Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Who Is Our Neighbor?

One of my favorite traits of Jesus was the way he turned people’s questions back onto them. Famously, when the “teacher of the law” asked Jesus “who is my neighbor,” Jesus turned the question back on the man with the story of the Good Samaritan.

McGregor received the blessing of an opportunity to be neighbors to people who were evacuating hurricane Rita. I am told the churches of McGregor together provided home away from home for 292 people! Add to that the countless who received friends and family into their homes, and McGregor likely nearly doubled her population for the weekend.

I asked my church people, in a Monday morning email, how we ought to thank these evacuees for what they have given us. I ask the same thing of all of us.

I wrote above that we provided a home away from home. I believe we did. My
experience was that we did not just offer a place to sleep and eat, but we connected with people, many of whom weren’t really the “kind of people” we spend time with. The immediacy of the need, however, gave us the freedom to set aside those standard inhibitions and stereotypes. We made friends. Some of our guests indeed felt so welcome the stress and uncertainty brought by Rita was assuaged, at least for a while.

Many of us talk a good game. Some of us even send money to worthy organizations to provide services and support for people in need. But many of us would like to keep all that at arms length. In other words, we are happy to pay others to do it, but please don’t bother us.

I have yet to talk to anyone who was involved over the long weekend who considered anything we did a “bother.” What we received from our guests, our friends, the “evacuees” was more than we could possibly have given them. We received an opportunity to live as Jesus calls us to live. We owe them a big “THANK YOU!”

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Capitalism and Values

     The other day I found some old journals that I had written in the late 70s.  In one I lamented the demise of professional sports that was surely on its way.  Nolan Ryan had just signed with the Houston Astros for the astonishing amount of $1 million a year.
     There was no way society or our economy would support that kind of money being paid to athletes, I was sure.  How out-of-whack must our priorities be to pay someone a million dollars a year to play a game?  Something had to change.
     Change it did.  Million dollar a year athletes are no longer even newsworthy.  The average major league professional athlete makes more than a million dollars a year.  Many sportscasters are now in the same income bracket, which has cut down dramatically on their criticizing the out-of-proportion pay.
     My parents live in Arlington, Texas; a city that voted less than a year ago to spend $600 million dollars to build a stadium for Jerry Jones.  Are professional athletes and their teams/organizations really worth the money we continue to pour into them?
     If you are a good capitalist, you’ll have to answer with an unequivocal “yes,” or even a “YES!”  The market determines worth.  If athletes were not worth what they are paid, they wouldn’t be paid so much.  If it did not benefit cities to build stadiums for teams, they would no longer be built.  That’s if you are a good capitalist.
     Capitalism began as a moral philosophy.  Market forces would determine or follow what was right and good.  Thus, what people in the market pour their money and other resources toward, are therefore “good.”
     I think there is a strong argument for questioning the moral health of a society that pays professional athletes and their teams the way ours does.  But, on the other hand, arguing against such a system while continuing to support it with my viewing and spending habits makes me something of a hypocrite.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

New Religion?

Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton have written a book about the spiritual condition of American youth titled Soul Searching: The Religious And Spiritual Lives Of American Teenagers. In their studies they found that most American teens live a religion they call “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.” This “religion” is defined by these traits:
  1. A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth.
  2. God wants people to be good, nice and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
  3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
  4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to solve a problem.
  5. Good people go to heaven when they die.
Here is my question for you: How is this different from the way you understand and practice Christianity? When I first read these 5 points, my first thought was, “That sounds like a lot of church members I know and have known!”

I will tell you plainly, this is NOT Christiainity! For one thing, Jesus isn’t mentioned in or necessary for Moral Therapeutic Deism.

So, I ask again: How is this different from the way you understand and practice Christianity?

I'm talking, but is anyone listening?

John Roberts’ confirmation hearings begin today. These hearings could give the United States her next Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. I don’t know what the schedule is, but the event opens, of course, with the senators on the committee offering opening statements.

Perhaps I don’t understand the way things are supposed to work. To my mind, confirmation hearing would primarily be about interviewing the candidate. It seems, at least at the start, these hearings are mostly about each Senator getting to climb onto the pedestal in turn and pontificating on his or her own pet issues.

I have observed that it is a nearly ubiquitous human trait to seek and crave attention. As a preacher I know this. We as a profession are known for not easily giving up a microphone.

I even had one guest preacher tell me, as we were entering the service at which he was preaching, “I’ve got a 25 minute sermon. I hope they are ready to listen to it all!” I know I had told him that I usually preach for about 15 minutes. In his mind, though, the listening ability (and interest level) of the people did not matter; all that mattered was that he had something to say and the place to say it.

My experience has been that when people are not listening it doesn’t matter what I say. I know, for example, that I don’t listen just because someone is speaking.

Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we spoke in ways that encouraged others to listen to us? Perhaps if we did, we would all also become better and more willing listeners.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Is the Buffet your Friend or Foe?

I used to love the all-you-can-eat buffet. It wasn’t just because I could eat as much as I wanted. It was about value, too, I told myself. The more food I get for the money, the better the deal was.

For a couple of years now, I have changed my attitude on these buffets. I have to face the fact that I can no longer eat the way I used to. I am not quite to the point of counting calories, but I do need to practice eating more wisely. Thus, I have avoided buffets most of the time.

Yesterday, as I walked past the buffet line at the restaurant where I ate lunch, it dawned on me that I have been abdicating my responsibility for self control. I was blaming the buffet business for my own lack of self control over what and how much I ate.

What I eat and how much I eat is entirely my responsibility not that of any restaurant or grocery store. I know what I should eat. I know how much I should eat. If I cannot learn to control those things, what in my life can I expect to control?

In case you haven’t caught it, in this story eating is both the issue and an analogy for every area of my life and yours. As adults we are responsible for our own behavior. We cannot blame the availability of options or pressure exerted by others for behaviors we choose not to bring into line with what we know is right.

There is still grace, of course. On behaviors on which we do not trust ourselves, we have the option of analogously avoiding the restaurants that offers buffets. It is often in our own best interest to avoid putting ourselves in situations where we do not have the personal inner strength and determination to make the right choices.