Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Membership is down - give more?

No sooner had I posted about Christian Stewardship being cheapened by equating with money than I noticed (on this blog) the news item from UM Reported, "Changing demographics impacts funds".

The article has several interesting facts and figures. One negative action popped out at me, though. The GCFA governing board, in response to the decline in giving, has penned legislation that, "among other things, the legislation aims to hold leaders at all levels of the church accountable in their responsibility to promote, support and model Christian giving."

Whoa! So let me get this straight. The denomination is seeing a decline in membership and a decline in giving. The solution is to give more? It sounds like the old semi-joke about some office managers, "Management has observed that morale is low. Beatings will commence until morale improves." Maybe we are getting more concerned with funding than with meeting the spiritual needs of the least, the lost, and the last.

Perhaps if we focused our actions on them, as Luke shows us Jesus did, we'd be getting more members, who would want to contribute to the great spiritual work being done. Are we putting the cart before the horse? Are we failing to see the spiritual forest for the financial trees?

Stop demeaning Christian stewardship!

It's fall and the most common time for "Stewardship campaigns" a phrase that makes me cringe. Christian stewardship encompasses a very broad area. As Clarence Stoughton said, "Stewardship is everything you do after you say yes to Jesus Christ.". Churches demean stewardship and ignore the many needed actions areas of Christian Stewardship when they make it all about money.

What churches usually really mean is "annual financial campaign". Using the word "stewardship" makes some people feel better about asking for money, but it seems disingenuous. Sometimes churches add little "talent" cards to justify calling it a Stewardship campaign. But that too barely scratches the surface of Christian stewardship. And it's tacit admission that the campaign is a financial campaign running under cover of the term "stewardship".

Churches do need financial support. There's nothing wrong with a financial campaign. Let's be more honest about the process and call it just that. Doing so may also defuse criticism by unchurched people that churches are sly, world-like, or hypocritical.

And let's have true Stewardship campaigns in our churches. Ones where we inform members about all aspects of stewardship and encourage their daily involvement as stewards for Christ.

Let's stop equating Christian stewardship with asking for financial support, needed though it is. Let's be up front and honest when we conduct our annual financial campaigns.

[cross-posted from Open Mind Dave blog]

Monday, September 03, 2007

Rushing on the Day of Rest

"Hurry" sickness. Most of us have it. And it's not good. A recent sermon at our church was about rushing around on the Sabbath and the need for a true day of rest.

Rev. Dave referred to Blue Laws, child labor, and the impact of our computerized world. Some points he made:
  • Blue Laws "protected" Sundays for Christians, but now that most State legislatures allow businesses to be open on Sundays, guess who's patronizing them? Christians.
  • Sunday school started as education of children on their only non-work day.
  • Computers were supposed to give us more free time. Instead, they we have let them get us to do even more work in the same period of time. We are busier than ever, even on Sundays.
  • We have increased the amount of business work we do, even taking more of it home.
  • We need to find the courage to "Just say no" to added work.
  • Learn to accept God's gift of rest.
  • Slow down, stop, and let your cup fill with true inner peace -- Shalom.
Americans are the most productive workers in world, but it's because we work long and hard, even taking it home. (Mea Cupla!) That's great for a business' bottom line, but we need to take a hard look at work vs. rest.

When asked by a rabbi why he was rushing by, a man replied, "I'm running to work to make a living."

"Are you sure", asked the rabbi, "that your livelihood is running away from you and you have to rush to catch it up? Perhaps it's rushing toward you and all you have to do is stand still and let it catch up with you." [link]

On the seventh day, God rested. Do we think He was a slacker? Do we think we're better than God? Is it even really restful to try to rush around and squeeze in as many non-business activities as we can on a weekend, even Sunday? Do we incorrectly consider resting to be "doing nothing"?

Related links

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Cafe sermon prep?

