there by a teacher or friend or stranger.

I often feel like I’m an alien in my world. As someone told me not long ago, “You have a different way of looking at things.” It wasn’t meant as a positive description. Being different is often lonely. The recent additions to my list of influential books have been those that make me feel that there are others like me in other places. I discovered a label for myself in those books – a postmodern Christian. In my everyday world, that phrase is an oxymoron. One either has a postmodern worldview or a Christian worldview. The two are incompatible because postmodernity denies absolute truth and Christianity depends on absolute truth. How refreshing it has been to discover successful writers who are citizens of both those seemingly incompatible countries and who make a living expressing my core beliefs in written form and selling them. I didn’t even know they were mentionable, let alone marketable.

What a blessing the printing press has been to me.

Sunday, May 21, 2006


I have recently read the latest entries in two multi-volume fiction series: Party Princess by Meg Cabot (from The Princess Diaries) and Miss Julia Takes a Stand by Ann B. Ross. They both arrived at the library in the same shipment and I did what I do only rarely and for only three or four series – snatched them up before anyone else got to them and spirited them home to read them. Thus, I felt strong pressure to get them read quickly and back to the library.

Reading those two books back-to-back was interesting. They are both written in first person. Mia, in The Princess Diaries, keeps a journal which then becomes the book. Time moves very slowly in these books, with each one covering little more than a week. (The girl must write at lightening speed to fill a book’s worth of journals in a week, writing down conversations as they occur and recording each day in detail along with her reflections on the events going on around her.) She is 15 and such a teenager, popping back and forth between major international social issues that are calling for her attention (being a princess and all) and minor personal social issues that manage to capture her full attention most of the time without effort.. I marvel at the ability of the author to portray Mia as so shallow and clueless and yet so earnest and likable. By book count, I probably read more children’s fiction than any other single genre of writing and these books stand out in my mind as exceptional writing. One thing I’ve enjoyed is how the author has woven the two movies based on her Princess Diary books into the story itself. (Mia was embarrassed by being dragged further into the spotlight and noted that the movies changed some of the details of her life.) The books are crammed so full of pop culture that they’ll require a dictionary of our time in order for future generations to appreciate them. They're unlikely to stay in print for any great length of time, but they’re a treat for today and I enjoy them.

Miss Julia is at the opposite end of life from Mia, in her “golden years” and newly widowed at the beginning of the series. In the books, she reports what’s happening in her life and shares her opinions and observations concerning those happenings. Again, I am impressed by how the author manages to portray her character as flawed yet attractive. In this most recent entry in the series, Miss Julia at one point worries that an action she might be forced to take would stir up the town gossips. She informs us that “gossip has been the bane of my existence”. As I read her words, I hear the exact tone of her voice because I’ve heard those words, or words like them, so many times. In the next paragraph she remembers that she has failed to update her husband (whom she married a couple of books ago) concerning marital trouble a couple they know is reportedly having and corrects that oversight. And again, I admire how the author leaves her character clueless while letting us in on the fact that Miss Julia enjoys gossip well enough when it concerns other people.

In both these series, everything the reader learns about the world being created by the author is seen through the eyes of the narrator/main character. Yet, we manage to learn things concerning these worlds to which the narrator remains oblivious; the narrator tells us things she herself does not know.

I presume that the words I write (and speak) sometimes say more than I intend them to say as people read between the lines and pick up on what I’m revealing but not saying. I presume that sometimes people get a chuckle at my expense when that happens because they find my cluelessness amusing. But I don’t know how someone can deliberately step into a personality whose foibles they recognize and intend to reveal to their readers and stay in character while revealing those foibles. If I were ever going to write fiction, I think this is the type of fiction I would want to write, but I can no more imagine being able to do it than I can imagine painting the Mona Lisa.

Writers of good fiction amaze me.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Blogging, Front Porches, and the Empty Nest

This blog is averaging 13 visitors per day. Most of those are people wanting to read about “front porches”. I typed those words into the URL line of Internet Explorer today (where you are supposed to type actual web addresses) and was thrown into an MSN search that gave me 68,426 results. This post was at the top of the list. I find that amazing. Even more amazing is that a search yields 1,150,000 hits with that same post listed second. I’m not sure what everyone is wanting to know about front porches but many choose to follow the link, even though this is clearly a blog (being on blogspot and all). They don’t say anything while they’re here. They simply parade by silently without names or faces – day after day after day.

