Monday, October 15, 2007

Bits and Pieces - October 15

Here's more flotsam of interest:

First, from the Librarian's Internet Index, a link to the US Chamber of Commerce's education report card for every state in the union. Surprises for me -- Ohio ranked 11th overall; and South Carolina (whose motto used to be "thank God for Mississippi" because SC was always 49th and Mississippi 50th) came in 33rd.

The NY Times Magazine has an article on the priest of St. Bartholemew's church in Manhattan who wanted more aesthetically pleasing vestments....soooo she....
asked the textile designer John Robshaw, an old friend, to create a block-print silk, and coaxed Peter Hidalgo, an up-and-coming clothing designer she discovered at Linda Dresner’s shop, to sew it into altar wear. Robshaw wasn’t prepared for some of the ecclesiastical complications. “Colors are seasonal and have very specific implications,” he says. “It’s like fashion.” Amen to that.
While we're at the NY Times. Check out this article on the migration of older folks to Facebook...oh horrors, could it be that people out of college might want to use social networking software to connect and get together too? (check out my facebook page to find out).

The LA times reports that Boomers can take heart that the new Beatles inspired musical Across the Universe is a hit with teenage girls. It might even be the next High School Musical. Now where is the musical featuring the music of Asia?


Sunday Sermon Up

Listen to this past sunday's sermon on Malachi 1:6-14. Up on the church website now.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Recycling, Hazardous waste, and the environment

Responsible stewardship of personal resources, to my mind, includes simplicity, frugality, and creativity. Of course it is easier for me to pontificate (the post referenced in this link has links to lots of previous posts and other articles -- all about environmental issues) about such values than it is to live them. I purchase just as many books as I check out from the library.

However, I must commend our Hamilton County Environmental Services department for making responsible stewardship of waste so easy. I've taken advantage of their hazardous waste disposal program for the past couple of years (much better to take old paint, oil cans, etc to be properly disposed of than to have the chemicals leak into our ground water). However, somewhere I found a flyer that they also are running a technology recycling program. I have an old computer, printer, cords, monitor. All these things contain trace metals that can be harmful to the environment if they leach into the groundwater. They are also pieces of equipment that can be refurbished and re-used by nonprofits. I'll be dropping off a load this week.

Then I paid a visit to the website and found out that this Saturday the department is offering deeply discounted yard composters for sale. I've been composting for a while......strike that....... I've been collecting my yard waste and kitchen scraps for composting for a while, but I've been using a big trash can with holes punched in the bottom. Quite honestly, it doesn't do a great job of it. I've been looking at yard comosters online, but they're not cheap. But Hamilton County will be selling them to residents for $30....that's only thirty smackers.... a bargain indeed. So, guess what I'm doing this Saturday.

So, I know that government doesn't often get positive feedback, but in this instance, I offer kudos to Hamilton County and to the Department of Environmental Services. You're doing great work.


Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Literacy, Culture and Civilization

The Columbia Journalism Review features an article on the decline of book reviews in daily newspapers. Traditionalists cringe in horror and worry that this may be the end of the world, but the article also features the other point of view...that we're in a new renaissance, and it is taking time for us to adapt:

“There is intelligent book talk going on at so many levels. It includes much more than reviewers and bloggers. Once technology is discovered, you can’t stop it. We’re going to have e-books. We’re going to have print-on-demand business. We’re going to have a lot more discourse on the Web, and it will become more sophisticated as literary gatekeepers arrive to keep order. The key word is adaptation, which will happen whether we like it or not.”

