Tuesday, October 30, 2007

re: Halloween

Every year around this time something strange happens: I get asked why we don't "do" Halloween.

Yes, it's true. The Hyde family chooses not to participate in the Halloween festivities. But odds are good it's not for all the reasons you might think.

Allow me to explain, please...

First, let me say right up front that I respect your right to disagree with me on this issue. If you have prayerfully decided that you want your family to participate (in whatever fashion you choose), God bless you. I have no problem with that.

I do, on the other hand, have a problem if you're involving yourself in Halloween thoughtlessly and without prayer. I would encourage you to think through my reasons for abstaining from this national holiday. If you do so and still come to the conclusion that you want your family involved, great. At least you will have done your due diligence and sought a wise (rather than expedient) answer. We'll just have to practice the wonderful art of agreeing to disagree at that point.

Second, I also want to note that my objections to Halloween are not founded in either the pagan or the Catholic roots of this particular date on the calendar. I really don't find it all that compelling to worry about how people hundreds (if not thousands) of years ago interpreted or intended. Is it historically true that (for example) jack-o-lanterns were intended to drive away evil spirits? Yes. Is that all that relevant for our culture today? Somehow I think not.

But I do have serious concerns about Halloween. They are (in no particular order):

1) The holiday glorifies gluttony and greed. I remember my own Halloween experiences, so many years ago. I can tell you for certain that the only thing on my mind was acquiring as much candy as humanly possible, then consuming it in the least permissible amount of days (preferably by Thanksgiving). Yes, they're only children. But do we really want to encourage this kind of thinking?

2) The holiday glorifies gore. Hopefully this isn't true of the experience the littlest ones have, but surely it's true for many, many Halloween revelers. From the blood to the guts, Halloween is practically filled with the gory and the gross. As a follower of Christ, I'm not sure how this finds a place in my family. And even in the case of the little ones, how can you insure that even they won't be exposed to images altogether inappropriate (and horribly frightening)? You certainly can't control what sort of customed characters show up at your doorstep. Nor can you choose what manner of images your children might see as they go door to door.

3) The holiday glorifies sex. No, you didn't read that wrong. In my defense, I turn to two recent articles on the latest trend in pre-teen girl Halloween costumes. First, check out what the Washington Post has to say about the overtly sexual nature of so many costumes today. Many are actually being sized and marketed to girls as young as 7. Then, check out Mike Straka's take on the subject. He rightly allows for at least the possibility that pedophiles rejoice over Halloween, as well as pointing out the role parents must reclaim. [Note: I'm not comfortable with his stance on adults and Halloween, as noted at the end of the linked article.] Straka (of Fox News) provides a few links to some of the actual costumes being marketed this season. Check them out; I trust you'll find them as inappropriate as they are.

4) The holiday glorifies fear. Many people get a sort of 'high' out of being frightened. I admit I don't understand that, nor can I relate. I'm reasonably sure that God gave us the fear impulse for our protection - much the same reason He gave us pain - and that to tamper with the natural response and purpose of fear likely isn't all that wise.

You can sum it all up this way: there's nothing redemptive about Halloween. That's my default filter for working through these sorts of issues - is there anything redemptive about it? Whether I'm trying to decide upon the merits of a particular book, movie, event, or holiday for my children to be involved in, I almost always come back the question of redemptive value.

Many of the same ethical questions arise around Christmas, frankly. So why does our family celebrate that holiday (even if in an way likely very different from what's considered the norm)? Because there's great (and obvious) redemptive value within it. Same goes for Easter.

But Halloween? Forgive me if I just can't find within it the least little bit of redemptive value.


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Saturday, October 27, 2007

Saturday Buffet

Hey, what do you know - I'm not late with this edition of the Saturday Buffet!

As always, I've been trolling the internet throughout the week to bring you some of the more thought provoking stuff.

So here we go...

This one goes in the "sad story; ridiculous coverage" category. Here we a story that ought to highlight the extreme poverty these people live in, or perhaps their generosity (notice they shared with a neighboring village). But it seems written mostly to shock the reader, then they throw in a stupid bit about animal rights activists!?