The Allan R. Bevere blog, host to the "Methodist Blogs Weekly Roundup", has periodic polls.  I found one interesting -- "Where do you prepare your sermons?"
The interesting part is that more pastors now prepare sermons at a cafe than at church, though most do at home.  Perhaps cafes are getting more popular as a sermon preparation spot because many have Internet available (for research) as well as good lattes. The poll size is not large enough to warrant a high confidence level (+- 5%), but interesting nevertheless.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Religion videos

The advent of YouTube has brought a slew of videos to the web. Here's a few that are tagged as "religion" or "church":

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Why people leave churches

Dr. Richard J. Krejcir, a church consultant, in his "Why Churches Fail -Part 1" article says that in his study of over 1,000 churches for more than 10 years, he found that people who leave a church other than to move out of the area do so because of:

  • Conflict or gossip in the church
  • Hypocrisy and judgemental attitudes and actions of the leadership
  • A lack of hospitality or concern
  • Unwillingness to deal with sin.
    People need a place to feel at home and to grow in their faith; a place that helps them cope with the sins of the world -- their sins.

Krejcir says that we should be stressing:

  • Prayer
  • Bible literacy and it relevance
  • Discipleship

We should avoid trying to add "consumers" of Christianity to the pews instead of participants and disciples. He says we go for what's glitzy, what's popular, what the most "mod". We concentrate on dumbing down worship to the pew-sitters instead of encouraging the congregation to worship God. We put the focus on ourselves instead of God, he says.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

ReligioNews blog changes

The "sidebar" (right column) items on this blog are not set in stone, nor is the design for that matter. Over the past months I have moved the order of the sidebar sections as well as added and deleted some links.

Today I added "The Revealer", a daily review of religion and the press, to the "Methodist, Other Blogs" sidebar section. For example, today's main feature at The Revealer is "Fundamentalism's Colonial Drag", which also links to the original "Newsweek" article.

So remember to check the sidebar links for changes now and then.

I'll try to remember to plug new features in the blog. For example, I'm excited about some new features being tested by Google right now, including an install poll (survey).

Monday, July 02, 2007

To robe or not to robe

Dave's albMatt, a United Methodist pastor and author of the Catching Meddlers blog, asks if wearing of robes can get in the way to communicating the gospel message. John the Methodist, author of Locusts and Honey blog, picked up on this and his entry has over a dozen comments already.

My two cents -- if a particular vestment gets in the way of communicating with the pastor's current congregation, change the vestment. It's the message that counts, not the garment. Or as my Dad used to say, it's the potatoes that count, not the potato sack.

Some congregations may feel that wearing of robes is being "overdressed". Heaven forbid [pun intended]. Others may have a tradition of the pastor wearing robes in winter and a suit or even less casual in the summer. Others may prefer a less formal vestment such as an alb or even just a clerical shirt and collar.

The key appears to me to be the pastor and congregation arriving at a "dress code" that does not distract nor detract from the spiritual message being delivered via the worship service.

I did find David's comment at the Catching Meddlers blog educational:
"... the robes traditionally worn by Methodist pastors are known as "academic robes" and are testament to their accomplishments in that arena. To me, an alb is a symbol of humility and service that does more to link me with the congregation rather than to highlight how "smart" I am."

Faith videos

Christianity Today has a slew of videos about faith. Though they sell them, you can watch a small version online for free. Some examples:

Monday, June 18, 2007

Sunday School Software, Resources

Do you have some favorite software (other than electronic Bibles or normal Bible references) that you use of education at home or at church? Leave a comment (though I check all comments before allow them, so pure business posts that I feel fall short won't get added).

One source that I've located and think has a lot of interesting material is Sunday Software. This business has a ton of interesting software (much of which I'm getting ready to buy and test at home) such as these aimed at youth though adult:

Sunday Software also has non-software materials too, for example:

Some free Cokesbury materials:

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Evolving Christianity?

Different people in different times have come to know God in different ways. In today's world, different groups try to apply that knowledge in a myriad of ways. Below is a collection of related links, in no particular order.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

The Trinity

Christians of all sorts believe in the Trinity, God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (aka Holy Ghost). But the word "Trinity" is not specifically mentioned in scripture and the concept was not used until years after Jesus' Ascension. This has led to all sorts of "takes" on the concept.