The article goes on to discuss the longer trend of the declining quality of serious book reviews. After a turgid history of the past few decades in the newspaper industry, the article livens up again when discussing readers themselves:

Serious reading, of course, was always a minority taste. We’ve known that ever since Dr. Johnson. “People in general do not willingly read,” he said, “if they can have anything else to amuse them.” Today, the entertainment-industrial complex offers a staggering number of compelling alternatives. A substantial number of Americans—scores of millions—are functionally and seemingly happily illiterate. Many more can read but choose not to. Of those who do, most read for the entirely understandable pleasures of escaping the drudgeries of daily life or for moral, spiritual, financial, or physical self-improvement, as the history of American best-sellers suggests. The fables of Horatio Alger, the platitudes of Dale Carnegie, the nostrums of Marianne Williamson, the inspirations of such secular saints as Lee Iaccoca—all are the golden jelly on which the queen bees of American publishing have traditionally battened.


The terrible irony is that at the dawn of an era of almost magical technology with a potential of deepening the implicit democratic promise of mass literacy, we also totter on the edge of an abyss of profound cultural neglect. One is reminded of Philip Roth’s old aphorism about Communism and the West: “In the East, nothing is permitted and everything matters; in the West, everything is permitted and nothing matters.” In today’s McWorld, the forces seeking to enroll the populace in the junk cults of celebrity, sensationalism, and gossip are increasingly powerful and wield tremendous economic clout. The cultural conversation devolves and is held hostage to these trends. The corporate wars over who will control the technology of newsgathering and electronic communication and data and distribution are increasingly fierce. Taken together, these factors threaten to leave us ignorant of tradition, contemptuous of the habits of quality and excellence, unable to distinguish among the good, the bad, and the ugly.


It is through the work of novelists and poets that we understand how we imagine ourselves and contend with the often elusive forces—of which language itself is a foremost factor—that shape us as individuals and families, citizens and communities, and it is through our historians and scientists, journalists and essayists that we wrestle with how we have lived, how the present came to be, and what the future might bring.

Readers know that. They know in their bones something newspapers forget at their peril: that without books, indeed, without the news of such books—without literacy—the good society vanishes and barbarism triumphs. I shall never forget overhearing some years ago, on the morning of the first day of the annual Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, a woman asking a UCLA police officer if he expected trouble. He looked at her with surprise and said, “Ma’am, books are like Kryptonite to gangs.” There was more wisdom in that cop’s remark than in a thousand academic monographs on reforming the criminal justice system. What he knew, of course, is what all societies since time immemorial have known: If you want to reduce crime, teach your children to read. Civilization is built on a foundation of books.

OK -- pretty extensive quotes. But worth the price. Kryptonite to gangs! I wish I could come up with quips like that.....maybe if I read more. (Hat tip to Evangelical Outpost for this article).

Thus, again the importance of tales Like Farenheit 451 and A Canticle for Leibowitz. Literacy is one of the great forces for civilization. Let's take care to encourage it.



October 7 Sermon is online

Visit the church webpage to hear an audio recording of the October 7 sermon -- on Malachi 1 and the Sovereignty of God (dum ede dum dum duuuuuum)


Monday, October 08, 2007

The Museum of Appalachia: Exhibit on Harrison Mayes

One of my favorite trip destinations is the Museum of Appalachia, located conveniently off I75 Just north of Knoxville. It's an homage to mountain folk...and it's a pretty extensive facility, with a complete village, a large exhibit barn, and two whole houses full of memorabilia.

There are a dozen or so stories I could tell from this museum, but the one that continually catches my attention is that of Harrison Mayes. Mayes worked in a coal mine, and as a young man, he was nearly crushed by a runaway coal car. While he struggled for his life, Mayes made a deal with God that if God saved him, he'd serve God all the rest of his life.

Unlike other such deal makers, Mayes made good on it. He tried preaching and quickly found that he had no talent nor taste for it. He was a man who worked with his hands. So he took paint and painted "Sin Not" on the side of his family's free range pig. Soon he was painting holy graffiti on anything he could get his hands on. And not long afterward, he came upon the idea of making large concrete signs. He made his mold out of wood, and then he had entered the world of mass production.

