It has been a long time since I’ve written in this space and don’t know how many people would even read this. This is actually an odd post to start a resumption of my blog
I must admit that this post is a response to a write up I read by Hugh Halter in Outreach Magazine. Now admittedly, I don’t know the man and don’t regularly read anything he writes, so I’m not qualified to make any broad assertion about what he thinks and how he interacts theologically with the issues he raises in his post. With that disclaimer in mind, I found myself responding a bit negatively to what he says. but since I was inspired I thought I’d strike while the iron is hot, so to speak.
He says a couple of things to which I agree wholeheartedly:
In other words, worship on Sunday is only going to be as deep as our worship the rest of the week.
I agree with this. Worship is intended to be a whole life response to God, not just a weekly musical concert with a lot of emotional content. However, he then continues to assert:
Depth through song, liturgy, spoken word and preaching is only going to be as meaningful as the level of meaning we bring to others around us.
Whoa! That’s where my caution meter kicked in. Depth through song, liturgy, spoken word and preaching is only going to be as meaningful as the level of meaning we bring to others around us?
This is, in my opinion, quite an erroneous statement and a misapplication of the biblical admonition to Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength and your neighbour as yourself, which he cites as support for his assertion.
The average church spends well over 75 percent of their time and financial resources keeping the “house of worship” open for business. How can minimize the consumer tendency, justify the expenses or at least find a balance that brings glory to God?
He then goes on to make some quite interesting suggestions geared towards minimizing the consumerism that threatens to creep into the life of the church — something that I believe NEEDS to be combated fiercely.
My problem though is at another level, and again, I’m not attacking the man, his motives, nor really even his good intentions towards the reform of the church.
My issue is that worship is inherently wasteful.
Significant sections of the entire book of Leviticus and Numbers are given over to description of elaborate ceremonies, costly garments, excessively expensive structures that God commanded to be constructed for the sake of his worship. A huge waste of materials, time and resources.
All of Israel was required to pay tax (tithe) to support a whole tribe of people whose sole job was maintenance of the worship apparatus. These people literally did nothing but conduct religious services. How wasteful (and unfair!).
Sacrificial ceremonies required people to travel quite some distance to offer the first and best of their produce and flocks as worship to God. In a subsistence agricultural context, this is very costly — indeed wasteful.
Israelite boys were required to be cut in their most vulnerable parts a mere eight days after birth without anesthetic, without antibiotics and in a context where infant death was very common. Also a wasteful act.
Of course these are all Old Testament references, which does not of course invalidate them though many Christian effectively behave as if it does. Rather we ought to look at the Old through the lens of Christ.
In this light, Mr. Halter’s words seem stunningly familiar. There was another disciple who decried wasteful indulgence of worship while insisting that the money would be better spent on the poor, or in Halter’s words:
put the same amount of money into serving the poor, equipping people to go out in missional communities or simply giving the money away to smaller church plants that can’t even afford to buy a portable Bose sound system.
Of course Judas was a thief and betrayed Jesus. I’m not suggesting that Halter is either a thief or a betrayer. I am merely observing that their suggestions are virtually the same.
Christians shouldn’t be wasteful and extravagant and wasteful in a consumerist fashion, spending only on themselves and their entertainment, and it is far too easy for the apparatus of worship to become that. Agreed. The larger point though is that everything concerning worship can be considered wasteful or extravagant.
By a drum set? Wasteful.
Pay the musician? Wasteful.
Have a carpeted sanctuary? Wasteful.
It is all waste — depending on your point of view, the money can always be spent on something more ‘worthy’.
God save us from a Judas spirit.
(Cathedral picture from:
It is difficult to believe that tonight is my last night sleeping in the United States for at least a little while. The long ago dream of a long since matured boy is coming to fruition: I’m going to live and study overseas. It is something I’ve always wanted to do but time and circumstance and the vagaries of life never permitted me to go until now.
So here I am…
the bags are all packed, the visas in hand. Everything is as settled as it can be. And tomorrow morning I board a plane for which I bought a one way ticket — to Accra Ghana.
Am I excited? Scared? Bored? Apprehensive?
Truthfully I am all of these and none of them. I simply AM moving to Ghana and uncertain about what life will mean for me there. I’m sure I will change; in fact I hope that I change. I’m sure that I will struggle. I’m sure that life will throw us curveballs and fastballs and the occasional slow pitch — and I’m not even a fan of baseball, who Lord knows what I’ll do with those.
But I’m on my way by the grace of God, to learn and to serve.
I take this journey in honor of my dear departed mother, who long ago launched me into the world and who always believed in me.
I take this journey in honor of my father, who is proud of me and who has traveled vicariously through me and who is now going through me to live, study, and serve in Ghana even if his feet never leave the ground.
I take this journey in honor of my grandmothers — one of whom has slipped away and the other of whom’s mind is slipping, neither of whom could have even imagined it possible.