I don’t know enough about search engines to know if success increases success. Is it because people follow the link here when it’s on their list of results that it has moved so high on the list? Is it because someone else linked to it in their blog? Out of 45 entries here (46 with this one), only one is specifically about the role of front porches in our cultural history. Why does it attract so many visitors?

What prompted the front porch post was some reading I was doing and the change in life brought on by our empty nest (another popular search term). I was looking for places to meet people and to be able to discuss serious or not-so-serious topics in a public setting. I’m still finding that I have to be purposeful in getting out into the community in order to keep my world from shrinking now that I no longer have children in the local school. There are some people who were part of those school years whom I seldom if ever see now. (Yes, I could call them and make a date, but I would still miss those times when our paths simply crossed without special effort.) However, my search for “front porches” is going fairly well.

Last week, I decided I was going to “Grand March” out at the high school. I can’t imagine that this event has the same pull in many places that it does here. The school is small enough that every couple (and single) attending prom can be introduced and promenade across the high school gym (which through much effort has been transformed for the evening) in well less than an hour. I can’t think of any other school event that draws more people out other than graduation. Parents are there taking pictures. And grandparents. And aunts and uncles. And friends. (That’s where I fit in). This is a huge event!

I had another commitment that night. My husband was out of town and I couldn’t think of anyone else who would want to attend both events, so I headed out by myself to the first for a while and then slipped out early to return to the high school, arriving ten minutes or so before the start time but far too late to dream of getting a good seat. In the huge crowd (filling one side of the gym from the floor to the top of the balcony), I couldn’t spot anyone I knew with an empty seat close to them. As I surveyed the crowd, I was conscious of being surveyed and gave up rather quickly, climbing to the balcony and choosing a place close to a couple of acquaintances but not too close. After the event, I spoke to less than a dozen people out of the entire mob – the crowd was too tight to allow for mingling and the focus was, of course, on the prom-goers. That’s a rather poor return for investing an hour sitting alone in a crowd. Still, it was more people than I would have interacted with if I had sat at home. And the bigger return has come in the fodder for conversation it has given me with the prom-goers, parents, and grandparents I’ve seen since then.

Yesterday morning brought another “front porch” opportunity. It was opening day for the summer ball league. I was asked to attend a ceremony after the parade when a flag would be presented to the library by the American Legion. I arrived early and walked from where I parked by the ballfields across the park and a little ways up the parade route until I met up with the beginning of the parade and a group of people I knew with whom to watch it pass. It’s an interesting parade. Kids in bright t-shirts are sorted out by color (or possibly by team) and arranged on trailers, in truck beds, even in a horse-drawn wagon. They throw candy out to the crowd. However, there are hardly any kids along the route to collect the candy. The kids are all in the parade! What few non-participating kids come out to watch the parade end up with huge bags of candy.

Ah... life in the slow lane. Taking time to watch a parade of other people’s kids. Standing in front of the library (last-minute change of venue) and smiling for the camera as the flag is presented. Looking for my picture in this week’s newspaper to see if I smiled at the right time and how much damage the wind did to my hair. And chatting with this person and that one as they cross my path. It’s almost like leisurely swinging in the porch swing on the front porch I don’t have.

Monday, May 01, 2006

On Loneliness

I should not live by myself. I don't live by myself...usually. However, my husband left on a business trip five days ago and I've been living alone for that long. That's how I know that a solitary life is not a good idea for me.

I've long enjoyed solitude. Right now the house is totally quiet except for the hum of the computer fan. I had music on earlier but tired of it and chose silence instead. I could turn the television on, but doing so has no appeal to me. I'm okay with silence. For a while. I don't need noise but I do need someone to talk to now and then.

Five days of solitary living. And coincidently, five evening trips to church events during that time - 32 miles each way. Every night. Just me and my minivan and the radio and my PDA/mp3 player and a set of "Adventures in Odyssey" tapes covering mostly the same roads five times for a total of 350 miles or so. (Various routes and a couple of detours to run errands added some extra miles.). I made half-hearted attempts to find traveling companions but didn't resort to begging. I figured there would be plenty of people to chat with once I got there. It turns out most everyone I knew had plenty of other people to chat with. If my goal was to find companionship, the results weren't wildly successful. Most of the event consisted of listening to sermons that left me full of unshared negative reactions and a certainty that pinning someone down long enough to share those reactions was not a good idea. Some of them burst out in my last post and follow-ups on a message board where patient people responded kindly. Listening to so many offensive words without responding in any way is difficult. I suppose I could have simply quit attending and stayed home alone instead but I was drawn back every evening by the hope of meaningful exchange.

