Wednesday, December 14, 2016

How About “Closed for Easter”?

Churches Close for Easter
as “reported” by Kent B. True

In a move that came as a surprise to some, one area church has decided to cancel services for Easter Sunday this year.  While some expressed concern with the change, church leaders defended the move as Biblically correct and practically necessary.

Pastor Ben Right of The Church of What’s Happening Now refused to be interviewed about the matter, but earlier in the week spokeswoman Ima Chatterly issued statements to the press about her church’s decision.

“Easter is all about eggs, bunnies, and families,” she said.  “Our focus has always been on families, although we have absolutely no objection to eggs or bunnies if families decide to use those” she added.

But Chatterly insisted that there were even more important reasons to cancel services at What’s Happening Now on Easter.  “It requires approximately 17.8 church member volunteers to induce each unchurched individual to attend services here at What’s Happening Now,” said Chatterly, “and we decided that those dedicated people needed another Sunday to spend with family and friends.”

The Church of What’s Happening Now was one of the first in the nation to cancel services on Christmas Sunday, and Chatterly cited the great success of that idea as one factor in the Easter decision.  “We noticed that after our Christmas Sunday break last year, only 12.3 volunteers were needed for several weeks to draw each unchurched person to our church.  The volunteers seem to work a lot harder if you let them rest now and then.  That made us realize just how important these Sunday sabbaticals can be for a healthy mega-church,” although Chatterly quickly added that they do not call their church a “mega-church.”

But in an unexpected move, Pastor Right addressed the canceled Easter controversy in his sermon last week.  In his sermon, on a stage decorated with thousands of plastic Easter Eggs and flanked by all the members of his church’s “Advisory and Affirmation” Team dressed in Easter Bunny suits, Right made an emotional defense of his decision.

“The Advisory and Affirmation Team and I met, prayed, and cried over this decision for several hours this week,” said Right in his Thursday afternoon sermon last week, “and in the end we decided to make a stand in favor of families.”  At one point, Pastor Right said, “Easter is for families.  We don’t want ‘church’ to get in the way of that.”

But it wasn’t only about saving the family, according to Pastor Right.

“It’s not just an Easter thing,” said Right.  “It’s a change I have been studying for some time now.  In fact, as a result of this study, I was granted my D.M.A. (Doctor of Megachurch Administration) from the prestigious World Christian University.”  W.C.U. grants this degree only to students who have completed its intense ten-month program.

Right told his mesmerized congregation, “I have been able to do some detailed New Testament study, which I don’t suggest you ordinary people should try at home.  But what I found was that in first-century Judea, Sunday morning actually fell somewhere between what we call Thursday afternoon and Friday night.  This follows from a careful consideration of time zones, calendar changes, church controversies, and the international date line.  So beginning on Easter Sunday, our church will be observing the correct meeting time for the church, which is Friday evening.”

Right sees this as a way to make his church more Biblical.  “Easter is really a pagan holiday,” Right explained in one of the less emotional moments in his sermon.  “So if we can overcome all this societal Easter pressure, we can help make our church a less pagan place than it is right now.”

Later in his sermon, Pastor Right reminded his congregation that not only was Friday evening a time, indicated by Biblical studies, when the church should meet, but it also happened to be the church meeting time preferred by 8.6 of every 10 unchurched persons.  “We want to be unchurched-person sensitive,” said Right, “and you can’t do that if your church insists on meeting at times the unchurched find inconvenient.”
Right hinted that some who disagree with his Easter cancellation policy might be a little jealous.  “It’s hard to argue with success.  In fact, you shouldn’t even try.” Right said.  “People at smaller churches shouldn’t be wasting their time disagreeing with us.  Instead, they should be trying to become more like us,” Right insisted.

Right’s sermon at What’s Happening Now was interrupted several times with lengthy standing ovations punctuated with cheers and whistles from the thousands of unchurched who were present.  After the sermon, many of the unchurched present at What’s Happening Now offered their support for Pastor Right’s decision.

“I’m an atheist,” said Patti Pettibrain,  “but I love What’s Happening Now, I love Pastor Right, and I’m a regular here.”  She added with tears in her eyes, “I don’t know why all the mean people around town are attacking Pastor Right.  After all, he can’t be wrong when his name is Right.”