He placed his signs all along the highways of post WWII America. Remember, this was pre-interstate days. An era of getting kicks on Route 66. An era celebrated with nostalgia by Pixar's movie Cars. It was a time when travel by road was an adventure with discoveries along the way, rather than a task to be checked off in as little time as possible. Mayes' signs became part of the adventure...right alongside "See Rock City" and other type roadside attention getters.

And Mayes was good at what he did. He put thousands of these things up all over the country. By the time he quit (incapacitated by old age), his work was erected in 44 states of the union! But his dreams were bigger. Some of his crosses were marked to be delivered to other nations...even the moon, and other planets as mankind spread out into space. This man dreamed big! He built his house in the shape of the cross and designed religous symbolism into every design element.

How did he pay for this passion of his? He worked double shifts at the coal mine. His painting in vivid reds attracted the attention of a Georgia based sugar water company, named Coca-Cola. They hired him to paint metal signs that went up in country stores. Some churches donated money to this unique mission. He was also a true ecumenical soul. Check out this heart shaped slab with his creed:

"My religion is Catholic, Protestant, Jew. My politic, Democrat, Republican. Languages, I recommend one for all nations. Races, I recommend all in one yellow, white, and black." His son says he'd worship in any church with any type of people.

Mayes life and work show me several things:

1) what one man can accomplish when he has a big enough vision

2) an urgency to tell people about Christ

3) an unassuming nature...he didn't have to make things slick and tricky. This is part of the warmth of Appalachian folkcraft. It's heartfelt and warm ... not cold and cynical.

I'm not quite ready to start casting cement, but I sure am inspired....

For further reading, see this article by Fred Brown.
Read David Ray Smith's article (with more photos)
See the artwork of Linda Arnold Miller -- inspired by Mayes

Soli Deo Gloria

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Paul Johnson on militant atheism

Forbes Magazine has a teriffic commentary (registration required for access) by historian Paul Johnson in which he defends religious faith against the current crop of militant atheists. Here's a fine quote for us:
As for doing something about the militant atheism that threatens our happiness and well-being, it is in the interests of all people that those of us who enjoy religious faith should examine carefully what it has done, is doing and will do to sustain and comfort us in this harsh and difficult world. We should add up all its benefits--and then proclaim the results to the world. There will be plenty who will listen.

Johnson is well known for his earlier work Intellectuals, in which he gives brief biographies of various atheistic, freethinking intellectuals (Heinrik Ibsen, Rousseau, Karl Marx, etc) that demonstrate how these figures used their ideology for self-fulfillment at the expense of those closest to them.

Compare also to A Canticle for Liebowitz, the great dystopian classic that shows the church as the cradle of civilization, while secularists sweep in and live off the insights of what has been preserved.

Soli Deo Gloria

Ongoing Training: Leadership and Anxiety

Steve Brown used to tell me that I needed to develop a mean streak. For those of you who don't know Steve, he's a radio preacher. He thinks he's "got a voice like it came from on Sinai", but that's not really true. He's got the voice of a cranky old tarheel who smokes a lot, has sinned his share, and has experienced forgiveness beyond his wildest expectations. He's got the voice that communicates "sit down son, and listen up, and you just might learn something." So when Steve spoke, I generally listened.

But mean streaks don't come easy to me. I'm something of a people pleaser...I like being liked after all.

Now I take this one day training seminar on Leadership and Anxiety in the Church. It's all about how to apply Bowen Systems Theory in the church context. Too much to fully explain in one post, but the general thesis is this -- every organization constitutes an emotional system (family, church, workplace, etc). Each of us gets cast in a role in the system. Now here's the a system, all the parts influence each other. In other words, in a dysfunctional system (say a codependent relationship) the "problem person" is not the only one contributing to the does the "enabler" (envision the spouse who continually makes excuses for her husband's drinking.....the rich parent who is always bailing out the delinquent child.... you get the idea how the bad behavior and the enabling behavior reinforce each other).