Nazarites point to a pagan origin and say that the Torah does not mention the Trinity. Skeptics claim that the term was invented. Some claim that the concept was needed in the early church but that it is now an anachronism that is no longer needed.

Some even point to the term "Spirit" being feminine gender ("her") in Aramaic, the language that Jesus used. In Greek, the word in neuter gender ("it"). Only in Latin is the term masculine gender ("he").

I look at the concept of the Trinity as a way we try to understand God. We fallible mortals can never understand God perfectly, but the concept of the Trinity helps us get closer to an understanding.

What's your take? Is the word "persons" in "God in three persons" a mental stumbling block? Would a word such as "aspects" convey the concept better?

Related links

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Atheists, Agnostics, Believers

Atheists are pessimistic Agnostics. Deep down they are not sure (Agnostic), but they'd hate to be made a fool of by believing the wrong thing. So they claim to not believe at all. It's a buffer against being put down. Maybe they have had great trials and sadness in their lives and cannot believe that a God would allow that. They need your compassion and understanding, help and encouragement. They need to know of any change that being a believer has made in your life. Don't try to make them a believer in one big step. If they become an Agnostic, they are on headed in the right direction. Don't give up on them.

Agnostics really amount to pessimistic believers. They want to believe, but cannot bring themselves to for one reason or another. Perhaps they could become a believer by seeing your faith in action and by your compassion toward their own concerns and needs. Maybe sharing a bit of why you are a believer would help. Just don't get too "preachy" or you'll turn them off.

Believers may be strong or weak in the faith. Those who declare they are new believers may really be optimistic Agnostics. So, as Paul cautions (Romans 14), beware of tempting those weaker in the faith. Encourage the faith of new believers, offer friendship, compassion, and understanding. Include them in your Sunday Schools, but try not to swamp them with detailed Bible study right away. Give them time to grow. Water that growth with agape love. Be available to talk with other believers about their faith challenges and life's trials.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

"Won't power"

I, like many people, have a fondness for sweets. Chocolate, ice cream, southern sweet tea, cookies, and more. Over the years, I have become about 30 pounds overweight. Lately I have been thinking about that "treat your body like a temple" adage. My temple needs some work on it to look more like God intended, though handsome it will never be.

So I read with interest an Atlanta Journal-Constitution article on sugar overload this week, "Hiding in plain sight". It suggests changing a soda a day to a bottle of water a day. I detest paying for water (Evian backwards is "naive", after all), but since I'm spending money on empty soda calories maybe paying for plain water would be a better decision.

The AJC article linked to another very informative site - NutritionData (ND). It has pages listing the nutrition value of foods commonly searched for (an example is raw bananas) as well as foods from varied commercial eateries such as McDonald's and Blimpie. The nerd in me is especially intrigued by the cool data displays:

ND also has a "better choices diet" page.

So will all this great information prompt me to clean up my eating ways instead of my plate and to clean up my temple? I am a sense-oriented person, which is why I so much enjoy music (and pretty pictures ... a nod to John the Methodist) as well as food. Maybe I can replace that bottle of soda with water. And maybe a bit less of those delicious Chocolate peanut butter Treasures. I have plenty of "Will Power" ... as in "I will eat that cookie now". What it takes is "Won't Power."

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Does Religion Make You a Better Person?

The Youtube video "Does Religion Make You a Better Person?" is anti-Christian (actually, anti-religion), but Christians should watch it carefully. I can't personally verify or dispute the statistics claimed. If real, they are alarming. Please feel free to refute any of the many statistics, but provide a link to a credible source of data. No flames, please.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Will the real Methodists please stand up!

We say we're Methodists, yet we seem to shun Wesley's ways. We say we're United, yet we're fragmented, self-oriented both as congregations and as various groups within the denomination. We seek higher numbers of members, relegating spiritual growth to a lesser role.

So the question is ... are Methodism's problems a result of losing sight of the spiritual in pursuit of funding, programs, social contact, Sunday School based on best-seller books, and being sort of a religious country club? Are we so lost in trying to force our own interpretations of the Bible on each other that we fail to bring the lost home to Christ?