One of the elders of What’s Happening Now, twenty-three-year-old I. B. Yesmann, told this reporter, “Church isn’t about days of the week.  Our church’s critics are, like, way too worried about Sunday.  Friday is just as much one of the Lord’s days as Sunday, isn’t it?”

While it is not clear if other churches will follow the lead of What’s Happening Now, it is clear that the Easter controversy will probably affect churches around the country.  One What’s Happening Now member, who asked not to be identified, said, “Some churches are just stuck in the past.  But we are, just like our name says, ‘What’s Happening Now.’  God’s always doing new things, and we are the latest and greatest.”

Christmas Falls on Sunday - Again

Christmas past.  Long past?  It has been some time, but what was somewhat strange then is rather common now.  Strange things happened at some churches in December 2005 when, as it does every few years, Christmas falls on Sunday.  The strange thing that happened was: nothing.  It turned into nation-wide news after a Lexington, Kentucky reporter published his story.  Club members can thank our agent - we will called him “Snow 007" - for tipping us off to that article.  Over the next few days many papers picked up a version of the story.  I stopped reading with the few mentioned below, but there were probably more.  The Christianity Today weblog called it “Megachurches Cancel Christmas.”  Why would a church cancel Christmas?  Let’s find out as we examine . . .

Christmas Past Strange

“Why do churches close on Sunday?,” Lexington Herald-Leader, December 4, 2005
“Some Megachurches Closing for Christmas,” Associated Press, December 06, 2005
“Evangelical churches such as suburban Willow Creek will close on Christmas,” Chicago Tribune, December 6, 2005
“When Christmas Falls on Sunday, Megachurches Take the Day Off,” New York Times - December 9, 2005

One thing was obvious in all these articles: the secular press thought it was strange that churches would make a point of closing on Christmas.  It was almost as though some of these writers were C & E (Christmas and Easter) Christians, and they were puzzled as to why churches would cut out one of the two days they might show up!  (By the way, all the citations below are from one or more of these stories.  But I won’t try to identify them more than this because it quickly becomes far too complicated.)

Beyond what the newspaper writers might have thought, it was clear that for many of these church people, it became a matter of Christmas trumping Sunday.  I know that sounds strange, but this is the Strange Club, after all.

In the days of yesteryear, it always seemed to me that most church people considered it an extra-special bonus when Christmas fell on Sunday.  Here was the day of the year traditionally set aside to celebrate the birth of Jesus the Christ falling on the same day of the week the church is supposed to meet to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus.  Of course, Christmas has, for a long time, been a big social event as well as a religious celebration.  So sometimes churches would adjust their schedules somewhat to accommodate all that.  But the idea that we would “cancel Christmas” never crossed a churchman’s mind, at least as far as I ever knew.  But in “the year of our Lord” 2005 - if we should still so call it - all that has changed.

The really interesting question is: why?  While the answers were not identical, there were some mysteriously common threads.

Let us begin up on Willow Creek:

Cally Parkinson, a spokeswoman for Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Ill., said church leaders decided that organizing services on a Christmas Sunday would not be the most effective use of staff and volunteer resources. . . "If our target and our mission is to reach the unchurched, basically the people who don't go to church, how likely is it that they'll be going to church on Christmas morning?" she said.

The decision makes sense in today's hectic world, said Willow Creek spokeswoman Cally Parkinson. "It's more than being family-friendly. It's being lifestyle-friendly for people who are just very, very busy," she said.

"At first glance it does sound contrarian," said Rev. Gene Appel, senior pastor of Willow Creek. "We don't see it as not having church on Christmas. We see it as decentralizing the church on Christmas--hundreds of thousands of experiences going on around Christmas trees. The best way to honor the birth of Jesus is for families to have a more personal experience on that day."

So, up on Willow Creek, they think church on Sunday, when Sunday is also Christmas, is a waste of resources, because the “unchurched” won’t come to church on Christmas morning, since they are “very, very busy.”  So the Willows decided to “decentralize” church on Christmas Sunday.

