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“Helping Hands” or “Why I Became a Presbyterian”

20 Sep

“How did you become a Presbyterian?” It’s a question I’m asked with some regularity, often with the assumption that I fall into one of two categories: I was born a Presbyterian, or I became a Presbyterian because they’re the only ones who ordain women. (P.S. We aren’t. There are Methodists, Lutherans, Anglicans, Episcopalians, and Baptists who also ordain women… just to name a few!) To correct these misconceptions, I’ve come up with a witty reply: “I became a Presbyterian because John Calvin converted me.”

Needless to say, this raises a few eyebrows. For most of us, Calvin is an antiquated Father of the Reformation era – an unsophisticated time when Black Death kept popping up throughout Europe and the only way Christians could think to respond was to isolate, wear masks, and do what they could to help those suffering. For me however, Calvin is a wise friend with a deep knowledge of Scripture and an opinion worth hearing even if I don’t always fully agree. A man of deep insight and even (dare I suggest) progressive ideals, he bucked the trend by suggesting that women were not just capable of serving in what for the Western Church were traditionally male-only roles, but actively ordained them to them! But I’m getting ahead of myself…

At the age of 2, I was baptized in a United Methodist Church that my parents had selected largely on the basis of that having been the denomination my father attended as a child. From there, my family moved on to a series of congregations rooted in the Baptist tradition. One of the things I appreciate most about these communities of faith was their outward focus. Though few in our town had what one might consider to be “ample” resources, there was a constant attitude that no matter how little you had, there was always someone who had less. The mission of Jesus was to find that person, get to know their need, and extend a helping hand.

At the time, my impression of “mainline” denominations like the Presbyterians was that they were largely disinterested in these forms of outreach – particularly if one actually mentioned the name of Jesus while offering food to the hungry or water to the thirsty (Mt. 10:42). This, combined with what I would later discover were some substantial misunderstandings of what John Calvin taught allowed me to conveniently place Presbyterians and Presbyterianism in the category of near-heresy. Then 9/11 happened.

Awash in usually reliable Christian sources all arguing with one another over whether Islam was or wasn’t a peaceful religion, I decided to begin seeking answers for myself. I read the Quran cover-to-cover – twice. I sought out information about different Islamic sects (including those responsible for the attacks and others far less well-known). I read the work of various Imams and eventually even ended up with a few Muslim friends – none of whom, I discovered, were even marginally inclined towards acts of terrorism. And I found myself asking how many of the perceptions I’d formed in my childhood – especially those based on “reliable” sources – were accurate.

With this in mind, I began reading Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. My goal was to prove that at least my diagnosis of Presbyterianism was correct. It wasn’t. In fact, the man I’d once viewed as a hateful misogynist turned out to be gentle in his approach and well-reasoned in his arguments. So well-reasoned that even having committed massive portions of Scripture to memory, I couldn’t find good arguments against much of what he had to say. It turned out that I already was a Presbyterian – I just needed someone to show me!

I began exploring the Presbyterian tradition in greater depth, reading other authors and learning about various confessions. Shortly thereafter, I joined a PC(USA) congregation and several years later (finally convinced that it was biblically acceptable for a woman to hold a position of leadership) and, at the encouragement of others who had identified my gifts, began seeking ordination.

The result is that when I say I’m a Presbyterian, I’m not talking about having been born into a denomination or simply having chosen one out of a hat. Instead, I’m speaking about the culmination of a long process of growth and exploration – of openness to the ideas of others and to the possibility that I, myself, might be wrong. I’ve found a home in this denomination not because I perfectly agree with every doctrinal statement we embrace (our own confessions disagree with one another in places), but because overall, I find the Presbyterian understanding of Christ’s teachings to be in line with those teachings as presented in Scripture. And that includes our understanding of what it means to reach out to our neighbors.