Have our Sunday Schools lost sight of the type of Bible study that Wesley's "Bible-Moths" would approve of? Scripture was the most important part of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, not just an equal quarter of the whole.

Andrew Thompson, author of the Gen-X Rising blog, says, "Let's decide: Are we Methodists or not?" He takes a good poke at churches that seem so ashamed to be United Methodists that they leave that part out of their publicized church name. Either be Methodists or don't, but don't be half-hearted Methodists, he seems to say.

Andrew suggests that it is a good and fruitful thing to follow Wesley:
  • Shun religious pretension
  • Practice rigorous discipleship
  • Actively pursue the way of salvation
  • Tirelessly carry the gospel to the lost and the poor

So ... how are you and your church doing? Are you truly Methodists?

The United Methodist Reporter site has picked up several other Gen-X Rising articles in 2007:

As a side note, Gen-X Rising is now linked in the "Methodist, Other blogs" section of this blog.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Passover and the Passion

Christianity and Judaism are forever linked this time of year. A Boston Globe article, "Passover and the Passion", reminds us that Holy Week is structured around Jesus' observance of the Jewish Passover.

The author points out that as new converts came from the Gentiles, those people didn't fully grasp that Jesus was a Jew. "The Jews" became a scapegoat. He suggests a reading of the Gospels that takes into account such culturally relevant factors.

Homosexuality costs some Black pastors

Black pastors are often caught between between two bad options -- ignoring the marginalized in our society or losing conservative members, often the older, bigger donors. The March 27 NY Times article, datelined from Atlanta, elaborates. Will money or love win out?

"What does it mean to have a [worship] service that welcomes all but makes an effort to target those whom society has shunned as unclean and undesirable?" asks Becky Garrison in "Easter for the Outcasts" at the God's Politics blog.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Multitasking slows you down

An October 2001 study reported in the "Journal of Experimental Psychology" informs us that the brain takes extra time "switching gears" when we switch tasks.
"The shortest way to do many things is to do only one thing at once."
Samuel Smiles
A recent broadcast on National Public Radio discussed University of Michigan research that found it takes people longer to accomplish a series of tasks if they multitask than if they do them one at a time. Multitasking slows you down. Many (most?) people believe that multitasking is faster, but in reality it is not.

In addition, humans we remember and learn differently when we multitask.
"To do two things at once is to do neither."
– Roman sage Publilius Syrus
Microsoft suggests several problems with multitasking. Among them:
  • Interruptions break user concentration and thus hurt longer-term tasks. Why? Users often can't tell which interruptions need to be handled right away, making it hard to maintain current task flow.
  • To successfully complete tasks, you need to know when to stop a current task and return to one you have on hold. Researchers have found that people often pause tasks while waiting for some outside event, for example an expected email or phone call. They then wanted to resume the original task as immediately after the interrupting event. But ...
  • People have trouble getting back on task after shifting their attention away."

Multitasking problems have even crept into churches. For example, one pastor had a habit of shouting over the last hymn as we closed the worship service. But paying attention to his words meant paying less attention to (or stumbling over) the words of the hymn. If a hymn is important enough to sing, it is important enough to concentrate on. We should pay more attention to the words (text message) of hymns, not less (but that's another topic).

Even church staff members need to focus on one task at a time as much as possible. Acting against that goal are an always-open email program or email notifier, an open instant messenger (IM), constant visitors, phone calls, etc. So Pastors and church managers, help your church staff focus. Seek to lessen interruptions to their tasks and they'll get more done in the same amount of time. They'll also appreciate the reduced stress.

Lent and Passover

Before Lent heads into the final week, you may want to read "Muskrat love." No, it's not the song. It's a Catholic Online article about Michiganders who abstain from meat on Fridays yet have a tradition of eating muskrat on Fridays (and why).

You may want to bone up on Holy Week and Passover...

Friday, March 30, 2007

PBS airs pioneer evangelist story

A conservative Protestant evangelist who knew how to pull in people and win souls. Pastor of one of America's first megachurches. Pioneer of Christian radio. Divorced at a time when divorce was a stigma (a topic for another day).

