Monday, December 28, 2009

Found Content 2009/12/28

Here is a second installment of found content. Not all of the content is new. It's just a listing of discovered stuff that I found interesting. In a perfect world, I would blog each of them, but alas, this is not a perfect world.
  • Apparently the so-called "War on Christmas" has a longer history than many imagined. In the Philadelphia Inquirer, there was an article about how Jewish families wrestled with Christmas celebrations in the public schools at the beginning of the 20th Century. How do we best honor the religious freedoms of the majority and the minority?
  • Here is an article on how Hitler tried to use Christmas and the symbols of the season to serve the Nazi regime. Christ is completely removed from Christmas. Here is what a real "War on Christmas" looks like.
  • Look for radio ratings to change. Arbitron is moving away from pencil and paper logs. Apparently, people don't tell the truth about their listening habits. That means rating will no longer reflect our aspirations but our realities. I'm frightened of the results.
  • Reason magazine looks at the world of convenience and idling engines in its celebration of the Drive-through.
  • Looking for some shovel-ready projects for the 21st Century? Andy Kessler suggests that if the government is going to spend money on infrastructure, it should look to the future. What this country needs is a really good 5 cent wi-fi connection.
  • Admiral Mike Mullen is the chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He has worked hard to make to keep the military apolitical moving from Bush to Obama. I liked what he said about his leadership style. Mullen patterns it after General George C. Marshall: "Lead quietly, lead listening."
  • Ann Kornblut has advice for women in public office taken from the experiences of Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton.
  • Finally, have you ever wanted to tour the West Wing. Here is a tour circa the George W. Bush administration.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Friday Funnies: Christmases Yet To Come

Someone shared a great link from the Onion. The Ghost of Christmas Future now taunts kids with the hottest game system from 2016, the Play Station V.

Merry Christmas 2009

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Sermon Background Noise

Good sermons are based upon a scriptural text, and a preacher should do the hard work of research and preparation. We should consult the original languages. We read a multitude of commentaries. I also find artwork and music associated with the text very helpful.

The internet is not always the best place to find information for a sermon, but occasionally I find stuff that forms the background noise for my sermons. Questions might be raised. Alternate viewpoints may be expressed. Then, you listen to the text and pray for the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

The following are links that formed some of the background noise for my Christmas Eve sermon. The focal point for the Christmas Eve sermon was Luke 2:10-11.
10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold , I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
Some of these links were found at the lectionary-based internet site, Others, I happened upon on my own. I don't endorse every idea contained, but they begin a conversation.
  • It's always helpful perspective to see how the Reformers handled the Scriptural texts. Both Luther and Calvin are great sparring partners.

o Martin Luther's Christmas Day Sermon.

o John Calvin's Commentary on Luke 2:8-14.

  • I came to focus on the angel’s announcement to “fear not”. From the news, here are some perspectives on fear in 2009.

o “Thousands Fear Mayon Volcano’s Eruption”

o “Family in Fear After Drive-By Shooting”

  • An Arizona Daily Star editorial suggests hope is still relevant in 2008 and 2009. The editorial takes much from the 1897 New York Sun article, “Yes, Virginia there is a Santa Claus. The basic message is that Christmas reminds us there is “more to life than worry and fear.” Unfortunately, I wonder if Christmas without Christ can sustain the hope that the world so desperately needs. Can Santa alone really save Christmas?
  • An article from Tampa Bay Online quotes a number of local pastors on practical ways to “spread Christmas joy”. Some encourage service. Others encourage the devotional life of prayer and Scripture reading. A few suggest that Christmas is the time to reconcile with others. Forgive as Christ has forgiven us.
  • Finally, Handel’s Messiah was my soundtrack as I wrote my sermon.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Encouraging the Poor to Steal?

In a sermon on Sunday morning, a minister in York told his parishioners, "My advice as a Christian priest, is to shoplift." Father Tim Jones is worried about the poor, and he feels that shoplifting is better than violent forms of crime. Also,the minister would encourage folks to steal from nameless, faceless corporations rather than "small family businesses." He states that "God's love for the poor and despised outweighs the property rights of the rich."

I understand the pastor's sentiment. He is probably aware of people in his community who are suffering with poverty. There are hungry and hurting people in this world. I am concerned about them as well. However, the solution he suggests is more than naive. Encouraging the poor to steal is downright foolish.

Once when Jesus was teaching the crowds, it was getting late. The people were hungry, and the disciples urged Jesus to send the people away. Jesus told them, "You give them something to eat" (Mark 6:37). The disciples wanted to remove any moral obligation that they themselves might have to help the poor. "That would take eight months of a man's wages ! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?" Likewise, this pastor in England is passing the buck. His implied message: "The church has nothing to offer you. Just go out and steal."