I haven't sat alone in the house in between the evening events. I've been out. I have a part-time job that brings me into contact with people. But the loneliness is definitely getting to me. The house is quiet now but I heard the scratchings of a mouse one night. It showed up in the basement room where I was sitting at the computer. I talked to it, scolding it for coming into my house where I would be obliged to get a trap and some peanut butter and attempt to kill it. It didn't talk back, just disappeared behind some insulation. The outdoor dogs and cat aren't much good for conversation either. Nor the fish, although they do congregate in the part of the tank closest to me if I pause in their vicinity.

I have a telephone. I could call someone. But the people who are the most interesting partners for conversation aren't sitting at home waiting for me to call and fill their evening with chit-chat. Even when I'm lonely, I'm still no more inclined to make telephone calls than any other time. In fact, I find myself less and less inclined to do anything -- fix myself something to eat or tackle the many projects that I could undertake with all this uninterrupted time. So much opportunity and the best I can do is another boring blog entry about me, me, me.

I can survive living alone for a few days at a time, but the words I'm not speaking build up inside me and woe to anyone who offers me a listening ear. I tend to develop run-at-the-mouth tendencies when I have this much solitude.

My husband will be home tomorrow. That will be good. And in a few days the first college kid comes home for the summer. The empty nest will no longer be empty. Things are going to start happening around here. I may as well enjoy the silence tonight.

Friday, April 28, 2006

"It's not about you"

[Note: I'm exposing my moorings in the evangelical subculture in this post. It was originally written as a post on a board within that subculture and is here because it grew into full-fledged ramblings. It's time for something new here anyway.]

I've decided that every time I hear the words "It's not about you" spoken in reference to worship styles, I will make a mental note that the speaker has chosen an extreme position. I know that there is often justification for moving to one extreme in order to provide a counterweight to those on the other extreme, but I still need to be aware that what I'm hearing needs some of that other extreme in order to get good balance.

If you take away all other voices, telling the church that church is "not about you" is exposed as ludicrous. The church of Jesus Christ is composed of his disciples. Those disciples meet together in order to worship as a community and to encourage each other in the faith. How can someone come in and tell those people that their meetings are not about them? Can you imagine encountering that statement in the writings of the apostle Paul?

"In him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spririt (Ephesians 2:22)"

"When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church. (1 Corinthians 14:26)"

"Oh, and by the way, it's not about you (???)"

The church is the fellowship of the disciples of Jesus Christ. We are the church. It's ALL about us! It's what we do. We gather as a community of believers. We worship together. We pray together. We encourage each other. We enjoy the warmth of fellowship. If we're structuring our meetings in a way that hinders those basic activities in the name of ministry to nonbelievers who may join us, something is wrong.

What prompts people to make statements such as "It's not about you"? A concern for evangelism. They want our meetings to be attractive to nonbelievers. They want our meetings to be evangelistic events rather than simply times of adoration and encouragement.

I have a theory that a church made up of people who enjoy depth in their worship and warmth in their fellowship will be naturally attractive to nonbelievers. The only missing ingredient is an open door to those nonbelievers. I think it's the open door that those who make the "not about you" statement are advocating.

So where does the balance lie? I suppose it would be nice if once we became Christians, we no longer needed nuture and encouragement. After all, we have the Bible and our devotional life to feed upon. Isn't God all we need? I know a song or two supporting that idea. But I don't see it supported by Scripture. Rather, the fellowship of believers is a central theme of the New Testament. We don't become instant givers when we become Christians. We move into a give-and-take relationship with other believers. At first, it's mostly take with little to give. Later, we give more and take less. But even the most mature Christian needs encouragement and nuture from the body of believers. They need the prayers of others. They need to be valued and listened to. I don't believe that there is anyone who can't benefit from a listening ear. We are all takers at various times in various relationships. Part of being a giving church is recognizing that there is no one who doesn't occasionally need to take a break from giving and become a taker for at least a few moments.

The "not about you" people discredit the needs of the believers in calling attention to the needs of the lost outside the doors. What they fail to see is that the best ministry doesn't discriminate between "lost" and "found" but embraces all as loved of God.

If we believe that every human soul longs to worship, then we have to believe that true worship is attractive to all. Thus, the goal of church gatherings should be to facilitate that level of worship. At which point, we discover that worship is about the worshippers and the Object of their worship, not the nonbelievers.

The "not about you" people fear that such an approach will take us back to the 1950s, to outmoded music and a vocabulary that makes the old people comfortable but has no attraction to anyone without a background in that era. I'm not so sure. I see a lot of boredom on the faces of those stuck in the 1950s in worship styles. They wouldn't be happy driving 1950s cars with no air conditioning or cruise control. I don't think they're really happy with 1950s worship either. They just don't want to be dragged into unfamiliar territory and left floundering while all the attention is focused on the "lost".