During the Black Death, John Calvin led the other ministers of Geneva (elders and deacons) in the visitation of the afflicted. He was a stalwart supporter of immigrants and refugees fleeing from persecution in other European countries. He set an example by taking personal risks in order to demonstrate Christ’s love to those most in need. And we should too. Though our modern plagues look a bit different (COVID, homelessness, etc.), an embrace of the Presbyterian tradition calls us to a deep compassion for those in need and begs us to follow in the steps of Christ who “while we were still sinners… died for us” (Ro. 5:8).

Redeeming the Day

14 Sep

This last Saturday, I had the honor of officiating my first wedding. It was an unusual event in that the bride and groom chose to declare their love for one another on the 20th Anniversary of September 11th. For them, this was just another date they’d memorized for grade school history exams, but for many of us gathered it still stung like an open wound. (I still remember every moment of the day in vivid detail.) The previous day had only deepened this painfully surreal sensation as the procession returning USMC Cpl. Page (one of the 13 U.S. servicemen and women killed during Kabul airport bombing) passed just blocks from the hotel in which we were staying.

In a private moment, the bride approached me to confess that she was beginning to feel a little guilty for choosing the date – as though she were being disrespectful by indulging such joy on a day that for many symbolized only pain. I suggested to her both then and again later in the ceremony that she was actually doing quite the opposite: she was redeeming the day.

In Ephesians 5:8-11, 15-16, the apostle Paul reminds his readers that “you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them… Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.”

Paul recognized that in a sinful world, there could be no escape from darkness – it penetrates us and surrounds us. That is, until we turn on the light. In marrying on a day so painfully burned into our collective memories, the bride and groom were doing just that – turning on the lights to remind us that even in the darkest moments of sorrow and suffering when the clouds seem most impenetrable, Christ is there: extending His nail-scarred hands to offer us a hope and a future.

This is a good reminder for us all, not just on September 11th but every day of the year. Throughout our lives, each of us experience events which scar us deeply – lost jobs, homes, children, or spouses. Broken promises. Shattered dreams. These events transform who we are and how we see the world. Yet on these days too, Christ is there for each of us, extending His hands through the darkness to offer us hope for a future – if only we are willing to accept it.

It would be nice if the charge ended there with Christ opening His arms to us in our darkest moments. But it doesn’t. In fact, for those of us who claim Jesus as the source of our hope, this is just the beginning. In John 15:2 (the Scripture passage chosen for the wedding ceremony), Jesus charged His disciples, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” In other words, His scarred hands should never be the only ones reaching through the darkness to offer hope to those who are suffering. Ours should be too.

This is no easy task. To live in true obedience requires perseverance in the midst of pain: a willingness not only to see the darkness, but like the many firefighters and EMS workers in 2001, to walk boldly into the midst of it. It requires us to place our lives and our livelihoods on the line as we extend our hands to our neighbors in a gesture of fellowship and support, as we shine the light of Christ amidst the darkness of the world. Only when we boldly embrace this charge will we too redeem the days.

Wishing and Hoping

16 Aug

I’ve spent a lot of time this week thinking about the difference between “wishing” and “hoping.” At first blush, the two seem nearly synonymous: both involve a desire (sometimes a very strong desire) for something one has not yet achieved or acquired. If any immediate difference stands out, it’s likely in the fact that wishing can happen in reverse – “I wish that hadn’t happened that way…” You can’t hope in reverse. Hope is intrinsically always forward focused. But I would argue that wishing and hoping are different in another, less obvious way: namely the degree in which an individual is personally invested in seeing the desired events come to pass.

As a fake-it-till-you-make-it handywoman (this week, I fixed my own dishwasher) I experience this dichotomy frequently. There is a distinct difference between what I mean when I call my mother up and sigh, “I wish I had an (insert tool of the moment here)” and “I hope I can find an (insert same tool here).” In the first case, I am clearly indicating that I do not have said tool and that while it would be helpful, I do not expect to acquire said tool and will be making do with whatever I have on hand. In the second, I’m expressing that I am taking action to acquire the necessary tool – digging through my toolboxes and maintenance drawers, conducting a search online, or even going to a hardware store to make a purchase. I wish for what I am resigned to living without. I hope for what I believe I can acquire.