And I thank God for the love of my life, Pauline, who walks on bridges with me, and makes me not afraid.
First, we believe that requiring our leaders to affirm the beliefs of the faith community they lead helps preserve our group’s unique religious identity as well as the purpose and mission of our group. Christians and other religious communities have used creeds for thousands of years to define who they are as a community and to preserve the religious tradition they have inherited.
There was a group of young minority men who were among the best and brightest in society. Not only had they been top of their class, they were athletically fit, and good looking besides. They represented the whole package and consequently were selected to be a part of an elite government internship that only the very best could hope to be admitted to. Needless to say, they were very excited about the opportunity, but they were also somewhat nervous. It was not a very common practice for minorities to rise into such positions of influence, and they were concerned to make a good impression. At the same time however, they felt a lot of pressure to not “sell out” their identity in order to secure a position. It was delicate balancing act, but being friends, they worked hard to keep each other accountable and to encourage each other.
For the most part, they did well, but one day the internship director informed them that in order to advance in the program, they would need to sign some documents and agree to participate in some things that normally would be against their religion. “It’s all just a formality,” they were assured, but these young friends were a bit nervous and didn’t want to sign. The internship director told them that he’d give them a chance to think about it, but it really wasn’t an option — and he couldn’t figure what the big deal was anyway. Talking about it later on in their room, the friends decided that they really couldn’t sign it, and certainly couldn’t participate, but they knew it would only make it hard on the internship director, whom they all liked.
Somehow the next day they convinced him to let them continue the program on a trial basis, without signing, and promised him that if anything didn’t go right, they would go ahead with the full program. The director reluctantly agreed, and at the end of the program, well everything worked out for them. They were able to graduate and all of them got excellent government positions. The internship director wrote the references himself, something he rarely did.
Fast forward a few years and our young men are all still friends, well paid, and enjoying the good life. They spent their days in high level meetings and their nights out on the town enjoying the diverse and exciting night life befitting the capital of the most powerful country in the world. The petty troubles of their internship years were far behind them. They were still some of the few minorities working in such high levels of government to be sure, but they lived in enlightened times. No one bothered them much about their odd customs, other than to make the occasional joke, or the puzzled look when their friends found out that they observed such quaint religious rituals. ”To each his own,” their friends would say, “as long as you don’t try to impose it on others, I think it’s fine.” And it was fine, mostly.
Until one day when the large packet packet detailing all the requirements of recent passed legislation landed on the desk of one of the friends. He almost didn’t see it at first, as he lazily scanned the pages and pages of arcane legal language that was the most dull part of his day. But there it was, plain as day – “all employees shall…, failure to abide by this regulation…, this policy will be applied without exception….” He stopped reading, speechless. Usually regulations like this always contained some policy exemption, some language that provided a loophole here or there, but there was none.
Down the hall he ran, not bothering to knock but burst in on his friend. The others were already there. “So you heard?” he asked, but no answer was needed. They had.
Days and weeks went by; meeting after meeting was held. Promises of conciliation and assurances of good faith were given, but no, the policy would not be changing. ”You don’t understand,” they pleaded at desk after desk, higher and higher up the chain of management. Whose policy is this anyway? Surely they don’t mean to implement this. The questions swirled faster and faster but the conclusion was always the same.
The city lights sparkled in the distance. Soft music played while the smell of exquisite food being prepared in the courtyard below wafted in. The spacious apartment decorated in the latest style and filled with the finest decor was a far cry from the cramped dorm room. But the luxurious surroundings and fine wine could not hide the heaviness in the room. Their appeals were exhausted, and so it seemed were they. ”Maybe if we just…” ”No that wouldn’t work.” ”Do you think if we talked to…” Sentences half finished and never answered. They knew the answer already. ”We knew it might come to this some day. We’ve had a good ride so far. God’s been good to us, so we can’t really complain.” Muffled sighs of agreement and resignation answered. It was true. They had known; they’d always known. ”Well,” he spoke, standing and lifting his glass as for a toast, “we cannot know if the LORD will save us from destruction tomorrow or not, but whether he does or not, we will not bow.” The others lifted their glasses to the toast and drank the last in silence.
Then took the other, as just as fair, And having perhaps the better claim, Because it was grassy and wanted wear; Though as for that the passing there Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay In leaves no step had trodden black. Oh, I kept the first for another day! Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back
I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.
Who among us does not remember reading, reciting, or analyzing this famous poem by Robert Frost during those long lost days years ago when we were busy cramming our minds full of the information society thought would be invaluable for us to know? Who among us can ever really get past the profound insight of the words themselves as our day to day lives are marked continually by the need to choose this or that path? And we look back in wonder that our choices and the choices of others have led us to this point.
The other day I met a man who is “living the dream,” that is to say, he is very much living the life I envisioned for myself when I was a college student: young, good looking & unattached, pulling down a handsome salary in the finance industry, and thoroughly invested in the life of the local church. As we talked, and as I left the conversation, I felt the familiar twinge of doubt, or was it regret?