What would happen if we focused on facilitating true worship for everyone in the church, including "you"? It would take some listening and some giving. Is there a chance that people standing outside looking in might be attracted to a group that values everyone equally?

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Motivation for biting

A friend was speaking of a situation today and I noticed she was using the tone of voice she uses when I say something annoying. Except I was not the cause of the tone today. It was a whole group of people who had irritated her. Although I’m part of that group and was indeed among the offenders, it took more than me to trigger the tone of voice. As she laid out her view of the reason for this annoying behavior, I was struck by the box that she drew around our motivations for acting as we are acting. We lack commitment. We don’t want to get involved. Our priorities are not as they should be. She was trying to be kind in sharing her concerns with us, but could find no other way to characterize our lack of responsiveness. Thus, the awkward tone. It stemmed from discovering troublesome deficiencies in people who ought to be doing better and trying to address those deficiencies without offending anyone.

I’m reminded of a class I once took on "organizational behavior." The author of the textbook for the class pointed out that we tend to assess our own failures as being a response to outside forces, i.e. circumstances prevent us from doing what we ought to do. However, we tend to assess the deficiencies of others as stemming from inner forces, i.e. they could easily do the right thing if only they had the necessary motivation. This was a classic example of that mindset.

I’m in the group of noncommital people who are not stepping up to the plate to take a turn at bat. If my friend were to ask me why and genuinely invite me to share my thoughts on the subject, I would cite outside hindrances. I’d like to be more involved, but there are obstacles in my path. She’s not asking the question. In her mind, she already knows the answer. And that answer lies within me. Even if she asked and listened to my answer, she would discount the obstacles as much less significant than I’m making them. The bottom line is, I don’t care like I ought to care. If I did, I would pick up my bat and start swinging.

How do we break through impasses such as this?

In another situation, a person is being assessed as being involved in deliberate wrongdoing. I have heard the statement, "He knew what he was doing was wrong," over and over. Not only are those making that statement assigning faulty motivation but a deliberate choice of wrong over right. No quarter is being given. He did wrong and must pay for his deeds. There has even been talk of bringing in the law, or at least threatening to call the media.

Is what they are saying true? Not from the point of view of the accused. I’ve talked to him. He admits that he "screwed up" but truly believes he had the best motivations for what he did and was more right than wrong. I suspect that both the court of law and the media would find his version of what happened more compelling than that of those accusing him of wrongdoing.

I’m in the middle, standing between the mob with their pitchforks and torches and the ogre with his admirable goals but disgusting social habits. How do I persuade the mob to go back to their homes and businesses and give up exposing the onion-like ogre as a monster? This impasse has exposed a rather ugly side of several among the mob. I feel sort of like I did years ago when one child took another’s coloring book and refused to give it back per my instructions and the offended child took matter into his own hands, er, teeth, by biting the offender. I couldn’t decide which crime to address first and how to balance the punishment. It was a watershed moment in developing my skills as a parent. But in this case, I’m not the parent and these aren’t children. Sending them to separate rooms to play apart since they can’t play well together isn’t an option.

In discussing this situation with a team member, I observed that there is some "biting" happening on both sides in response to perceived wrongs. The response I received was that this should not be. Adults should act like adults and not stoop to returning evil for evil. Knowing that the person saying this was a minister, I asked about her beliefs concerning the innate depravity of our species. She seems to think we should suppress our depravity. I don’t disagree with her, but my observation is that our best approaches to suppression tend to develop leaks under pressure.

Are people basically self-centered? The doctrine of the depravity of man would certainly support that position. However, the tempering factor that saves human society is that self is generally best served by at least giving the appearance of being honest and upright and having good social skills. By doing good, we feel good about ourselves, like we’ve earned a right to live on this earth and to be treated decently by others.

My minister friend seems to think that mature people should be good for goodness sake rather than because it yields positive results. My annoyed friend seems to think that we aren’t even motivated enough to be good because of the built-in social benefits of goodness. Meanwhile, it seems to me that we’re all doing the best we can given the circumstances under which we’re living – whether for goodness sake or in response to social pressures is debatable. The crunch comes when the cost-to-benefit ratio of doing the right thing increases. How many will continue to do good when it doesn’t pay well even in intangible benefits?

I don’t know that I have any answers here, but after twelve days, it seemed like it was time to say something and this has been on my mind.