Canadian farm girl Aimee Semple McPherson (Sister Aimee) mixed religion and entertainment like nobody before her.

You can watch the PBS program on Sister Aimee Monday, April 2, at 9pm.

Other links:

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Health articles, healthy recipes

We are to be good stewards of our God-given bodies -- of our health. Here are some links to health-related articles:

Evil incarnate

A book review of "Evil Incarnate: Rumors of Demonic Conspiracy and Satanic Abuse in History" brought to mind religious and political actions in the past decade. Author David Frankfurter says that historically, the real atrocities seem to occur during attempts to purge what one group claims is evil. (Also see the UNH Magazine Review)

The extreme accusations and labelling of political candidates in recent years seems to fall into this category. Political strategists appear to actively promote wild hyperbole presented as fact. Using religious slander seems to be an increasing trend. The motto appears to be, "If you repeat a lie enough times to enough people, it will affect their opinion of the candidate and thus the outcome of an election."

I find that morally repugnant. Politicians who treat the American people as ignorant dummies that can be led by the nose at will are spiritually bankrupt. Yet we continue to adopt and, worse, repeat their false mantras and we elect them. Perhaps we deserve the results we get.

I imagine it's quite hard for an honest, moral politician to stay that way when broadsided by those of "the dark side". The temptation to adopt evil, immoral tactics because they work must be tremendous. But wouldn't it be nice if politicians just lived their religion instead of trying to (mis)use it during campaigns and while in office? Don't quote Bible passages in speeches; live them. Don't tell me how moral you are. Show me.

As we head into the next election season, be on watch for evil at work, whether the candidate is "yours" or not. Consider not encouraging such behavior in our politicians. Check supposed "facts" before you repeat them. Let "your" candidate and party know that you won't accept morally bankrupt behavior. Don't help do the Devil's work.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Religious music online

I am very sense-oriented. Food, music, movies, ... I enjoy our God-given senses. I find that Christian music can elevate my mood during my long daily commute. It helps put me in a positive frame of mind. It makes me a better person that day.

So I'm especially pleased when I find sources of religious music, especially Christian music, online. I often preview music online for possible choir or quartet use. These uplifting offerings take many forms and styles.

Some disparage certain styles of music when used in worship or even as just a religious song in general. But we must remember that Paul didn't hesitate to adapt the message to whatever group he was addressing. So it should be with Christian music. There is no one "right" style. The message is what counts! Here are a few sample sites to get you started on a wonderful journey in song. Some may be an unexpected pleasure.

  • Streaming audio of anthems at publishers such as Shawnee Press.
    Example: "Burdens are lifted at Calvary" (Patti Drennan)
  • Samples of commercial CDs.
    Example: 1-minute samples from the "Jesus is Lord" CD (Dallas Christian Sound). After finding this site, I now plan to order this CD of 31 songs. The teaser 1-minute samples worked.
  • Free praise songs and sheet music
    Example 1: "All of my love" by Elton Smith and Larry Holder. The score is also downloadable.
    Example 2: "Your love is sweeter than wine" by Susan Tolle-Knight. This includes a Flash movie with music. I really love this sweet and lyrical song. And the Flash graphics (with words) are truly excellent.
  • Instrumentals. The choices range from traditional to techno. Example: "Awesome God" by Faith Incisive - it's not the default song on that page, so just click on the title link.
  • Joyous accidental finds.
    Example: "Thank you, dear Lord for music" (an MP3 download) at the national S.P.E.B.S.Q.S.A (Barbershoppers) site.
    Free downloadable sheet music (PDF).
  • International Christian songs.
    Example 1: some Christian Tamil songs
    Example 2: "Baba Yetu" (Swahili Lord's Prayer) (download the MP3, then play) -- incredible!
    Eaxmple 3: Songs at the GBGM's Global Praise site. The CD collection (and music clips) include songs from Africa and Carribbean, Spirituals, and more.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

News Roundup

News features


Islamic artists, math nerds, and tiles

It seems that ancient Islamic artists were much more talented than many thought. And it looks like math nerds helped them in creating very complex, non-repeating tile designs.