Okay, this one may just get me in trouble. Let's list my troubles with this story:

a) Why are we even conducting such a poll in the first place? Because we know it will likely yield results that are "scandalous" and it'll shock people? I hope not, but I have my suspicions.

b) What good can come of a poll like this? To make a segment of the Christian population feel better about themselves - you know, the "thank God I'm not like the Samaritans" crowd? I hope not, but I have my suspicions.

c) How are we defining a "lie"? Don't get too excited - I'm not espousing some sort of "my truth is for me" view. But seriously, every culture in the world defines lying differently. America is virtually the only country wherein were told that any exaggeration, or anything short of full and complete disclosure is a lie. There are literally hundreds of examples I could give, but I offer just one. Suppose you have a friend who struggles with her weight and she is very depressed about it. Now suppose you overhear the people passing by snickering about how large your friend is. She's had a particularly bad day, and doesn't hear what's just been said. She notices that you noticed them and asks what they said... I would argue that it's just plain hurtful and mean to give your friend "full disclosure", but if you told her simply, "Oh, nothing" you'd be lying ... ?! "Speak the truth in love" doesn't mean you must tell her the hurtful things they said and then offer your shoulder for her to cry on.

d) Wouldn't we be better off spending our time and efforts encouraging the body of Christ, instead of feeding a certain segment of it more "ammunition"?

Okay, I'm finished... You may flame away now, if you must.


I think I kind of like Mike Huckabee, in a way. This story doesn't help much, eh?

And finally, this one is (mostly) for an old friend of mine who I just discovered reads this blog. Like me, he's outraged at the nonsense being conducted by the Westboro Baptist Church. You've likely heard of them - the "church" that runs around celebrating the death of American soldiers... They're the folks with the "God Hates _ags" signs (no, I'll not use that word here). I'm not sure I necessarily agree with the lawsuit approach this article references, but anything to put these folk back in their cave is a good thing, if you ask me.

That's all for now. Let me know what you think of this week's edition, eh?


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Friday, October 26, 2007

Update on Togo

As I've posted about repeatedly (here, here, and most notably here), Africa in general and Togo in particular have been very hard hit by flooding in the past month. The flooding has now largely subsided, and the real problems are beginning.

Problem number 1? People have forgotten.

Not you. I'm happy to report that next week I'll be sending along our collected donation to Togo. Right now, the total is over $200. It's not too late to help out. If you let me know by email that you still want to participate, you can do so.

Pray that ours is but a tiny drop in the bucket of donations that Christ's followers worldwide will be sending.


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Children's Ministry and Postmodernity

As promised here, I'd like to explore the intersection of Postmodernity and children's ministry.

If you wander around the landscape of Postmodern Christian thinking, you'll discover that many people just aren't sure how to engage children's ministry into the conversation. Consequently, you end up with churches that are decidedly Postmodern in their adult and youth ministries, but look exactly like their more Modern brothers and sisters when it comes to ministry to young children.

Oh, by the way, ...

This is a great point to remind you that Postmodernity can be (and in this post, is) used as a cultural term, not an intellectual one. In the near future I hope to have a glossary of (my) terms up on this blog. I hope it will help clear up some of this ambiguity.

Since we're talking about children, and the way they think and act in today's culture, it should be obvious that by "Postmodern" I certainly don't mean "deniers of absolute truth" (the standard far-right definition). I'm talking about culture - that set of values, beliefs and assumptions that make you like (or unlike) the people around and about you. Postmodern culture is largely the only thing today's children have ever known. Take a guy like me: at 34 years of age, I was raised in a Modern context, but have developed a leaning toward Postmodern culture. Today's children have little connection with the world of Modernity. It only seems natural that we therefore try to integrate our approach to children's ministries with an understanding of Postmodernity.

The problem, of course, is two-fold:

A) Most people doing the hard work of children's ministry have never given the Modern/Postmodern discussion any thought whatsoever - many don't even realize there is such a discussion, and ...

B) Most every tool (be it book, program, video, seminar or otherwise) designed for children's ministry was created in a decidedly Modern context.

Therefore, it should be obvious that I'm not going to have all the answers. We as a community of Christ-followers need to be working these answers out together. But I do have some thoughts, and I'd love to hear yours too.

1. We have focused too much on competition in the past. Most children's ministries (think AWANA, or Word of Life, or whatever...) are ingrained with a competitive element. Don't hear me wrong - I'm not against competition! Observe me watching a University of Michigan football game and you'll understand! But I am saying that all of this competition detracts from a focus on community. Postmodern kids want community. They likely can't articulate that, but they want it just the same. Pitting one kid against another doesn't do much for community.