I admit that I am still confused.  Of course the “unchurched” are “too busy” to come to church - otherwise they would be “churched.”  But aren’t there any “churched” people up on Willow Creek who might like a great Christmas Sunday of assembled worship?  If calling off Sunday worship is just “decentralizing” the church, why not “decentralize” every Sunday?  That way ALL of the unchurched would become the “Church of the Decentralization”!  Wouldn’t that be great?

But since I really don’t understand things up on Willow Creek with their women elders and Rev. Gene, I think we should just move south - south to “God’s country” down in central Kentucky where Cindy Willison, a spokeswoman for the evangelical Southland Christian Church, said at least 500 volunteers are needed, along with staff, to run Sunday services for the estimated 8,000 people who usually attend.

"If we weren't having services at all, I would probably tend to feel that we were too accommodating to the secular viewpoint, but we're having multiple services on Saturday and an additional service Friday night," Willison said. "We believe that you worship every day of the week, not just on a weekend, and you don't have to be in a church building to worship."

I am not a big fan of conspiracy theories, but I could almost believe that these spokespersons had a little phone conversation before these interviews.  Southland, like the Willows, didn’t want to waste the time of their volunteers, and they want us to remember that the church doesn’t have to get together on Sunday to worship.

So again, I have to ask: since the church need not worship together on Sunday, why not save the time of these 500 volunteers every Sunday and just let people stay home and worship separately?  (Remember, up at Willow Creek they call that “decentralized” worship.)

Since I don’t have a ready answer for that question, we move on to another central Kentucky - which I think still might be God’s country - church.

Crossroads [Christian] Pastor Glenn Schneiders says Dec. 25 is no longer considered sacred by many Americans -- especially those who are not regular churchgoers. "It's viewed more as a holiday than a holy day," he said.

The unchurched are more reachable on Dec. 24, said Schneiders . . . "Studies would say the best opportunity to invite people is Christmas Eve. It's, for whatever reason, the least threatening service of the year to attend ... so what we do is really point all of our energy in that direction," Schneiders said. "We don't think we're compromising. We're actually reaching more people by doing that."

I thought the main reason the church gathers each Sunday is so that those who have been “reached” can worship God together.  I wasn’t aware that what non-regular churchgoers thought about this was a deciding factor.  In fact, I thought the church was obligated to gather on the first day of the week to celebrate the Lord’s Supper together.  But apparently pastors, reverends, and spokeswomen don’t think that anymore.

Now I don’t know who Laurie Goodstein is other than the writer of the New York Times’ story mentioned above.  But here is what she commented concerning all this:

What some consider the deeper affront is in canceling services on a Sunday, which most Christian churches consider the Lord's Day, when communal worship is an obligation.

Laurie has a bit of insight here that mega-church spokeswomen seem to lack.  But she still needs to dig deeper for her reports.  There appear to be many Christian churches these days that do NOT consider Sunday the Lord’s Day.  Rather, they seem to think that (sing it, now!):

The Lord’s Day can be on a Friday, a Thursday, a Saturday - whatever you like best,
but never, never on a Sunday, a Sunday, a Sunday, ‘cause that’s our day of rest.

You know it’s true when Christmas trumps the Lord’s Day.

Perhaps the pastors, reverends, and spokeswomen need to expand their thinking.  There are other holidays that are no longer holy days we should consider.  When Independence Day - another big family time in the U.S.A. - falls on Sunday we might want to consider canceling church meetings.  What about New Year’s Day?  All the “unchurched” will be hung over from New’s Year’s Eve celebrations, so when Sunday falls on New Year’s day, there will be no one to reach and thus no reason for the church to meet.  (This was the case in 2005, and yet no one seemed to consider calling off New Year’s Day Sunday meetings.)  How about Super Bowl Sunday?  (It’s always on Sunday, of course.)  The unchurched will be far too busy getting ready for Super Bowl parties to come to church and get reached on that day.  So there’s another candidate for cancellation.

But there is one more “problem” Sunday we need to ponder.  Another big family holiday that is no longer a holy day is Easter.  That pesky little thing always falls on Sunday, given our Western church calendar.  So keep an eye on the newspapers to see if any churches are canceling Easter.  It’s definitely next.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A Few Thoughts on Thanksgiving Eve

Thanksgiving: we have celebration day for it every year.  It’s a very American holiday, and it is deeply ingrained in our culture.  We devote a day just to thanksgiving - at least that is what we claim.  You wouldn’t think it would be all that difficult.  But it turns out to be difficult than you might first think.

