August 29, 2016

Mondays with Michael Spencer: August 29, 2016

VT Morning Pond CK

Note from CM: While going through old posts today, I found this gem by Michael Spencer. It ties right in with what some folks were saying in the comments the other day — we Christians tend to live in our own little worlds, don’t even know it, imagine that we’re preaching in such a way that will attract and persuade people outside our “bubble,” and expect them to just to figure out our language and accept the “authority” of what we say because we say they should. It can actually be quite bizarre when you think about it, and Michael is not shy to say so.

• • •

How We Sound to Those Who Don’t Believe
by Michael Spencer

Today I listened to the preacher in chapel. Really, really closely for a change.

It probably wasn’t a good idea. See, God is giving me a gift. I’m starting to hear sermons like non-Christians hear them. I’m starting to feel what they feel, and it’s disconcerting.

It’s scarey. Some of my Christian friends won’t like this, but that may be a good sign.

The first thing I noticed was the insulting approach tactics. The speaker had an object lesson, and took quite a while to work through the object lesson. In someone’s universe, people being forced to listen to a talk will have their minds pried open by these kinds of illustrations. You supposedly totally put aside that you are in church, that you are going to be evangelized, and you just think about the box of donuts or the picture of the puppy, or whatever. Then, while your mind is relaxed….bang! The real point comes flying out of the blue and jumps into your open mind.

This is cool. No….this is stupid. Anyone who is taken in by this sort of thing shouldn’t be subjected to religious appeals anyway. It’s unethical. But this is the way we approach unbelievers that we want to listen to us. We goof with them, and treat them like they have no idea what’s up.

Then it’s assumed we need Jesus. If you don’t know who Jesus is, you are lost right now. But assuming you know what Mel Gibson’s movie was about, you get at least something of what’s going to be the main issue of the evening. The speaker say that you need Jesus more than he says anything else. Over and over. We need Jesus. If you are awake to what’s going on, you know that it’s likely to prove true that anything and everything will be said until you finally admit you need Jesus. Does this seem like trying to get you to “break?” Yes.

There is, behind this appeal, a kind of crass sales pitch that really can make you angry. It’s like being told by the guy in your living room that you need a vacuum cleaner or Tupperware. You can’t help but feel that your “need” is really about this guy’s need to be right, or to make the sale. What you “need” is hardly his business, especially standing up there without really knowing you at all.

It must be insulting to constantly be told you need Jesus by someone who doesn’t know you. Even if you DO need Jesus, how about getting to know me at least as well as a telemarketer? You may even hear this guy say Jesus loves you and Christians love you….because they are telling you you need Jesus.

Gee thanks. I feel warm all over.

Of course, we have the Bible. The Bible is read, and quoted, with authority. It’s the bottom line, the final word on everything. It is the proof that this guy is right and everyone else is wrong. The fact that he isn’t explaining why the magic book is right, and your experiences and thoughts are wrong doesn’t seem to be on the agenda. You need to do more than accept Jesus. You need to accept the way this guy reads the Bible.

A preacher earlier in the week said he believed the Bible was true because it was controversial. Other people say it is just obviously from God. (Explain that please.) Or it’s full of proof by way of prophecies. Or the change in lives proves it. Or the sheer number of Bible-toting Christians proves it.

Is anyone else bored? This preacher was no better or worse than thousands of others: the appeal to authority was everywhere, and you are simply SUPPOSED TO ACCEPT IT. If you don’t, that’s proof you are on your way to hell. If you are going to heaven, you buy this without serious questions.

The content of the message? I have to admit, listening to it as an unbeliever might, it was so irrelevant I can’t imagine why anyone would listen. It would make sense to Christians, but to anyone else? Would anyone else ever start to find it interesting or worth believing? It was just a way to spend time yacking. Logic, reality, honesty. Not on the radar screen. We’re talking about filler for the weakened mind, and nothing for the serious thinker or seeker.