I know what you're thinking - what about group competition? Much better than individual, but (in my opinion) still overdone in children's ministry. I'm not saying we cut it out, but I'm saying we need to rethink the ways we utilize competition, understanding that it carries both potential for good and for ill.

What's the major ill? Besides conflicting with their natural cultural inclinations, it can implicitly teach children that the Christian life is fundamentally about competition. What a horrible thing to teach them, really. Do you want your kids to think - in any way at all - that following Christ is a competition? We are not to be in competition with one another; we are to be in conformity to Christ.

2. We have focused too much on the entertainment model. It has become so well entrenched in today's thinking that to even suggest that children can learn without the latest, greatest technological thingee is looked upon with incredulity. "What do you mean, my kids don't have to have electronic flashing lights to learn their math skills?! You mean to tell me edu-tainment isn't necessary?!"

Let's think this through. A major trouble with teaching kids today is their ridiculously short attention spans. Doubt me? Just ask any elementary teacher! So because of this short attention span, we've decided to try to trick the kids - give them a "game" that is actually teaching them useful information. But what are we sacrificing long-term? Likely, we're doing nothing but encouraging and rewarding their short attention spans!

We're also setting ourselves up for failure. If children learn to believe from an early age that learning is all "fun and games" we are doing them a great disservice when they become adults. Is it any wonder why 2 out of 3 kids graduate from high school and then leave the life of the local church? We've entertained them for years; now we expect them to "grow up" and get to work?! It's unfair. We've set them up for failure, and failing is exactly what they're doing.

Perhaps a better model is the mentor or tutor. It requires a lot more energy and more people power, but pouring the lives of our adult into the lives of our kids has to be more effective than just entertaining them, doesn't it?

3. Compartmentalization. We still have a tendency to see children's ministry as something separate from the other ministries of the local church. This fosters a mentality that children's ministry is mostly about freeing adults to participate in adult's ministry! Instead, we should be thinking in terms of the the family - both the individual families that comprise the local church as well as the collective church "family". Again, don't hear hear me wrong - there's nothing wrong with children being with children and adults being with adults. But we need to recognize that such a condition is somewhat unnatural and should not be the norm.

Again, let's think this through. What responsibilities do we have as parents? Certainly we are to provide for their material needs and some of their material wants. We are to oversee their education, both of things earthly and heavenly. We are to be their guide, leading them to Christ and discipling them to Christlikeness. We are, in short, to care for them as God cares for us. There's a good reason that most children's conception of God the Father mirrors their view of Daddy.

So how in the world are we supposed to accomplish all of this without being around our kids? How can we live up to our responsibilities if separation is the norm, not togetherness?

We can't.


As usual, no firm answers here. I won't pretend to have answers. I, like many, find myself asking hard questions and struggling to come up with answers.

So what should ministering to Postmodern kids look like? I don't know. But I do know that it looks a lot less competition-driven and more community/relationship driven, a lot less entertainment-focused and a lot more mentor-focused, a lot less compartmentalized and a lot more family oriented.

What do you know?


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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Exciting News

Here's a shameless plug for my wife's blog: you really should check out this post.


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Monday, October 22, 2007

Saturday Buffet (late again)

I have no particular excuse for being late with this week's Saturday Buffet. I could try to make one up, or perhaps I could take suggestions from you guys...

Anyway, here you go...

In the "I can't say I'm truly surprised" category, it appears that a school district in Maine is now allowing oral contraceptives to be given to students as young as 11! I have more problems with this than can be readily summarized here, but we could go down any of the following routes:

a) What about the fundamental role distinction between parents and the state?
b) What about possible health effects of giving hormone therapy to under-developed children?
c) What about the "moral license" this kind of policy grants students?
d) What about the tax-supported status of these schools, versus religious objections?

Perhaps the sky really is falling, folks!

In other sex-related news, it seems men aren't the only followers of Christ who struggle in this area.

Pressing on... James Watson (of Watson and Crick DNA-finding fame) has been uninvited to deliver a speech, since he's been saying some decidedly disturbing things in the media lately. Honestly, though, his comments come directly from a humanistic, macro-evolutionary view of the world that is shared by most of his peers.