Think about what the origin of the word “holiday.”  It is a day that is, for some reason or other, “holy.” Besides the demands that holy things can make on us, there are other reasons why “holy” days can make people a little uncomfortable.

The existence of the “holy” implies the existence of God.  When you start talking about God, try as you might NOT to identify this God, it becomes very hard to avoid that question at some point.

A “holy” day brings up this very question, a question asked and answered very often in the Old Testament: just who is God?  Is everything God?  Are human beings their own god?  Are there lots of gods, one for one locality and a different one for another locality?  Holidays bring up these very sticky questions that a lot of modern people would just rather avoid.

Still, people love “holidays” because we get to change our routines and can, if we allow ourselves, have a little rest from the normal “grind.”  So we run into a very interesting, and somewhat depressing, modern phenomenon.  People want  holidays, but we wish they were just “days” and not “holy.”

I have noticed how this has been handled lately.  Christmas has become just “the season” for which we send “season’s greetings.”  It’s a pretty slick trick if you think about it.  You don’t have to bother about that worrisome, politically incorrect “Christ” part of Christmas.  Thanksgiving has faired no better.  It has become “turkey day.”  But this nifty little arrangement takes the “thanks” out of Thanksgiving.

There is, however, a little milder version of the holiness avoidance syndrome (you can call this H.A.S. if you like).  This milder version keeps the word thanksgiving intact, and it even let’s us talk about being thankful, but we just don’t specify TO WHOM we are being thankful.  While you can try that, at some point inquiring minds want to know, “thankful to whom?”

For those who think much about it (and many do not) Thanksgiving Day and the whole season is a traumatic experience for our society.  The old saying tells us that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, but the apostle Paul tells us that the skids to hell are greased with thanklessness.  You can find that in Romans 1:21.  People are sliding down those horrible rails all the time.  Again, there is no excuse for this, but if you think about it, it has a certain kind of understandability because thankfulness is very hard for us humans.

Thankfulness is especially difficult when we have so much stuff.  We are so accustomed to our abundance of stuff that we don’t even realize just how much stuff we really have.  When I take a moment to think about it, I am awed by what I see in department stores and supermarkets.  Almost anything you could ever want is there, and even those of us the most modestly provided can buy everything we need and much of what we want.  The only reason we don’t notice this abundance is that we are in the habit of having.

Even people like my parents, who lived through the “Great Depression” (hey, what was so great about it?) were VERY aware of abundance when they were young adults.  But the memory of depravation is fading, even with some of them.  Those of later generations have no memory of depravation.  Let’s face it - we have STUFF, so much stuff, in fact, that it rather engulfs us sometimes, making us unable to move around in our houses, making it impossible to see some of the best things in life.  That doesn’t make stuff somehow evil.  It just reveals that we can be.

You might think that people with very little stuff would have a more difficult time being thankful.  But surprisingly, the Bible presents just the opposite picture.  Notice what the Apostle Paul says:

    Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.  (1 Tim 6:17)

It is those with much who are more likely to be ensnared by thanklessness.  That’s a little ironic if you think about it, but it’s true.  It’s not only true, but especially dangerous for Christians in our society, because we have all the stuff, and we also have salvation that comes from the grace of God through Jesus Christ.

Thanksgiving Day is a good idea.  But if you think through what it implies, it is not easy, because it makes us think about the things that often make us the most uncomfortable.  But that is part of what makes it a good idea.

Have a very happy and very uncomfortable Thanksgiving!

Thursday, September 8, 2016


It is the perfect example of matters gone very wrong on university campuses and across America.  It’s the “Welcome White Week!” poster at NKU.  Both the Cincinnati Enquirer and The Northerner (NKU campus newspaper) carried stories about it this week.

Before I begin, I know this example is about race, and race is something that can be discussed only in approved terms and categories these days.  But it is not just this example that interests me.  It is, rather, a whole attitude of what can be said in public about many topics.  Race is just one of those.  So we will wade into this in spite of the prohibitions.