Viewed from this perspective, wishes are the thoughts of those resigned to the present circumstances as all there is or will be. Hopes are the actions of those who believe these circumstances can be changed. And this brings us to the church.

Sadly, for many Christians (especially those in declining congregations), wishing has become our default. We wish we were making a bigger impact upon our communities. We wish we had more diversity in our pews (or for many mainline congregations, any diversity in our pews). We wish we had more young families, youth, and small children. But we have looked at our budget, our membership numbers, the age of our congregants, and have resigned ourselves to the present moment as all there is or all there ever will be. If asked to create a vision for the congregation’s future, we produce this list of wishes – things we had (or believe we had) in the past, but which we hold no hope of recovering. While members may still embrace the vision, they are no longer willing to invest themselves in reaching it.

This brings us to another key difference between wishing and hoping – wishing can see the desired destination, but hope is the bridge that takes us there. In other words, once hope is gone, there is no way to get there (to that beautiful vision of impactful, diverse, thriving ministry) from where we are. This is why congregations die. This isn’t, of course, to deny that there aren’t other factors which contribute to the decline of congregations. But in the end it is the loss of hope that sounds the death knell.

Congregations that lose hope do so for a reason, not infrequently related to the belief that they have “tried everything and nothing works.” What is usually meant by this is that the strategies that helped churches grow 50 years ago are no longer effective today. Think about it: a lot has changed in our world since 1971! The ways in which “rebellious youth” sought (sometimes successfully) to change the world then are very different from the ways in which today’s “rebellious youth” seek transformation. And so are the ways in which those youth relate to the church. Which means that not only will the old strategies for outreach continue to fail, but so will any strategy that isn’t rooted in an understanding of the world in which the younger generation now lives – not from our perspective, but from theirs. Yes, this means that what Millennials think and believe, their preferred methods for developing relationships, their passions and dreams matter for the future of the church.

Congregations that survive do so because instead of resigning themselves to their circumstances when they recognized that the old strategies were failing (and doing so repeatedly), they dared to invest their time and effort in new ways of approaching the world. This isn’t always easy. In fact, it’s painful and exhausting. But in the end, it’s far less exhausting than using the wrong tool for the job, investing huge amounts of time and effort, and still failing in the end.

So do we have hope? To be honest, I don’t know. But my guess is that you do – that you can look at which projects, plans, and initiatives attract not only your attention but your elbow-grease. You know whether you continue to hold out the hope that leads to life and a future for our congregations or have resigned yourself to the wishful thinking that leads to death. This also means that you matter – that your action or inaction makes a difference in whether our congregations see their vision of ministry become a reality or watch it fade into the past. Success is not a matter of chance, but of choice. Will you choose hope?

Disappearing Churches

11 Aug

I’ve been thinking a lot about mask mandates this week. No surprise since the CDC (a few weeks later than WHO) has finally conceded that the vaccines while showing some protective effect against the Delta variant, are not adequate to the task of fully preventing an infection or reinfection with The Virus. In response to the resurgence of COVID-19 diagnoses, many communities in California (including Sacramento County) have reinstated the mask mandates that were lifted on June 15. For us, this means a return to covering our faces whenever we are in public locations – courthouses, grocery stores, churches.

            As I reflect on this, I am struck by the fact that the mask mandates both present and past were government orders. For now, I’ll set aside the fact that as Christians we are Scripturally charged with showing concern for one another’s’ well-being and focus solely on this factor. Because we tend to value obedience to the laws of the land in which we live, most courthouses, grocery stores, and churches have elected to abide by the mandates.