There's a new Ten Commandments flick on the market. Disney radio took the word "God" out of their advertisement. People are outraged. [Insert deep groan here!] Forgive me if I think we've got much, much bigger issues to get all upset about...

And finally, scientific "proof" that short people have a chip on their shoulder ... sort of ... I guess.


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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Who gets to speak for God? (part 1 of 3)

There is a great question you hear often in emerging circles: Who gets to speak for God? It's a good question, but it's more complicated than it might seem on the surface. I want to go through the two primary ways people use that question - what exactly do they mean, and what point are they trying to make?

Then I'd like to argue for a position somewhere in between the standard emerging mantra (if there truly is such a thing as a "standard" anything in emerging) and the traditional Protestant position. This will be a three-part series, then. So let's begin...

[Before we dive into this, let me just note that I don't pretend to know how everyone uses this question, nor even most. What follows is my general impression of the ways this question is bandied about in emerging circles. I consider myself fairly well-read on the subject, but by no means an expert.]

First, it's important to note that there are two ways people use this great question - who gets to speak for God? In this post we'll examine one:

The Egalitarian/Leaderless position: There are plenty of emerging (and otherwise) folk out there that seem to use this question to argue for either a generally egalitarian position or perhaps even a truly leaderless model. The argument goes something like this: since we're a "kingdom of priests", no one person has the right to speak for God exclusively on any given issue; therefore, we'll not have either a) traditional leadership roles, or b) traditional teaching/preaching formats.

Solomon's Porch is a good example of this. Doug Pagitt (a name you should definitely know in emerging circles) is the pastor there. This is what their website has to say about their "leadership co-op". Notice in particular that the only thing even bordering on a Biblical notion of qualified leadership is (perhaps) in the phrase "Demonstrate leadership consistent with the Biblical and Historical church example". This is a conscious effort on their part to do away with the notion of exclusively male, exclusively elder-based leadership. I'll not insult Doug and make the "he doesn't take the Bible seriously charge" that so many others have levelled at him. But clearly I understand things a little differently than he!

Doug's concept of preaching also falls into this category. He calls traditional preaching "speeching" and is not very fond of it. Instead, he argues for what amounts to an open mic night, guided loosely by the pastor. Again, "who gets to speak for God"? At Solomon's Porch, virtually anyone. What if a bona fide heretic takes the floor? What about a cultist? What about a grossly immature Christian? What about someone with absolutely no understanding of Biblical interpretation?

The answer? Remember - we're a kingdom of priests and therefore all get to speak for God.

The tough part about arguing against this approach is that it is right on some level. We are a holy priesthood - so says 1 Peter 2:5.

But that doesn't necessarily mean that egalitarianism is the more Biblical position, nor does it mean that monologue (traditional preaching) is less desirable than an open mic. The fundamental problem with this version of the "who gets to speak for God" question is that it neglects the many, many passages of Scripture that deal directly with leadership, teaching, preaching, etc... The Bible is very plain that certain people are set apart as leaders of the church. The Bible calls these people elders and lists very specific requirements that they must meet, and lists a number of the responsibilities of elders to the local church, and lists many of the responsibilities of the local church to the elders. We're not working with a lack of data here, folks!

If elders have a responsibility to keep the heretical "wolves" out of the assembly (and they do), how can you justify risking heresy in the name of egalitarianism? How can you brush off this terrible responsibility with a "who gets to speak for God"?

If elders are required to be capable teachers (and they are) and those especially gifted and able at teaching are to be commended (and they are), then how can we justify the "open mic" theory of preaching with a "who gets to speak for God"?

If elders are given a specific list of (probably minimal) requirements (and they are), how can we justify not including these in the discussion of "who gets to speak for God"?

There's something fundamentally American about the basic notion of egalitarianism, isn't there? We are, after all, rugged Individualists. We blaze our own trails, right? We have our rights, after all! As I've argued before, this kind of thinking has little place in the community of Christ's followers.

Having said all that, I'm not arguing for a position that only elders have the right to ever communicate, teach, preach, lead, etc. I'll get to my position after the next post...