I sigh inwardly and contemplate “the road less traveled” upon which I’ve trod these twenty years. My life is far different than I imagined it would be. We talked across the dinner table, my wife and I, discussing the petty details of upcoming travels and reflecting on the more profound details of what really is entailed in the “good life.” And it has been a good life. I have a wonderful wife, a healthy and handsome son, all my needs are provided for. And yet even knowing this, the twinge of regret/doubt still comes.
How did I get here? How do any of us get anywhere? Simply we get wherever we are through the day by day choices we make that lead us inexorably along a path the end of which we cannot now imagine. Who imagines anything accurately about their future life? We don’t and we cannot. We simply choose, one step at a time. It is this basic reality that causes me to reject any notion that people are somehow prisoners of their feelings or trapped by their inclinations. Scientists confirm what the Bible teaches — as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he. And so as we choose the right, the holy, the merciful, the good – over and again – the paths in our brain literally take shape and we become different kinds of people than we were. A decision, once taken, will lead, with its twists and turns and hidden corners, either towards a deeper and richer and more transformative relationship with God through Jesus, or further and further away. And like the traveler in Frost’s poem, there is never an option not to choose.
The easy and clever thing to say would be Seoul, since this blog is a commentary on the intersection of faith and life. It would be fitting too, since questions of immigration and assimilation for Christians involve an intersection of the issues of material prosperity and living faithfully as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.
America is a country founded not on a national principle of ethnic solidarity, nor even of geographic commonality.
These last few days / couple of weeks, my life has been occupied with caring for my wife and newly born son. It has been a tremendous shift in many ways, but the full impact of the reality of my status of FATHER has yet to occur. The dynamics and feelings that are engendered by this change are subjects for another day.
Today however, I’ve been working on the ongoing project of consolidating my and my wife’s life. Our marriage and subsequent merging of households means that we have an abundance of … stuff, and not enough room for all of it. Of course since we’re both “full-time Christian workers,” we travel a bit lighter than some in the “stuff” department, but there is still quite a lot of accumulated goodies from the nearly four-score years of our combined lifespan. Now we have a baby, and baby has his own “stuff” which also takes up room; room that we don’t have.
The commonest solution for this curse of accumulation is to buy more storage bins, find more places to cram things, and inevitably to move to larger quarters. That’s the American way! However we both are convinced that our modestly sized home in the inner city has more than enough room for 3 people and their “stuff” to live comfortably, and neither of us wishes to get into the habit of “building bigger barns” so to speak, which leaves us with but one option:
That is we have to make choices about what will stay and what will go and just how many copies of Leading Across Cultures by Dr. James Plueddemann is enough for one household (if you think that’s odd, don’t ask about her book on Burmese culture, my Western Civ textbooks or the multiple copies of Too Busy Not to Pray that I’ve always been too busy to read).
The problem with purging though is not just in weighing the relative utility of whatever stuff we’ve happened to acquire over our years of life and ministry. It is that so many of the decisions are fraught with emotional content. Why have I waited so long to get rid of the set of Chinaware I found for $12 in the back corner of some musty Salvation Army store and have only used two or three times? What is it about the long disused winter coat or formal gown that travels from home to home growing ever more out of fashion and yet ever less dispensable as the years wear on?
It would be easy to attribute such acquisition to a materialistic approach to life, but in reality each of these items, marginally useful though they might be, touch keenly on what have been termed the mystic chords of memory. Dining from those dishes, gazing at that gown, touching the spine of that book which never quite makes it to the bedside reading pile all transport us back to moments in time, seasons in life, that were and are precious to us. They may not perhaps be profoundly significant, nor even memorable moments, but it is the succession of such moments that make up our lives. Washing that particular set of dishes reminds me not only of their purchase, but of the visit to staff colleague in Florida and the dishes they had which I liked, and the struggles of their young marriage with wanting children but being unable at the time to conceive. Seeing that book takes me back to seemingly endless conversations with my campus minister about the importance of prayer and the devotional life. To rid myself of these simple objects seems to be more than just making room for the NEW and IMPROVED.
Besides all this, that we have so much is itself a striking reminder of the impermanence with which our modern / post-modern lives have become infused. There was a time when choosing the china pattern for ones dishes was of great importance, for those dishes would travel with you throughout life — through Thanksgivings, Christmases, Easters, weddings, and funerals. They would be the never fail companions to every moment of significance in ones life until in old age or at death they would be passed down, broken gravy dish and all, to whatever child or grandchild had need or sentiment enough to want them.
Now of course dishes are just dishes — made, bought and sold, used up and discarded, like so much of life and so many of its people. Grandma’s china ends up gracing the back aisle of a dusty second hand store while the local BIG BOX retailer sells antiquity in a box, made in China and shipped without sentiment straight to your door where it waits in boxes for the necessary purge of the old to make room for the new.