            There is no denying that this makes the situation difficult for many individuals. The truth is, if most of us wanted to be wearing masks, obscuring our faces, altering the way our bodies intake oxygen and exhale CO2, we’d have been doing it already. (Just ask anyone at the gym training for high altitude athletics.) Masks are uncomfortable; they itch and scratch and fall off our noses. They hinder communication because we can no longer see each other’s expressions. (Are you being genuine? Sarcastic? Insulting?) And it niggles those of us raised with an unusually broad range of freedoms (more than are available to most citizens in most parts of the world) to have to give any of them up – even if doing so might save our own lives or the lives of others. So in proper American tradition, many Americans protested and continue to protest… in church.

            I admit that I find this peculiar. If one is protesting a government order, it would seem that the first place to protest would be in… well, government spaces. Places where those responsible for creating the laws and with the capacity to lift them would have to confront the displeasure of those living under them. Yet I haven’t seen a great many disgruntled Christians protesting by refusing to wear masks when called for jury duty or standing in line to renew their drivers’ licenses. While there are a multitude of possible reasons for this lack of open confrontation, my guess is that for most protestors this is a bit too risky. They simply don’t want to pay a fine or sacrifice their freedom (or any more of it) for their violation of the new legal standards. So they may not like the law, but most choose to comply in government settings – at least most of those whom I and my clergy colleagues know to have protested in other ways and places.

            It also seems odd that in an economically driven country (one in which the government has a vested interest in ensuring that funds continually flow through the market place), those who protest often don’t do so by refusing to mask-up before walking into grocery stores or small businesses. Admittedly, the stay-at-home orders have already caused pretty significant economic damage, but many of those protesting the mask mandates aren’t willing to deepen this impact. Again, the decision not to protest in this way is, for some, likely tied to the level of risk involved. Most Americans have a limited ability to refrain from eating for any prolonged period of time. (Kudos to all of our ancestors who, prior to the industrial revolution, often did go without two or three small meals between lunch and dinner). Buying food requires compliance. Compliance means putting on a mask.

            And this leads us to the peculiar case of the churches. Admittedly, for much of last year churches were shut down. Some congregations protested by continuing to meet and the most prominent of these made the news as police officers barred their doors shut. Others small enough to fly under the radar sometimes did manage to sneak through – with disastrous consequences for some who did so without considering ways to mitigate the risk of viral spread among their congregants. Others (like our own) continued with worship online as they sought creative ways to follow the Biblical mandate not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together (Hebrews 10:25) while showing equal concern for making that “assembling” safe for those most at risk within our communities. And, sometimes, with a bit of interest in the fact that the government was mandating the type of caution that Christian churches have taken of their own accord without any mandate through outbreaks in the past – including Europe’s Black Death.

            Earlier this year, when it was again safe to reopen, many congregations (our own included) did so, but continued to observe what we (in our limited knowledge) considered reasonable health standards for the protection of our membership and visitors, and in compliance with the law. Fascinatingly, it is at this point that many Christians decided to protest – refusing to return to worship at all until the mandates are lifted. In other words, in response to a government order, many Christians have chosen not to deliver a message to the government by putting something they themselves value at risk, but to God and those whom God has called by putting something they don’t value at risk.

Because of this, it really isn’t surprising that in the early part of this year, many of the congregations who survived 2020 began to close their doors. Permanently. Without people in the pews or money in the coffers, these mostly small congregations simply couldn’t make ends-meet. The last statistics I heard suggest that 30% of churches closed permanently in the last year – they won’t reopen when the law changes or the economy improves. They are gone.

Remarkably, these closures aren’t due to COVID-19 or mask mandates. If anything, the events of 2020 and 2021 have merely served to amplify a truth that has undergirded Christian worship for the last 50 years: namely, that the majority of those attending Christian worship don’t value the privilege. Sunday morning service, corporate prayer, Bible study, the sacraments (all ancient hallmarks of the Christian faith) have become merely a few of our ever-increasing options for the investment of our time. If we’re honest, the fact that the things we offhandedly label as “sacred” often lose out to everything from time with family (which if I recall my childhood correctly can involve sitting together through a service and discussing the sermon afterward), going for a hike, or attending sports events, suggests that they simply aren’t things upon which most churchgoers place much value. And that leads to a hard truth: things we don’t value become easy to sacrifice. And the things that are easy to sacrifice… well, they disappear with or without a mask mandate.