The real point is always the same: You need to accept Jesus. You need to accept Jesus. Whatever the heck that means. Best I can tell, you tell the preacher that you accept Jesus, and they say you accept Jesus, and from then on you get to tell people that you accepted Jesus. Say some religious things, do some religious things and join the Jesus team. Be one of the bunch that is sitting there nodding.

Perhaps nothing stands out as much as the total submersion of every word and action in the sticky-sweet, sappy overtones of being RIGHT and “You better listen to the guy who is right.” Christians live in this so much they can’t see it. They make absurd, ridiculous, bizarre, almost insane, fairy-tail statements as if they are run of the mill.

“Now when Jesus spoke to the Apostle John…”

What!! WHAT!!!!

Well, we’re not even stopping. That’s baby stuff. Have a miracle. Or some answered prayer. Or an incredible story. Or a Biblical example. Or a “can’t fail principle.” Or a talking snake, fallen angel or vision of heaven. These people have the book, they read it right, and they have the answers. They know what you need, and what everyone around the world needs. They will do the talking, and if you are smart, you’ll accept Jesus.

Is this the way it sounds most of the time? Are we really so insulated from real communication that we don’t realize how we come off?

In a future post, I’ll respond to this as a Christian communicator. Right now, I’m going to sit down and ask myself how I’m going to change as a result of listening to one sermon the way an unbeliever does.

Pic & Poem of the Week: August 28, 2016

Beside a Road Near Home

Beside a Road Near Home

(Click on picture for larger image)

• • •

The painter Harlan Hubbard said
that he was painting Heaven when
the places he painted merely were
the Campbell or the Trimble County
banks of the Ohio, or farms
and hills where he had worked or roamed:
a house’s gable and roofline
rising from a fold in the hills,
trees bearing snow, two shanty boats
at dawn, immortal light upon
the flowing river in its bends.
And these were Heavenly because
he never saw them clear enough
to satisfy his love, his need
to see them all again, again.

By Wendell Berry
from Leavings: Poems

Saturday Ramblings: August 27, 2016

1948 Nash Super Woody Wagon. Flickr photo by Rex Gray.

1948 Nash Super Woody Wagon. Flickr photo by Rex Gray. Creative Commons License.

The end of August is in sight, and it may be your last chance this summer to take a trip to your favorite National Park (see below), or visit the grandparents, go to the amusement park, or chill at the cabin by the lake.

Of course, we’re well past that now where I live. Here in Indiana, year-round or modified “balanced” school schedules are all the rage, so some of our kids have been in school since late July. That means we’re looking forward to Labor Day weekend and a bit farther ahead to Fall Break in October for our next chance to get away.

But when we do, wouldn’t it be great if we could all pile in a classic “woody” wagon like the one above for our trip? I tell you, it looks like it could serve as our cabin too!

Time to ramble. Let’s go!

• • •

PICTURES OF THE WEEK

Standing in line for a special ceremony, uniformed soldiers of His Majesty the King of Norway's Guard are carefully inspected -- by a penguin. Sir Nils Olav, a resident king penguin at Edinburgh Zoo, was honored with the title of brigadier on Monday during a parade in the Scottish park. The bird is the mascot of His Majesty the King of Norway's Guard and was made a knight in 2008. (NBC News)

Standing in line for a special ceremony, uniformed soldiers of His Majesty the King of Norway’s Guard are carefully inspected — by a penguin. Sir Nils Olav, a resident king penguin at Edinburgh Zoo, was honored with the title of brigadier on Monday during a parade in the Scottish park. The bird is the mascot of His Majesty the King of Norway’s Guard and was made a knight in 2008. (NBC News)

A kayaker passes the world's largest rubber duck as it floats in the Buffalo River near Canalside, Friday, Aug. 26, 2016. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

A kayaker passes the world’s largest rubber duck as it floats in the Buffalo River near Canalside, Friday, Aug. 26, 2016. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