The gist of the matter is this: African American Programs at NKU placed officially approved posters around campus which read “WELCOME BLACK WEEK” in which the “O” is replaced with what appears to be a black power clenched fist.  There is at NKU a welcome back week for students in general, which is presumably the basis of this poster.

But, after these posters were in place, someone placed alongside each of them a poster which is very similar except in place of “BLACK” is WHITE” and the clenched fist in “WELCOME” is white rather than black.  At this, a demonstration was directed at which the president of the university spoke words of sympathy and encouragement for the protestors.  And, as you might guess, the university had more official response:

    University spokeswoman Amanda Nageleisen said the “Welcome White Week” flier did not go through university approval process with the Student Union and the student organization named is not active or registered with the university. There is also no record of any of the events on the flier scheduled at NKU.
    “We’re still looking into it,” Nageleisen said, “but all signs point to this not being a legitimate organization or flier or activity.”
    She said the fliers first came to university's attention Tuesday and they were quickly removed, mostly by students.

I have no idea of the motive of those who posted the parallel white welcome posters.  But for my purposes, that does not matter.  What does matter is this interesting, even distressing, situation in which we find ourselves in which a poster with “BLACK” in it receives official approval from a university, which a parallel one with “WHITE” receives implicit and explicit condemnation.

For example, one department at NKU offered this statement:

“African American Programs and Services stands in solidarity with students, staff and faculty who were offended by the intolerant flier created by individuals who chose not to embrace the recent 'Welcome Black Week' activities.  Moving forward we value and respect dialogue regarding all viewpoints and will create educational spaces to build awareness and move towards the common good.”

Which is it, AAPS?  Is this poster intolerant, something at which we should be offended, or is it a viewpoint that you will “value and respect”?  That is the kind of question that universities have not been able to answer coherently for a long time.

There is, of course, a horrible history for black people in this country.  How could it have been otherwise when most of their ancestors came as kidnaped slaves?  But that problem will never be solved by trying to create a society in which you can’t post a “WELCOME WHITE WEEK” poster.  After all, isn’t a university supposed to be a place where all ideas get an equal hearing, even the bad ones?

While that is how it is often billed, it is not that way now, and has not been that way for a long, long time.  This incident just puts an exclamation point behind that problem.

According to the reports, at the demonstration, “students, both collectively and individually, discussed the underrepresentation they feel on campus and the challenges they face as black students.”  Under represented?  Perhaps, but while admitting that I do not know all the details here, there is a complete “Office of African American Student Affairs” at NKU.  Not every ethnic background has such an office there.

Junior James Johnson, one of the organizers of the demonstration, was quoted as saying, “The ignorance that stands on NKU’s campus is no longer acceptable.  It’s starting to become deliberate. Just like this person who deliberately copied our flyer.”

I would say to James that, while I don’t know the motives of those behind the “Welcome White Week!” poster, it has nothing necessarily to do with ignorance.  And of course the copying of the “Welcome Black Week” poster was deliberate.  That was, obviously, the whole point of the thing.  It could just be someone’s way of saying to those who don’t want to hear it that the emperor has no clothes.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

The “He’s Not Hillary” Argument

I am more than a little upset with those who voted for Trump in the primaries.  Some of them are friends of mine, and I am sorry if this angers you, but I can’t change that.

It should not have taken long to figure out that Trump is nut job candidate.  The "he is not Hillary" argument is worthless when the guy who is not Hillary is Trump. I try to listen to him, but he sounds like someone who has never put two rational thoughts together.

My son attended a Trump rally recently.  Some of the things said there, with the encouragement of those who organized the rally, were reprehensible.  They were things that should not be said in polite company, let along in public.  Screaming about who you hate is not something that attracts people to a cause or a candidate.  (And there was plenty of that at the Trump rally, according to my son.)  The tenor and behavior at the Trump rally was not something that would even attract conservatives.  Who thinks it would attract those who are undecided?

Who can predict what a president Trump might do.  He seems to change his mind almost daily.  He has spoken strongly during his campaign about using protective tariffs to punish certain counties.  Do we understand that tariffs are a tax on us?  Do we understand that protectionism was a key factor in the Great Depression of the 1930s?