Also, please understand that I'm merely using Solomon's Porch as one example. I don't know what goes on in their assembly nearly well enough to say that all of the above is true of them. This isn't about Pagitt; it's about a particular interpretation of "who gets to speak for God".

If you're asking that question in an effort to by-pass or ignore the God-given responsibilities of elders, you're on the wrong track.


PS: Just for JB...

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Saturday Buffet (a few days late!)

We had our biggest promotional event of the year at work this past weekend. My apologies for using that as an excuse to belate the Saturday Buffet...

In the field of politics and health care, there have been some very wild claims recently. For a critique of some of the gloom and doom stuff, see this post over at Crosswalk.com.

I'm not entirely sure what to make of this document. Apparently a long list of Muslim scholars is blaming Christendom for the lack of peace between us. And, they rightly point out, there does not seem to be a peaceful way to co-exist unless we submit to their desires. "Submission" ... isn't that what "Islam" means?

In the "apparently public outcry sometimes works" category is this set of articles. It appears that initially there was some effort at removing the word "God" from ceremonial flag certificates. However, now all that is behind us. What a relief! Millions are homeless in Africa? No one much notices. But take the word "God" off our certificates and we'll raise a stink you've not smelled since the pledge of allegiance scandal! Glad we've got our priorities straight here, folks.

Finally, this article is most interesting for the way the data is interpretted. It appears to my reading that a study has found humans are perhaps both a) more selfish and b) have an innate need for justice/fairness than do chimps. The effects of the Fall and yet still a shadow of the image of God? Nope. "Chimps choose more rationally than humans".


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Thursday, October 11, 2007

A reasonable approach?

As most of you know, I have worked in the Lawn & Garden industry for a long time now. I've also been working for a rental company for the past eight years. Consequently, I get a lot of industry magazines related to engines, emissions, etc...

I finally got around to reading the June issue of Rental Management the other day. It features a number of articles about "going green" in the construction and rental industry. The feature story is listed second on this page; it's called Being Green.

The article raises an interesting concept that is being played out as we speak, and I think it just might work...

As you might have guessed from my posts in the past, I am a big fan of free-market economics. I am also an environmentalist (of the 'steward God's creation' stripe). Very often these two positions are contradictory. Most environmentalist advocate sweeping federal regulations to require this or that level of emissions. And while I think a certain amount of legislation is necessary on this front, I don't think it's the ultimate answer to the problem.

Enter the rental business.

It seems that many state governments (and an ever-increasing portion of the federal government) are now requiring that contractors demonstrate a specific level of "green building" proficiency before they'll be awarded government bid jobs. Consequently, rental yards that offer green engines, chemicals, etc... can be an asset to the general contractor who isn't quite ready to plunk down the kind of money needed to buy a whole new fleet of equipment.

But the point is that this concept utilizes legislation to a limited extent (for government bid jobs only, not the general public) but leans mostly on free-market economics. I'm inclined to believe that eventually these government bid contractors will find it more profitable to buy their own green equipment, and they'll begin using it on other (non-bid) job sites. This equipment will thereby find its way increasingly into the general market. The demand for the product, fueled by economics, will prompt more research and development and provide and impetus to make these green changes as inexpensively as possible, allowing developments to build upon one another.

It's not the complete answer, but I think this sort of thinking just might be a major part of the answer.


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Saturday, October 6, 2007

Saturday Buffet

Today I begin a new series of post: Saturday Buffet! I often stumble across items of interest on the internet (and thanks to those of you that routinely forward along those that you find, too) that I'm going to compile into a single post on Saturday. It'll give you something to read over the weekend ... in case you're bored!

So, without further ado, here's this Saturday's Buffet...

This one came to us via JB - it seems for some twisted reason Ethiopia wants to poison 10,000 dogs. We Americans were (rightly) outraged about Michael Vick and his dog killing; I wonder how many of us even heard about this?

Here's one from Dan - some author actually spent a full year trying to "literally" follow all the commandments of the Bible. He's not a Christian or a Jew, but thought it would be interesting... It raises a number of interesting questions about hermeneutics - did he or didn't he actually interpret these commands correctly? What exactly is a "literal" understanding of a given text?

One of my wife's favourite blogs posted this one - how are hymns different than praise songs? I've read parts of it circulating the internet before, but not this (extended?) version.