Read the full Islamic art article at USA Today

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

8,000 Muslim women taught Koran

Sunni religious scholar Mohammed Akram Nadwi has for eight years done research for a bibliographical dictionary of hadith scholars who were women. To his surprise he has found 8,000 such women dating back some 1,400 years.

Some of these women advised scholar husbands and even issued fatwas.

Now it is up to modern Islam to reconcile this with current traditions regarding the status of Muslim women. Some, both men and women, hope this will encourage a more liberal treatment of the spiritual gifts of Muslim women.

Archeologists blast upcoming Jesus documentary

Scientists debunk an upcoming Discovery Chanel documentary about 10 possible burial sites of Jesus. It sounds interesting, though. After all, the March 4 TV show is directed by Oscar-winner James Cameron, who claims that Jesus' bones (and those of his family) were found in some ancient ossuaries in Jerusalem.

Ironically, the BBC visited this "story" over a decade ago and archaeologists at the time criticised the claims even then. Discovery Channel has even added a special "Lost Tomb of Jesus" site to plug the show's assertions.

The AP article in USA Today online mentions several areas of misinformation and disagreement with the claims. Adding to this is the fact that forgeries of ancient artifacts are well known to have been made. But, hey -- it's TV -- anything for a buck.

Despite this, I still suggest watching the show. Christians need to view and be knowledgeable about material that can affect Christians who are "young in the faith" or the unchurched who might be swayed by misinformation. After all, if there really were bones of Jesus, there was no resurrection. Mass media and even information available on the Internet can easily turn false information into "facts" that then get repeated as "gospel." View the show, but view it with an analytical eye.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Help others through Hunger Walk

You can contribute to Atlanta's Hunger Walk/Run 2007 and get a T-Shirt whether or not you actually run. The Feb-April 2007 issue of their newsletter "Food sharing" says, "Can't make it to the event? Be a Phantom Walker! Just fill out the form [donate] and mail it in and we'll mail you a t-shirt." How can you resist being a "Phantom Walker?" You don't even have to wear purple tights.

The event supports six local non-profit organizations and walkers may choose to have a portion of their funds go directly to one of the organizations:

At the Atlanta Community Food Bank site you can also learn about Atlanta's Table, Community Garden Initiative, Hunger 101, Kids in Need, Project Rescue Center, and TACK - The Atlanta Cooperative Kitchen.

You don't have to live in Atlanta to donate to these worthwhile groups.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Diabetics: Beware cold products

Decongestants and some other cold remedies contain sugar or else a chemical that causes and increase in blood sugar warns the American Diabetes Association.

Stay informed. You can't treat your body like a temple if you don't know what's trying to pull down your pillars of health.

WWF 2006 Annual Report

The 2006 annual report by the World Wildlife Federation is interesting for all who want to be good stewards of God's creation. But it's also kind of neat to look through.

The WWF report uses a special online report viewer program that lets you flip pages, zoom in or out on a page and even use hyperlinks to jump to sections of the report. Maybe I should call it nerd and nature nurture.

Monday, January 22, 2007

The Language of God

America's top genetic scientist, Francis Collins, is also a devout Christian. His book, "The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief", is generating some buzz. He defends evolution as well as stem cell research and finds harmony between science and religion.
"...the point of Scripture was not to teach science"
Collins believes that most of the people who strongly oppose evolution do so not because of politics but because they have unfortunately been taught that evolution and faith are not compatible.
"If we've done a poor job of explaining science to the public, is it any wonder that it has political consequences?"

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Christian and moderate

PBS has an interesting story about Christian moderates. Here are a few comments by people in the article:

"I hope that we're not entering a time where Christians are interpreted as being evangelical Christians alone."

"We evangelicals can sometimes become too dogmatic and legalistic."

"It seems unlikely to me that God working in the world is delivering contradictory messages to me in my church and to the white evangelicals in their churches."

Christians divorce Jesus from Judaism

In her article in "The Christian Century" magazine, Amy-Jill Levine criticises Christians for misusing Jesus -- incorrect portrayals of Jesus in regards to Jews and Christians, social issues, and more.