Now the interesting thing about systems theory is this. The goal for pastors is not to learn the theory so they can diagnose where all the problems are in a congregation or in their familiy. I've known colleagues that were well versed in systems theory...they'd read all the books and they could tell you right where all the systemic problems were in their congregations. But there wasn't any improvement there.

That's because the goal in studying systems theory is to encourage pastors that by working on themselves, they can improve the functionality of the system as a whole. If a congregation is an emotional system in which all the parts exert influence...then any one part that is functioning in a better more balanced way will influence the whole towards balance. Part of the challenge is that when a leader starts functioning better (say for instance, setting boundaries so that he has a healthy balance of family time and church time.... or perhaps exerting a little more self discipline in time management, which decreases the kind of "available at the drop of the hat" time that was there before.... ), there's always pushback because the change affects other people. It may challenge them to take more responsibility for their role in the system. It may force them to deal with some of their own anxieties that they didn't want to deal with. But in the long run, somebody is going to have their feathers ruffled...and they're going to take it back to the leader.

Hence the mean streak (and that's a bit of an exaggeration). The leader then has the challenge of not owning the ruffled feathers. When someone comes to the leader with anxiety, the leader can listen with empathy ... but as soon as he owns the anxiety, he's lost. The leader has to have the inner self-control to live a little bit with other people's pain. Because sometimes that pain is God's way of dealing with them. Because sometimes that pain is just redirected from some other real issue that needs to be addressed (for husband is diagnosed with cancer, but I haven't dealt with the anxiety from that...but the anxiety comes out in other areas of life).

The idea here is to stay focused on goals, the big picture. The practicioners talk a lot about using playfulness and paradox to defuse anxiety and invite people into creative engagement with it. My mind is still reeling with everything we covered in the one day seminar. But the big idea I got from it is an old one and a good one: "Why do you see the speck in your neighbor's eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?" Work on with your own sin and avoidance and issues....and likely, God will use that process of sanctification of yourself to bring blessing to the family, the church, the workplace as a whole.

Soli Deo Gloria

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Exciting Developments -- Covenant First's new website

Greetings, techno heads.
Be sure to check out our newly redesigned website at Covenant-First Presbyterian.
Of particular interest .... we're going to offer sermon audio. Check out this past sunday's sermon (not great audio quality...but we're working on it)
Also, see information on our upcoming Homecoming Conference featuring Dr. Andrew Purves. An event not to be missed!

And for those of you into social networking, I took the plunge last night and set up a Facebook profile. I'm so 2005.


Monday, October 01, 2007

Bits and Pieces Oct 1 2007

First up - a great post from Forbes about how High School Musical's success is due to its complete lack of irony. A couple of teasers from the article:

"It's something a lot of producers have missed," says television historian Tim Brooks. Many of them "think it's still the '60s. They think that because adults want to see sex, kids do, too. But a lot of kids don't, especially girls. Most sitcoms on TV are really meant for adults."

"This is a reminder that as American TV hurtles toward ever more explicitness, there is a market of people who don't want any of that," says Brooks, also an executive at Lifetime.........

Sure, HSM is fairly well made and expertly marketed. But what really interests Thompson is its total lack of irony, of hipness, of the "wiseguy" humor so prevalent today. "We are so deep into the age of irony," Thompson says, "that when you encounter something as naive as 'High School Musical,' it's almost avant-garde. It's cutting edge!

"I would even go so far," says Thompson, "as to call HSM subversive. "The fact that they pulled this off in 2007 is amazing."

You heard it here first....earnest sweetness in this era is "subversive". I guess since I'm one of the 10 Gen X'ers who didn't get a tattoo, that I'm "subversive" as well. Who'da thunk?

Also, in case you missed it, we just relaunched our website at Covenant-First. Check it out, and give kudos to our webmaster Andy Adams for all his great work!

Tomorrow I'm in Kettering for an all day seminar on Family Systems theory as applied to church congregations. Should be interesting!

Soli Deo Gloria