Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Use Your Allusion: Laocoön

This is the first allusion post I've made in a long time, and I hope to start posting them regularly again, as I've gotten quite a bit of positive feedback about them from my regular readers and friends.

Today, I am posting about Laocoön. There is a famous sculpture of Laocoön from around 50BC. In Greek mythology, Laocoön was a Trojan priest who warned them not to accept the Trojan Horse.

He said:
Do not trust the horse, Trojans. Whatever it is, I fear the Greeks even when they bring gifts.
As it turns out, he was right. But unfortunately for him, the gods were angry that he attempted to intervene and protect the people, so they sent two gigantic sea serpents to crush him and his sons.

Often, allusions to Laocoön are made to this particular carving, which was discovered during the Renaissance and is now on display in the Vatican Museum, more than to his specific actions. If someone seems all tied up and miserable in his or her situation, you can compare them to Laocoön.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Being Sheltered

I had a weird realization a few days ago.  I was at a graduation for one of my teens at church.  This was a large program from a local public school--one that is considered academically strong and reputable.  

I've gone to private schools my entire life, and have never been to a major event that didn't commence with a prayer.  But of course, there was no beginning prayer.  As different speakers got up, both teachers and students, I continued to notice the absolute non-mentioning of anything pertaining to God.  Then, the salutatorian gave her speech.  She thanked Allah for all he had done for her.  That was the only mention of anything beyond the temporal, and only a Muslim's faith was spoken of aloud in the ceremony.  The complete absence of prayer or the mention of the God of Christianity gave me an uneasy feeling; particularly as I was confident that probably 70%+ of the room would profess to being Christians, even if they weren't very devout.

I've always listened to lots of belly-aching from my fellow students about us being "sheltered" and "protected" from ideas at Christian schools.  I was sometimes made to feel like I was getting a diet coke version of an education because I was not experiencing all the free-flowing thought that supposedly exists at public schools.

But it occurred to me that in fact, these students were the ones that were being sheltered.  It's not that they don't have some teachers who are good role models.  Many of them quoted a certain couple of teachers for always encouraging students to, "Do the right thing.  Not because someone's watching, but because it's the right thing to do."  Which is a great principle.  But as I observed, I wondered to myself, "How are the young to know what's right unless they've been taught what it is?"  For what reason should we do right?  To whom will we answer if we don't?  

Going to a private school, I might have experienced certain degree of sheltering.  Even with the "sheltering", I knew students heavily involved in drinking, smoking, sex, drugs, gambling, and about any other vice you can think of.  What I did get was the opportunity to honestly learn about and critically examine my faith, even if many of my peers chose paths other than the one true path.

To not teach about or mention God is not the same as being neutral and fair.  Ultimately, it is to undermine all the motivation for students to succeed, apart from self-seeking motives and goals.  I was sad to see a group of people so unsheltered from the moral decadence present in this world, but so thoroughly sheltered from learning about things of eternal significance.    

I'm sure it's more complicated than that, and that many are able to flourish in their faith through such situations, but it didn't feel right to me.  I'm very thankful for the sacrifices my family made to send me to Christian schools.  I wouldn't trade my education for anything.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

1 Year Ago

Exactly 1 year ago on Mother's Day, I preached my last sermon at Rose Bud.
This is what it looked like outside of our house, as we were putting all of our earthly possessions into pods and moving vehicles. I think this summer is going to be much better for me than last summer. I'm not as new. I know who more people are. I have more time to get ready for things. I'm not in the middle of moving again. It's hard to believe it's already been a year!

Since then, we've already been back to Searcy four times; one teen college tour trip, one wedding, and two funerals. A lot has happened. We love the people where we are, but we don't love the people where we were any less. I still get teary eyed when I see pictures like this one. We really loved our home in Searcy.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Old School Dave Ramsey

An elder at my church is retired from the IRS. Dave Ramsey came up one time at a meeting, because I have several friends who are now employed by Mr. Ramsey's company. I'm a big fan of what Dave Ramsey is currently doing, as it is making a positive difference in the world.

But my elder knew Dave back in the old days when the IRS was having to go after him and his life was not going as well as it is now. My elder gave me an authentic old school Dave Ramsey business card. I blotted out address and phone information, but for any of you DR fans, I thought you might appreciate this. I think this card is from very early on before the Lampo group evolved into the empire that is currently Dave Ramsey's company.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Humility and Church Leadership

A few weeks ago, I was outside visiting with people after church, and noticed one of my youth group girls talking with her grandparents. The grandparents have gone here for as long as pictorial directories have existed. They have been here through good times and bad, and they've raised their children who still go here. Now, many of their grandchildren go to this church.

It struck me how much audacity we ministers must have to walk into a congregation and try to lead a group of people with such deep roots. Some ministers start their own congregations or preach at newer plants and therefore don't have comparable experiences to what I'm having here. But to me, it's a sacred thing to see several generations of Christians at the same congregation.

We ministers are itinerant. Even if we stay for 15 or 20 years at one place, that's a drop in the bucket compared to what long histories some families will have with their congregations. In thinking about this, I was reminded of a question that I ponder from time to time: "Who am I to tell these people what God wants, or what a church should be like?"

They were here long before I got here. More than likely, most of them will still be here whenever I'm gone. If I do good work here, hopefully they will continue to reap the benefits. If I were to do a poor job, they would be left to clean up my mess. Some ministers leave behind trails of destruction wherever they are. Hopefully, that is not the norm, but I've seen it happen.

But on the other side of the coin, I think new people bring unique benefits. Most of us can never muster enthusiasm comparable to the natural excitement of a new convert. New people can look at congregational blind spots from outside perspectives, and can sometimes give helpful insights.

As far as new ministers, I'd like to think that even if we don't have long histories, if we study and learn as we ought, we gain knowledge that has been tried and tested by generations, and will help the congregation to learn and grow.

Ministers need to recognize their own finiteness. We should be humble as we push for new ideas and changes. A congregation didn't become what it is quickly, and won't be transformed quickly either.

Congregations should also be humble. They should recognize that they stand on the shoulders of great predecessors. There is not a congregation existing today that isn't in some way the result of someone's efforts to share the Gospel. While a minister cannot know all about them, they should try to be open to his perspectives; particularly if his love for Christ is apparent in his actions. A minister's education would be a terrible thing to waste.