Finally, though it's now quite old, I found this interesting. It links to a video done by Solomon's Porch, the church Doug Pagitt pastors. Solomon's Porch is often held up as a model of what Emergent (not emerging) should/could look like.


PS: Feel free to send me links to things you would like to see in future editions of the Saturday Buffet. For those that already have been, I again say 'thanks'!

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Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Please donate to this African church

As promised, I finally made contact with a friend of mine who not so long ago served as a missionary in Togo, Africa. As you know from my many recent posts and updates, Togo has been very hard hit by the massive flooding that struck sub-Saharan Africa recently. I asked my friend (Wes) if he knew of a specific church that might need some help. He does...

The church is in a town of about 10,000 (as near as I can tell from websites translated from French!) called Amou Oblo. Here's what Wes had to say about them:

The Baptist Bible Church at Amou Oblo was started in the early 1990's by a young man who was saved at the Kempton Memorial Hospital by Justin our hospital evangelist. He soon went back to his home town and began to witness to others and, as a result, a small group of believers were formed. A local pastor began to meet with them, and as is the case too many times, this man was teaching heresy. Soon the other believers realized they needed to stop this teaching and find a new pastor to lead them. In 1996, the small group approached the church planters at ABWE and requested a pastor to come and continue the work there. ABWE at that point had just started a Bible Institute and were training many possible candidates, but that would be 3-4 years away. In the mean time, Justin began making the 1 Hour trip to Sunday Morning Services and Wednesday Evening Prayer Meetings. We [Wes and his wife] began working with Amou-Oblo upon our arrival in 1999. We took Justin each week to teach Sunday School and Preach Sunday and Wednesday. We began to train teachers for children's Sunday school, began a new Christian's class, and baptismal class for those interested in taking that next step. The church really started to grow through evangelism and outreach. By the time we left in 2002 [to return to the US], the church was averaging 75 on Sunday Mornings.

Currently Pastor Bamas has taken the work. He is a graduate of the Bible Institute and a great man of God. He has started 2 new churches [in Yaokope and Patatoukou] along with Amou-Oblo and travels 30 miles to these new churches on Sunday as well.


This church is situated in an area hit hard by the flooding, and they need our help. I just saw a news headline that wondered out loud why no one in the international community seems to care much about this particular crisis. Remember, folks - we're talking about over 1.5 million people who have been made homeless by this flooding. Think about it. Take the population of the following US cities: Lynchburg, Fort Wayne, Ann Arbor, Kalamazoo, and Baltimore (cities I know many of you are familiar with) and you still don't have 1.5 million. Image all of those people flooded out of their homes...

If you have any money you can spare, please contact me via this email account and let me know. I'm going to pool our efforts and pass them along to Wes, so that he can be sure they get to the church there in Amou Oblo. My kids have been wanting to know how they can help these destitute people, and this will be a tangible way for them to be involved. What better way to teach our kids about compassion, love, and the importance of the Gospel?

Please, let me know as soon as possible what you'll be able to share. I prayerfully await your emails...


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Monday, October 1, 2007

There's no 'i' in 'church'

I'm not entirely sure where I stumbled across this, perhaps through a link from Jesus Creed. But I was looking at a short paper on the differences between consumerist churches and missional churches and came across this diagram:

While there is much to commend, I have one fundamental problem with this particular definition of 'missional'...

As you may have guessed from the title of this post, my problem is the notion that church community supplements my personal spiritual growth. As I've said time and time again, we need to be willing to face the evil that is overdone American Individualism and beat it profusely about the head and shoulders!

I know this is a uniquely American cultural index. I know it's a general Western cultural index, too - but most heightened in America. I know, too, that it could be reasonably argued that this Individualism is a large part of what made this country get to where it is economically, militarily and politically.

But the rugged Individual has no real place in the local church. A church is by definition a single body - not a hodge-podge of Individuals. Moreover, if you want to break the church Body down into its constituent parts, I'd be much happier if you went to the level of individual Families, not individual Individuals.

Think of the metaphors we can use for the local church:

We're supposed to be a team - no 'i' in there, right?

A body - again, no 'i'.

A family - oops! there is an 'i' in there ... forget that example! : )

You get the point. I was just going to type 'why is it so hard for us to stop constantly thinking I, I, I?' ... but I know the answer already. It is hard, but it's a battle worth engaging, is it not?


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