Jesus, she reminds us was:
  • Not against the Torah (Law)
  • Not against the Temple, but rather its leadership
  • Not the only one concerned with social issues
"This divorcing of Jesus from Judaism does a disservice to each textually, theologically, historically and ethically."
To disregard history, she says, is to be unfaithful to both Judaism and Christianity.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Pot luck

"We are never more at home than around the table", said a former pastor of mine. And the friendly warmth of people gathered in a joint luncheon or dinner is almost palpable.

I do confess, though, that sometimes my system is later disturbed by what I have fed it. "Why is it that people eat food in church that they wouldn’t eat anywhere else?" asks Lillian Daniel in her Theolog posting, "Potluck Gourmet". Garrison Keillor said Methodists had a secret longing for macaroni and cheese. Me? I like food. Someone once asked me if there was anything I did not like to eat. I paused only slightly and replied, "Well, there's a very bitter Filipino green vegetable ..." Laughter ensued, though I was serious.

The word "potluck" can have either a positive or negative connotation, you know. If you arrive too late at a buffet, you have have to be content with "pot luck".

I am reminded of my wife's shrewd coining of the phrase "'Choose your own' dinner" for a meal of leftovers. The kids got to select exactly which leftovers they wanted. Of course, the first to choose had the best array of the potluck offerings. But all of them seemed to relish the idea of getting a choice in what they ate. Clever, very clever, she was.

Lillian, pastor of a Congregational Church, says when she gets to heaven, she'll want a good old Midwestern Congregational Casserole.

So ... are there any types of food that you just will not eat at a Pot luck supper? Or do you arm yourself with an antacid tablet? Do you tend to "pig out", eat reasonably sized amounts of just a few dishes, or take small portions of as many dishes as possible?

Should a future posting be about treating our bodies as temples?

UMC should clean house

Rev. Mark Schaefer, in his sermon-containing blog, daydreams about the United Methodist Church swooping down on American University, dissolving the board of trustees and just starting over.

His sermon, "Grapes and Vineyards", starts out with that musing. But the musing points out the denomination-owned aspect to many Methodist properties.

... Something to think about ... but it assumes that the denomination administrative structure has the "cure". It sometime seems that the administrative structure makes secular decisions when spiritual ones are needed.

We seem to have an undue emphasis on protecting the "job security" and "pay" of clergy. The UMC denomination leadership sometimes appears concerned more about district, conference, and denomination politics than members themselves. Maybe if we were all concerned more about the spiritual health and needs of congregations and their surrounding communities, we'd be growing in numbers as we grew in faith and saved souls.

Presidential religion

Ever wonder what religion our past presidents have been?

Wonder no more. South Carolinian Charlie Wilborn, author of the "Religion Class" blog, has spelled it all out for us in "Presidents and Religions".

Who is going to Hell?

People of faith hold no common answer as to who goes to Hell and who does not. Christian denominations have differing views, and those differ from Jews or Universalists.

Louisiana's Herald-Argus newspaper posed the "Who is going to Hell?" question in an article and got a lot of comments. Feel free to read them and even add your own.

Methodists may be interested to know that the denomination's belief in prevenient grace might mean that God may allow anyone to escape an afterlife in Hell, according to Dean William Lawrence, SMU Perkins School of Theology.

Prevenient grace is divine love preceding any conscious action, a concept that John Wesley wrote the concept into Article 8 of the Articles of Religion he adapted for American Methodists.

Doomsday clock creeps nearer to midnight

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has announced that the time of its symbolic Doomsday Clock is now two minutes closer to midnight -- the time representing global cataclysm. It now stands at 11:55pm.

This is only the fourth time since 1948 that the Bulletin, which focuses on manmade threats, has moved the clock forward. When started in 1947, the clock was set at 11:53 pm. The furthest from midnight was in 1991 (11:43 pm), when both the U.S and Russia were pulling back tactical nukes. The closest, 11:58pm in 1953, was in the era of U.S.-Soviet tensions.

The two main factors causing this they say is mankind's threats to human civilization posed by global warming plus nuclear tension related to Iran and North Korea. Director Kennete Benedict says the dangers of global warming are nearly as great as those of nuclear weapons.

