America’s Defining Crisis

Yesterday the March for Life took place in Washington D.C. In recognition of the 38th anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision, here are a few items that are out there.

Silent Night, Holy Night

This is a rambling reflection which has come together in my mind on the year’s darkest day.

In listening to Volume 104 of Mars Hill Audio, I was fascinated by Ken Myers’ interview with Garret Keizer who has written a book called The Unwanted Sound of Everything We WantIt’s a catchy title, and I’m interested in hearing more. (Is that ironic?) In his interview he talks about the effect of noise in our culture as well as spending time providing a helpful definition of it. He reminded me that Milton places a region in hell called Pandemonium. This time of year can be just that. Mr. Myer’s introduction to the conversation is worthy of a listen in its own right, and he mentions a quote by A.W. Tozer taken from a collection of essays, The Root of the Righteous. Tozer comments,

“The accent in the Church today,” says Leonard Ravenhill, the English evangelist, “is not on devotion, but on commotion.” Religious extroversion has been carried to such an extreme in evangelical circles that hardly anyone has the desire, to say nothing of the courage, to question the soundness of it. Externalism has taken over. God now speaks by the wind and the earthquake only; the still small voice can be heard no more. The whole religious machine has become a noisemaker. The adolescent taste which loves the loud horn and the thundering exhaust has gotten into the activities of modern Christians. The old question, “What is the chief end of man?” is now answered, “To dash about the world and add to the din thereof.” And all this is done in the name of Him who did not strive nor cry nor make His voice to be heard in the streets (Mat. 12:18-21).

Tozer’s comments from the 1950’s are even more true today.

At about the same time I heard Myers and Tozer, I began Adam McHugh‘s book, Introverts in the Church. McHugh takes on our current presupposition that extroversion is next to godliness and cites a study in which 97% of those polled believed Jesus was an extrovert though, statistically at least, just over half of humanity are introverts. He goes on to say,

If human perfection, epitomized in the person of Jesus, includes extroversion then a large number of the population will always and irredeemably fall short. This adds a theological component to the already-prevailing cultural prejudice that extroversion is the superior temperament.

All this in my own mind causes me to reflect on which (extrovert/introvert) I am and how I would better serve the church by being who He made me rather than trying to be something else. And, in this season, is there any room midst the parties and productions, for contemplation and preparation in solitude?

At the beginning of the month, I came across this post (H.T. G Veith) on the season of Advent over at First Things Blog entitled, “Let’s Hold Back the Christmas Cheer”. In it Losana Boyd reminds us the the true spirit of that season which leads up to the feast days of Christmas to Epiphany. Boyd writes,

Advent is the great season of preparation for the greatest of all gifts: Christ Himself. But as our culture makes all too obvious, this is also a season of high commercialism. As Fr. George Rutler from Our Saviour Parish in New York City reminds us:

The season of Advent is lyrically beautiful if one is willing to engage the realities it teaches: Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell. The alternative is to create a parallel universe partying in a faux Christmas confection of jingle bells, dancing elves, and self-conscious bonhomie, avoiding the Incarnation of God.

Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell—the themes of the four Sundays in Advent don’t exactly seemed filled with Christmas cheer. Instead, they are sobering, encouraging a state of wakefulness from the distractions of frivolity. Advent has become something truly countercultural–at a time when holiday parties and merry making are at a fever pitch, Advent calls us to remember the passing nature of this world and the eternity that awaits.

During an evening commute I heard this report on NPR here about Brittain’s X-Factor music contest in which a number songs have been submitted in protest of Simon Cowell’s influence on the music industry in the U.K.. One of the bands in contention for this year’s prize has submitted John Cage’s protest song 4 minutes and 33 seconds. You can listen anywhere.

Lastly, and this brings me back to noise and worship and Christmas, I was reminded of a conversation in C.S. Lewis’ The Horse and His Boy between Aslan and the three companions, Hwin, Bree, and Aravis. As Aslan speaks with each, he tells them some about who they are and why events have happened to them. After Aslan leaves, Lewis writes,

Strange to say, they felt no inclination to talk to one another about him after he had gone. The all moved slowly away to different parts of the quiet grass and there paced to and fro, each alone, thinking.

It’s interesting to me that sometimes the most appropriate response to the Word is silence (see: Rev 8:1).

Silent Night
And so, here we are in a season, THE season of preparation, and the spiritual benefit we might derive from it is driven back by all the noise of its production. This season which is to have so much meaning is drained of it’s power just as we are drained of the joy of the news we gather to celebrate. Christmas becomes something to endure, ride out, get through, and finally be done with. It seems to me we’ve turned it on its head, and the feast takes place for a month prior to THE FEAST, and THE DAY becomes the heartbreak hill of this festive marathon rather than the dawning of a new age. And so, we gorge ourselves on hors d’oeuvres and have nothing left for the meal. What should be a season of preparation and anticipation in repentance, quietness, and contemplation, leading us into the joyful news that the King is born, instead gives birth to disappointment, depression, and alienation and all because of the noise of the “holiday” production.

A Victorian Christmas

I’ve known Charlie and Ruth Jones (aka Peculiar People) for almost 20 years. Since they moved to Greensboro from Nashville, about 3 years ago, I was able to attend their N.C. performance at their home on S Elm St. My wife and I had a great time, and I thought that my friends would enjoy it.