            So, write your congressmen. Vote when you can. Then put on a mask and bring your family to church.

They’ll Know We Are Christians by Our Love

8 Aug

“God, I love you, but I can’t stand your people.” At the age of 18, the prayer seemed a fitting and final conclusion to life in formal congregational settings. I was growing in leaps and bounds – reading the Bible, memorizing whole passages, and praying regularly. I’d even picked up the odd habit of reading classic Christian theological texts (the big ones with complicated words that only seminarians understand) before bed at night. My relationship with God was strong and getting stronger – which was more than I could say for 99% of the other people I sat with on the average Sunday morning.

The best I could figure, these people were the duds: the ones who attended church because of habit or tradition or were hoping that at least if their butts were in the pews on Sunday mornings, they stood at least half a chance of being taken up by accident when the rapture occurred. Though I wouldn’t say it out loud (I was too humble for that), their faith was nothing by comparison – with a few exceptions, they were mostly hypocrites and pretenders. And the truth was, I’d grown tired of the toxicity which seemed to pervade every “Christian” setting I’d entered – the politics and infighting, gossip, slander, elitism – I’d simply had enough.

Over the course of my short life, I’d seen congregations split over issues ranging from the consumption of alcohol to what type of music should be played during Sunday service (“God forbid there should be drums!” “How can I possibly stay if there aren’t?!”). If these really were God’s people (and I had my doubts), they were the pettiest, most immature, and unloving examples I could imagine. They were hardly likely to become the sorts of believers I’d read about in Christian history (the ones I fancied myself most like) – Polycarp (the disciple of John) who about to be burned to death in a Roman stadium and given one more chance to recant his faith declared, “Fourscore and six years have I been serving him [Christ], and he hath done me no wrong; how then can I blaspheme my king who saved me?” or Martin Luther who about to be excommunicated for his persistence in his charges against corrupt church leaders and given an opportunity to recant softly replied, “Here I stand. I can do no other.”

 To make things worse, I’d been the victim of so much judgment and discrimination (how I dressed, the music I listened to, my personal interpretation of the Scriptures – which I at least had bothered to read – more than most of my classmates) that I didn’t think I could sit through another day in the same building with “God’s people.” I’d been taught that my relationship with God was personal (something I’d interpreted to mean “you can do it on your own without associating with any other human beings”) and it was clear that for my own spiritual growth and mental stability, it was best if I struck out on my own.

Over the next few years, I continued to grow sans “God’s people.” I met intermittently with other believers who I judged to be sincere to discuss Scripture and other issues related to faith (though much less frequently in actuality than I’d convinced myself I was doing) and continued to acquire as much knowledge about Scripture, theology, and Christian history as my brain could hold. I had become in my own opinion, a model Christian – and all without any need to engage with any of the irritations which accompanied formal worship or commitment to a worshipping community. The only problem? I wasn’t actually growing.

You see, I had erred in comparing growth in my knowledge of God to growth in my relationship with God – a relationship which from the very beginning demanded that those of us who consider ourselves part of God’s family actually interact with God’s family. In fact, it is these interactions which Christ told His disciples would serve as the primary factor which identified them as His disciples.