Having a lot of brass and sass might be OK if a candidate were advocating a consistent set of good ideas.  But Trump seems to have no idea what his ideas are, why he holds them, or if he might change his mind (if he has one) in the next few minutes.  Who can expect reasonable people to vote for the package that is Trump?

So I am ready to announce that, should Hillary be elected, it will be due to those who voted for Trump in the Republican primary. There were other choices - there always are. You folks made a very bad choice.  Did you not know what you were voting for, or did you just not care?

So now, the realistic possibilities (third parties just don’t get elected) are the mafia-like Hillary (no offense to the mafia intended) or the incoherent maniac Trump.

We might all have to suffer the consequences, no matter who is elected.  I hope you Trumpers are happy.

Monday, May 23, 2016

We Don’t Approve Your Disapproval

The list of things we can’t talk about continues to grow.  I am thinking here of behaviors that not so long ago were generally disapproved, but that are now being forced onto that list of things of which we must not dispprove.

First came homosexual behavior.  Next came the pretense that marriage is even possible between two people of the same sex.  Now comes the act of behaving as though you are male when you are in fact famale, or vice versa.

This is not to say that these kinds of bad behaviors are not human tragedies.  But that is not the point here.

The point here is that there is almost a mania lately for this strange and contradictory phenomenon of encouaging, and even demanding, the condemnation of those who disapprove of things that almost everyone once knew are bad behavior.  And that “once” is often not that long ago.

This approach is both insidious and a bit of genius.  Once you convince most people that it is wrong to dispprove openly of something, a very large obstacle to the promotion of that something has been removed.  What better way to do this than to convince most people that the only really bad thing is the open expression that something is a bad thing.

The latest example is the whole transgender business.  People may think what they will, of course.  But when women who wrongly believe they are men want to dress up like men, insist on being called men, and watch me take care of private business in the men’s restroom, we have a problem.

Not so long ago that problem, and others like it, had some built-into-society controls.  All those amounted to vaious ways people would openly disapprove of certain behavior.  These ranged all the way from verbal expressions of disapproval to how we associated with others.

Most of those avenues of disapproval have been successfully shut off in a massive campaign of the disapproval of disapproval.  From gradeschool classrooms to the strong arm of centralized government, disapproval has been banned.  The whole weight of society has been re-engineered to disapprove of disapproval.

That this is a blatant contradiction seems to be of little weight.  The open disapproval, especially of whatever has become the latest fad of misbehavior, must be stopped.  Disapproval, at least of those things, is something we must be convinced, or even required, to vehemently and vigorously disapprove.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Could Less “Safety” AND Less Diversity Be Better?

There is an interesting article in FEE today titled, “Safe Spaces Can’t Be Diverse.” It is very reserved in tone, pointing out the rather obvious point that “We don’t need to dismiss either ideal to recognize that a space’s safety and its diversity will be inversely related. The more you have of one, the less you must have of the other.”
In case you have not kept up with such things, there is a recent demand by some college students to make colleges and universities “safe” spaces. They are not talking about safety from gunfire. The continuing policies of most universities that prohibit firearms make it a relatively sure thing that evil people who want to gun down others will have an easy time of it on most campuses.
The “safe” places here are places free of any ideas that make people feel offended or even uncomfortable. Like many stupid trends in society, advocates of “safe” spaces have not always realized that “safe” and diverse are in conflict. Long before people were fretting about “safe” spaces, “diversity” had been enthroned as the god of the university.  Now people are starting to notice you can’t have both.  But what about going for less of both?
What slips between the cracks in this whole discussion is this: there is nothing wrong with a society that mostly, at a purely social level, in some way shuns or socially disapproves those who insist on behaving badly. This is not a matter of governments making laws about such things, far from it. It is about people expressing general disapproval of bad behavior, and even bad ideas.
As Paul the Apostle, Aristotle the philosopher, and many others throughout history have recognized, our wills are weak. Social “nudging” in the right direction can be a very positive thing. This all requires, of course, that we can know what the “right direction” is. But, if we can, such nudging will involve a reduction of both “diversity” and “safety” in the senses mentioned above. And that reduction would be a good thing. I intend to explore this matter in more detail.