Since then, as I’ve thought about the show, the time period (Victorian England), the main character (G.K. Chesterton-who was himself a journalist), it occurred to me that the show fit perfectly with Korner’s Folly. Charlie and Ruth’s heart to see Christians engage and be engaged by the arts and the Korner’s love the arts along with their desire to engage the community with the arts seemed to line up. So, in mid-October, I invited Charlie over to visit the Folly and asked him to consider bringing his show to Kernersville. Charlie was really taken with the house and the Korner’s story: their love of the arts, community-mindedness, love of hospitality, and he was also taken with the house itself; it charmed him. We spoke with Bruce Frankel about the possibility of having the show at the Folly and how we could use the event to be a blessing to the community. Bruce was very helpful and accommodating, and we were able to set a date.

Personally, this event allows opportunity to introduce others to this wonderful home and a wonderful ministry. I have a heart both for the Folly and for the ministry of Family Promise. Victorian Christmas brings together a number of things I love: Charlie and Ruth, G.K. Chesterton, the Folly, Family Promise, music/poetry/the arts, and my friends whom I know would enjoy the evening. Additionally, the enjoyment of the company of others enjoying themselves and each other feels particularly like giving a gift. So much of Christmas becomes a trap about all the stuff. This evening reminds us of what is precious: one another and particularly the one whom G.K. Chesterton devoted his life to following: Jesus Christ.

The evening is set at Christmas in the London home of G.K. Chesterton. As people arrive the Folly they will be welcomed and introduced to the Folly and invited to tour the home before the show and see all the Christmas decorations as well as enjoy the charm of the home. At about 7:30 people will be invited to the second floor Reception Room where we will join the Chestertons and their friends for a Christmas party. The evening is interactive, and the audience is invited to join the Chestertons in singing carols and playing games. Throughout the evening the Chestertons share their talents by reciting poetry and telling stories. Additionally, a story is unfolding among the characters themselves as they celebrate Christmas. The evening is very engaging is appropriate for primary ages and up. During the evening, we will invite people to make donations to Family Promise of Forsyth County as well as acknowledge opportunities to support the preservation of the Folly.

There are a number of reasons why we need to support ministries like Family Promise. Firstly, the ministry is about homelessness, and we are in the coldest part of the year. I cannot imagine a family trying to survive sleeping in car in a parking lot somewhere; that doesn’t need to happen.

Secondly, Christmas reminds us of the blessing of hospitality. In this age of ‘entertain-me’, that is, the culture we live in causes us to expect high-quality, competent entertainment and service in whatever we participate in. It is good to be reminded that we are called serve others by opening our lives and homes. Because of the high level of expectation and the pressure to succeed, I believe we shut down and shut out others because fear failing at “entertaining”. “Entertaining” sounds so burdensome. Why not merely be open to receiving others warmly? I think that is what hospitality is about, and the warmth of community and fellowship is certainly what we should be about as we celebrate God drawing near to us. Over and over again one reads and hears that this is the loneliest time of year. I think this is very sad.

Lastly, the first Christmas was about hospitality. The Word who made this home for us and placed us in it, came to visit and he was not received so warmly. Additionally, Mary and Joseph were refugees of sorts in a home which was occupied by enemies. They were not received by family or even the inn, but relegated to the stable. The care of those in need was very close to Jesus’ heart and the community which he established. Family Promise has more which it is doing, but the primary ministry is to offer hospitality to homeless families. We have the means through our resources: financial, abilities, time, and building space to alleviate significant suffering in the lives of others. It would be a tragedy to repeat the unkindness to Jesus himself by continuing to neglect those whom we might help.

The event is Tuesday, December 14 from 7-9pm. Resevations and tickets may be purchased by calling Grace Presbyterian Church, 993-3384 x12 or at the church office from 9-Noon, Mon-Friday.

High-tech Hearts

John Muether, both a professor and friend at RTS in Orlando has this to say in an article posted on Ligonier’s website about cyber-friends and communities.

Contrary to the inconvenience and inefficiency of genuine community, virtual communities have the advantage of allowing one to leave as easily as one joined. Disappearing can be as simple as not responding to an email. (Who among us is prepared to cast the first cyberstone at someone who got buried under his email inbox?) Or there is a one-click means of “unfriending” a cyberpest. With these exit strategies, social networks are less communities than lifestyle enclaves. One sociologist has aptly described them as “networked individualism.” Individualism and consumerism were not invented by the internet, of course. But the internet allows these dynamics to flourish and to dominate our social arrangements.

So our challenge is to reckon with the multitasking, split-screen, ringtone culture of the internet. Calvin College’s Quentin Schulze encourages us to distinguish between good and bad “habits of the high-tech heart.” Technological restraint is good for the soul, the mind, and the church. We need to reshape our environment to enlarge our attention spans and deepen our commitments to friends and community.

Imaginative Redemption

There’s been a good bit or hubbub in the news in response to Al Mohler’s blog post, “Yahoo, Yoga and Your’s Truly

Our local FOX news channel ran this piece last week, and the NBC affiliate WXII has this Associated Press piece posted on their website.

John Mark Reynolds at First Things, Evangel Blog has written both a winsome and clever rejoinder to Mohler. He writes,

“We must acknowledge that many good things come to mankind through the common image and grace of God in each human being. Christians of all stripes would never want to hide the truth that some great idea or good thing came from another faith. That is the false path of those Muslims who take Christian churches, turn them into mosques, and then bury the earlier Christian history as if it did not exist.

Better is the acknowledgment of what a thing was and then a joyful description of what it now is.

For example, in the United States of America the art of some city landscapes was often built on materialist or secular assumptions and ignored the needs of human beings. It needs imaginative redemption and artistic reconceptualization.

Such an appropriation of the best of the cityscape cannot be syncretistic, but must condemn the greed and the materialism that sent money makers soaring over cathedral domes. This can be done, however, without tearing down a single beautiful building or covering up their sordid histories. Just as the Narnia stories redeemed the image of Bacchus for generations of children, so better Christian story tellers can redeem the best of the skyscrapers in our cities.”