In John 13:34-35, having just finished washing eleven sets of feet (a final act of service prior to his trial and execution) Jesus declares, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

            If you’ve ever looked up the Scriptural definition of “love,” you’ve noticed that it’s actually pretty demanding. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 states:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

            The trick with living this kind of love? Well, to begin with, you can’t do it outside of a context in which you have the option not to. Patience doesn’t exist apart from circumstances which tempt us to impatience (think church committee meetings). One can’t be kind unless there is someone to be unkind to, or chose not to envy if there is no one to potentially compare one’s self to. And pride? I can tell you from experience that that one exists in greatest abundance not when I’m around other Christians who might knock me down a peg, but when I’m on my own removed from them because I’ve decided I’ve got things wired and they don’t.

            Now pay attention because that last one starts to highlight an important point that only grows stronger as we examine the rest of the things that “love is.” If I decide to separate from other believers, I dishonor them as members of Christ’s family – I have excommunicated them. If I avoid fellowship because it’s “better for my spiritual growth and mental stability,” I’ve become self-seeking. I’ve already demonstrated my ability to be angered. And my choice to separate from other believers was directly due to my keeping a record of wrongs.

            Have you picked up on the problem yet? In removing myself from regular fellowship with a congregation, I was making a very clear choice to disobey Jesus’ final and most important command to His disciples; I was choosing NOT to love.

            The Apostle Paul is clear, “If I speak in the tonguesof men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). In other words, every act of faith or discipleship is worthless in the absence of love. And we cannot love without the presence of one another.

            So what does this mean? For many of us, it means we need to swallow our pride, let go of our grudges, and start again; This time not as consumers of the Christian faith sitting in pews and hoping for a “personal” experience, but as lovers of the other pew sitters – genuinely concerned with the growth and well-being of those with whom we have little in common, who’s faith isn’t growing as fast as ours or in the same direction, and who’s perspectives and opinions often rub us the wrong way. We start again. But this time, we start with love.

Stewardship, Tithing, and the New Testament

23 May

Last week in “Stewardship, Tithing, and the Old Testament”, we looked at the two ways in which Israelites were commanded to offer their tithes: in produce or in cash. And we examined the purpose of that tithe, both in recognizing God’s ownership and our stewardship and in aiding in the support of those called to serve God to the exclusion of other employment. This week, we’ll take a closer look at giving in the New Testament and begin to consider the implications that Scripture’s teachings have for the way we use our paychecks.

While many Christians argue that the tithe is a concept exclusive to ancient Israel, the Apostle Paul had plenty to say about the importance of giving – especially to those who performed God’s work. (If you recall, the original purpose of the tithe was to support the Levites who labored in the temple.) Indeed, “Who at any time serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat the fruit of it? Or who tends a flock and does not use the milk of the flock?” (1 Corinthians 9:7) In 1 Corinthians 9:13-14, the Apostle asks, “Do you not know that those who perform sacred services eat the food of the temple, and those who attend regularly to the altar have their share from the altar? So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel.” (NASB)

Church leaders, apostles, and missionaries often devoted (and continue to devote) countless hours to managing church affairs, mediating conflicts, and counseling, teaching, and supporting the members of local congregations as well as to spreading the Gospel message. These labors are extraordinarily time-consuming, requiring well-developed problem solving and management skills as well as a willingness to be on call 24/7. Such roles are highly demanding and frequently result in a great deal of stress (physically, emotionally, and financially) for both the workers and their families. Those who fill these roles full-time often forgo the higher paying employment that the common market offers to those who possess such skill sets. Full-time service to Christ’s Body, far from being an easy way to earn a living is, instead, an act of sacrificial giving… and this act of giving can only be supported through an act of giving on the part of those who do engage in outside employment.

The tithe supports those who faithfully fill the roles of pastor, teacher, and missionary. It enables them to meet their financial obligations and tend to the physical needs of their families while at the same time shepherding Christ’s flock. And it is for this reason that those of us who seek to be good stewards of the paycheck with which God has entrusted us, must faithfully give.

Job Security Part I

8 Jan

Ask a random group of people what they hope to gain from their careers and you’re likely to get a wide variety of answers. From developing technical skills to acquiring a sense of personal achievement, we look to our jobs to help fill our hours, pay our bills, and, ultimately, provide security for our families and ourselves.