Our challenge is to be good stewards of God's earth, even if it "costs" a little more. A legitimate Christian concern is whether a government administration's actions have eased or worsened the dangers posed by global warming and nuclear weapons.

Related article: Nuclear Doomsday: Is the clock still ticking?

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Some Dove messages not so sweet

I like chocolate, especially dark chocolate. One Christmas present this year was a basket of varied chocolates, among then some individually wrapped Dove dark chocolates.

The Dove chocolates came individually wrapped with foil that has "PROMISES Messages" printed on it. Cute, I thought, but maybe a bit too much "New Age" for me. Then I came across some that wiped the smile clean off my face.

The candy maker appears to have no compunction about using phrases that are harmful to our society. For example:
  • "There's a time for compromise --
    it's called "later"
  • "Temptation is fun ...
    giving in is even better."
It's as if the company executives are from Mars and have no clue TWIXT right and wrong. They seem full of Snickers at the problems they foster. The anti-Christian Messages continue, full of empty PROMISES. There are no Kudos here.

Should Christians stop buying Dove candy and encourage the manufacturer, Mars, to clean up its Dove wrappers? This is one candy I find not so sweet.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

About the new UMC Web site

The United Methodist Church's denomination web site is undergoing some significant changes. Unfortunately, the phase-in of those changes is not as smooth as I'd like to see. There are many disconnects, pages with a lot of "This feature is still under development" pop-up balloons, and broken links.

I was always taught to never use "under construction" type web pages. Make the development on a development server, then go public all at once. The current UMC method may be the result of a desire for feedback while development proceeds, which might also mean that the denomination is still unsure of what the final outcome will be. But maybe this method will get the massive changes done faster.

The new web site has a fresh new look, more color, more animation (for those that like that sort of thing), and either access to lots more information or else links that make the old information easier to find. Of course I do cringe at the heavy use of green in the navigation menus. My web development training has been to try to avoid red and green colors due to people with the most common form of color blindness.

The "Pastor: Overview" page has text overlap problems (at least in IE7) in the right-side "Related information for" box. But you can tell the type information that will eventually be there.

A few new features:
  • A horizontal menu and a horizontal submenu that changes with the top menu item selected. Some studies show that people prefer left-side vertical menus, but this one works, though it takes a bit of getting used to.
  • The home page has a link to a new "Methopedia".
  • Role-based (some say "personality" or "profile") sections of links, in Leader Resources, for example. Four common role-related links appear at the right side of the main horizontal menu: Pray, Give, Serve, Connect, Lead.
  • Added syndication capability for webmasters
  • Personal Profile pages, "similar to MySpace, FaceBook, and similar social networks", the site says. Sure, go ahead and add a nice sharp photo of yourself and some juicy personal information that an identity thief would love to get his grubby little hands on. Parents need to keep track of this area if their kids use it.
  • "Our World" has a collection of feature "stories of faith".
  • Most main menu index pages have a nice, medium size color photo. The overall page design is attractive.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

IRS: 2007 charitable contributions need proof

National Public Radio reports that, "The IRS will begin requiring documentation to deduct cash donations of any amount next year [2007]. That means church-goers who put cash in collection baskets may have to switch to checks if they want to claim it on their taxes. "

The same will apply to monthly cash donations by United Methodist Women sub-unit members to special projects, donations through Sunday School classes, and similar donations that most people have done by cash in the past.

Perhaps this is a good opportunity for churches seeking to assist members to offer an automatic withdrawal from checking accounts and/or credit card donations capability. An alternative would be to offer giving envelopes to all, letting the giver write their name plus their address on the outside and then the church providing all such people with donation receipts at the end of the year.

As for Sunday School classes and the like, the treasurer will have to make detailed receipts for each member or else members will have to write checks. Bummer.

The automatic withdrawal from checking accounts is relatively easy. It also might be a good way to ease the summer problem of dropping contributions as people are out of town on vacations. Some people just forget to "catch up". Automatic withdrawal eases that problem and helps members meet their pledged amount.