How sad for the clergy to express the sentiment of Ebeneezer Scrooge this Christmas season:

“At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge,” said the gentleman, taking up a pen, “it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.”

“Are there no prisons?” asked Scrooge.

“Plenty of prisons,” said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.

“And the Union workhouses?” demanded Scrooge. “Are they still in operation?”

“They are. Still,” returned the gentleman, “I wish I could say they were not.”

“The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?” said Scrooge.

“Both very busy, sir.”

“Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course,” said Scrooge. “I’m very glad to hear it.”

I have met those who criticize charity because it does little for the long-term assistance of the poor. I can agree. Putting a half-penny in the old man's hat does little to help a displaced worker get a new job, the mentally ill get needed help, or the homeless find permanent housing. The church should move beyond emergency assistance to develop sustainable ministries to help the poor rise above their situation. Telling the poor to steal is incredibly cynical. We condemn them to a permanent underclass while we pat ourselves on the back for being "caring".

I am also shocked at how short-sighted the suggestion is from an economic standpoint. Shoplifting is not a very efficient way to allocate resources. Rather than giving to those who are truly suffering, it rewards those with the skills of a successful shoplifter--the liar and the cheat. The more resources devoted to replacing stolen merchandise, adding more security, and punishing violators will not be used for charity or creating jobs.

I worked once for one of those nameless, faceless corporations. I managed a fast food restaurant. Anything stolen would affect my bottom line. When profit margins are slim, a small percentage could make the difference between a restaurant remaining open or closing its doors. Encouraging the loss of jobs in poorer communities does not seem the best use of the pulpit.

Instead, we should preach boldly that we have an obligation to help the poor. Justice demands care for the widow, the orphan, and the stranger. I much rather turn the energies, talents and resources of the rich to help alleviate poverty than to damn the poor.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Found Content

The following is a list of found content (video, articles, etc) which has attracted my attention in the past week. Not all of the content is new. It's just a listing of discovered stuff that I found interesting. In a perfect world, I would blog each of them, but alas, this is not a perfect world.
  • Whole Food Republicans -- Michael Petrilli writes in the Wall Street Journal about "voters who embrace a progressive lifestyle but not progressive politics." Basically, the idea is that red politicians should reach out to blue states. I guess the opposite is also true: Blue politicians should reach out to red states. The trick is making it work. The "Whole Food Republican" sounds vaguely like Rod Dreher's "Crunchy Con". However, Dreher's work is less about elections and more about culture.
  • John Mackey's Conscious Capitalism -- Speaking of Whole Foods, Reason magazine does an interview with the founder of the grocery, John Mackey. Rather than a Republican, Mackey sounds more like a Libertarian. I appreciated his take on people who enter the business world. Instead of assuming a grasping attitude toward money and profit, we should realize that most are not motivated by mammon. Most entrepeneurs are simply excited about providing a better service or good.
  • Upper Mismanagement -- The New Republic suggests that the real problem with business is business schools. The article argues that business schools have a preference for business leaders who have little interest in production or customers and more interest in management numbers.
  • Obama's Christian Realism -- David Brooks really likes Obama. He especially likes that Obama has said kind things about Reinhold Niebuhr. In the article, Brooks tries to find Niebuhr in Obama's Nobel Prize Speech.
  • Obama's Nobel Peace Prize Speech -- Honestly, I didn't enjoy the speech. The president gets kudos for taking on some really big issues, but it wasn't coherent. How exactly do we reconcile Martin Luther King, Jr, Ghandhi and George Marshall? The president declares, "But we do not have to think that human nature is perfect for us to still believe that the human condition can be perfected." What does that mean? What is the perfect human condition?
  • How to Have an Acts Church (Part One and Part Two) -- Rick Warren looks at the church in Acts and discovers seven characteristics which includes developing small groups and equipping all members for ministry.
  • From Liberalism to Social Democracy -- Geoffery Kurtz reviews a book of intellectual history tracing the development of social democracy to the thoughts of Enlightenment liberalism. Are liberalism and social democracy in the same intellectual family, or are they actually two separate things? The article also raises an interesting point. What is the relationship between intellectual movements and concrete events. For example, how is the development of social democracy rooted in the reality of the industrial revolution at the end of the 19th Century?
  • Ethnic Media's Four-step Model for the News Industry's Future -- As media outlets continue to struggle in the face of new information technology, Sandra Ordonez finds lessons from the ethnic media. Specialized niche publications are growing while traditional newspapers are shrinking. One interesting idea is that media should not merely report news items. News outlets should also encourage and facilitate the conversation surrounding news items. They should realize that they exist to create communities.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Friday Funnies: Happy Hanukkah

I didn't know that both Kirk and Spock were Jewish. Cool.