We want to wake up tomorrow knowing that we have the income necessary to improve our education, start our own business, or put food on the table.  We want to go to sleep each night, knowing that our future is firmly under control: our control.

This is called “Job Security” and it happens to be one of the most widely accepted illusions that our society has to offer.  Why an illusion?  Think about what comes to mind when someone says the word “secure”.  Webster’s dictionary defines the word as “Free from danger, safe; Free from fear and doubt; assured; certain.”

We try to obtain this in our jobs by being reliable workers who give “a day’s work for a day’s pay.”  If we know our trade well (for example, if you can scoop more ice cream faster than any of your peers, have the skills necessary to maintain an efficient freight flow, or the vision to advance your company’s financial interests), we call our job “secure.”

The problem with this is that in each of these cases our “security” is based upon our own efforts.  The real world (not the one we pretend to live in, but the one that actually exists) is like a roller coaster: full of unexpected bumps and the occasional derailment.  Factors beyond our control often affect the stability of our workplace and the surety of our employment, leaving us scrambling for something, anything, to hold on to.

For example: A year and an half after getting my first job, I moved on to my second as a sales-clerk in the seasonal department of a local farm store.  Unlike the hardware store which stayed in business by providing things that people need year-round (like paint, nails, and plumbing parts), a large portion of this particular company’s income came from the merchandise in this seasonal section.  Our selection was constantly changing and, once each year, we’d rearrange everything to make way for the best assortment of winter gear for fifty miles.  We brought in snow blowers, insulated coveralls, shovels, and snow boots.  Half of the warehouse was dedicated to the back-stock on these items and everyone felt secure in knowing that the product was there, ready to sell.  The only problem was that, for the first time in almost 100 years, it didn’t snow!  The store didn’t sell the product and had to pay for storage on the items until the next year rolled around.  The company lost money and, as a result, employee hours were cut.  So much for security.

Yes, you’re thinking, but that was the result of poor human speculation. If I do my part as a worker, then I have nothing to worry about.  Wrong again!  My Dad has a highly enviable job as an aviator (the sort where little kids are constantly asking for his autograph).  He flew helicopters in the Marine Corps and then went on to fly for assorted civilian companies prospecting for oil, fighting forest fires, flying life flight, and even transporting skiers to the tops of inaccessible peaks.  My mother still tells the story of a year when my Dad had done the work he’d agreed to perform, but when it came time for the check to arrive… well, it didn’t.  You see, the owner of the company he was flying for had decided that a permanent off-shore vacation sounded like a great idea.  He disappeared along with all of the company’s funds, leaving my parents without the cash that my Dad had already earned!

These stories serve to illustrate what businessmen refer to as the “dynamic environment”. They are a brief sampling of the competitive, political, economic, legal, technological, and sociocultural forces over which we as individuals have very little control. Sadly, these forces often, have a great deal of control over both us and the jobs from which we sometimes derive our sense of security.

So what do we do when the one thing we look to our jobs to provide doesn’t come through? We’ll take a look at that next week. For now, feel free to share your thoughts on job security in the comment box below!

Hollywood Worldviews

7 Oct

From foreign films to Academy Award winning features, movies are part of the American culture.  An escape from the work-a-day world, they provide us fantasy, adventure, romance, and a bit of comedy.  Sadly, many Christians approach the movie industry with an attitude of indifference – consuming whatever they find without first engaging their brains.  That’s why, this week, we’re featuring Brian Godawa’s “Hollywood Worldviews: Watching Films With Wisdom & Discernment”.

A great read on its own or as a Bible study, “Hollywood Worldviews: Watching Films With Wisdom & Discernment” introduces readers to the elements of critical thinking… then teaches them to utilize those elements as they sit in front of the big screen.  Godawa explores the mythology of the movies as expressed in themes of faith and redemption, takes a look at predominant worldviews like existentialism and postmodernism, and helps other believers pick apart the messages of the films they watch without forfeiting their enjoyment of the medium.

The book is peppered with insights or “Director’s Cuts” in which Brian links readers to his website where readers can find deeper information on the topics discussed, checklists to help them carefully consider the morals and meaning of the movies they view, and links to his movie blog where they can see the book’s principles in action.  Each chapter ends with a list of “viewing” assignments and questions to help movie lovers learn to apply the Biblical principles being taught.

Brian recognizes that not all Christians enjoy the same genre or have the same tolerance for the immoral behavior often portrayed in movies, so he concludes this volume with a candid look at how the Christian faith (and our concern for our brothers and sisters) ought to influence our viewing choices.

A great book for groups of any size, “Hollywood Worldviews: Watching Films With Wisdom & Discernment” truly delivers – offering readers an insightful course in the application of Biblical theology and critical thinking even when the world surrounding us is one of fantasy!

Published by Intervarsity Press, “Hollywood Worldviews: Watching Films With Wisdom & Discernment” is available in paperback and for Kindle.

Embracing the Adventure

3 Oct

To those who are familiar with my writing, this blog may seem a little weird. Face it. It is.

Along with my passion for Christ, I’ve developed a keen interest in the world He created… an interest which has led me to some unusual (and not so unusual) hobbies and past times. From fishkeeping to the cultivation of native pollinators, bicycling to fencing, and cooking to kite flying, I approach nearly everything I do with unbridled passion. (Something which my mother kindly tolerated as I filled her house with aquariums, boxes of fungi, tanks of pond creatures, and containers of cultured juice drinks!) I want to understand how things work and why. I want to immerse myself in the world around me. I want to experiment, explore, and embrace the adventure!

And that’s what “Embracing the Adventure” is about. Through my new blog, I’ll be documenting my own experiments and discoveries and (hopefully) encouraging my readers to engage in some exploration of their own. From my early adventures in manufacturing my own dairy products, to training for my first Century (a hundred mile bicycle ride), to cultivating culinary mushrooms, I’ll share what worked and what didn’t… and what I wished I’d done differently. It’ll be an odd mix, but life often is.

Because most adventures are better when shared with friends, I’ll look forward to your involvement as well. Take the time to try some of the hobbies and experiments you find on this page, then come back and tell me (and the rest of the community) how they worked. What did you discover? Is there a better way to approach the task? Or if you’ve already tried it, do you have some advice to share? Your input will make a difference.

So what are we waiting for? It’s time to get up, get moving, and embrace the adventure!

Book Signing at That One Place

17 Feb

This Thursday from 11:30-1:30, writer and author A.C. Gheen will be signing copies of her book, Retail Ready: 90 Devotions for Teens in the Workforce, at That One Place at 552 N. Capital, Idaho Falls, ID.

Retail Ready features a selection of daily meditations based upon the difficult and downright wacky experiences of a retail worker.  Each day’s devotion includes a Scripture reading, memory verse, and lifestyle application challenge to help teens learn to better integrate the teachings of the Bible with their daily lives.  Readers are encouraged to approach their job with purpose, intention, and a good dose of humor!

A. C. has worked as a cashier, freight worker, retail sales clerk, buyer, event caterer, elected official, and Staff Assistant to a U.S. Senator.  Her eight years in youth ministry qualify her to offer teens this uniquely Biblical perspective on what it means to live an active Christian life while achieving success within the secular workforce.

As a freelance writer, her work has appeared in a number of periodicals including “Discipleship Journal,” “The Upper Room,” “The Journal of Student Ministries,” “Breakaway,” “DevoZine,” and “Group.”

Excerpts from Retail Ready: 90 Devotions for Teens in the Workforce are available online at:

And don’t forget to grab lunch or pick up a snack on the way out!  That One Place is home to A. C.’s all time favorite homemade potato chips!

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