Happy to be back at school. Quincy, Illinois. (M. Kipley/Herald-Whig)

Happy to be back at school. Quincy, Illinois. (M. Kipley/Herald-Whig)

Swedish carpenter Geert Weggen built this Olympic podium, then spent three months waiting for squirrels to strike a pose. (Geert Weggens, SWNS)

Swedish carpenter Geert Weggen built this Olympic podium, then spent three months waiting for squirrels to strike a pose. (Geert Weggens, SWNS)

A waitress is silhouetted against an advertisement board as she carries jugs of beer during the first-ever Taedonggang Beer Festival on Aug. 21 in Pyongyang, N. Korea

A waitress is silhouetted against an advertisement board as she carries jugs of beer during the first-ever Taedonggang Beer Festival on Aug. 21 in Pyongyang, N. Korea

Participants set a new World Record of 1,297 in the World's Largest Rugby Scrum at the Golden Oldies World Rugby Festival in Cardiff. (Wales Online)

Participants set a new World Record of 1,297 in the World’s Largest Rugby Scrum at the Golden Oldies World Rugby Festival in Cardiff. (Wales Online)

• • •

HAPPY 100TH BIRTHDAY, U.S. NATIONAL PARK SERVICE

yellowstone-national-park-2-940x640

Yellowstone National Park

Here is a nice photo gallery celebrating 100 years for The National Park Service in the United States.

Writer and historian Wallace Stegner called national parks “the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.”

There are many special events and commemorations taking place this summer — you can find out about them HERE. But the best tribute of all would simply be to visit and enjoy at least one of our national parks this year.

What is your favorite U.S. National Park? Why?

• • •

QUESTIONS OF THE WEEK

burkiniWill this prove to be the death knell to “burkini” bans in France?

How many Zika cases were discovered at the Olympic Games?

Why is Joshua Harris apologizing?

Is celibacy the only option for the single Christian? Does the Bible say that?

Why do we love some animals and eat others?

Guess who’s causing controversy among Christians in Vancouver?

How did Pentecostalism come to replace Anglicanism as the “new normal” in Australia?

• • •

HOW ISRAEL SOLVES ITS BEACH PROBLEM

Entering the "religious beach" in Tel Aviv. (RNS)

Entering the “religious beach” in Tel Aviv. (RNS)

Speaking of modesty at the seashore, this story at RNS says the religious in Israel have found a way to relax when it comes to the whole “women showing too much skin at the beach” problem.

In Tel Aviv and about a dozen other places around Israel, they have designated “religious beaches” where men and women swim separately on alternate days. Many Israeli pools also offer a few hours of separate male and female swimming

To Israel’s credit, [Uri] Regev [president of Hiddush, a nongovernmental organization that promotes freedom of religion in Israel] said, gender-segregated beaches and tolerance for all types of religious garb “demonstrate an acceptance for varied religious beliefs” not found in most countries. While Israeli rights advocates have successfully fought against gender segregation on public buses, Regev said, no one objects to gender-segregated beaches.

“As long as municipalities offer segregated beaches without detracting from the ability of others to swim at other beaches, this is a virtue, not coercion. Ultimately, it’s all about balance,” Regev said.

• • •

A BREAKTHROUGH FOR HINDUS IN THE U.S.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

To the right is a picture of our local Hindu temple, an impressive structure on the east side of Indianapolis (click the pic for a larger image). As our society becomes more diverse and multicultural, we will be seeing all kinds of public displays of other traditions and religions in our midst.

The U.S. Postal Service has announced that, for the first time, a Hindu tradition will be honored on one of its stamps. A Forever stamp marking the Hindu holiday of Diwali will be issued on Oct. 5 at the Consulate General of India in New York City.

Diwali, or the Hindu festival of lights, is observed across the globe with music, fireworks and dance. It celebrates good triumphing over evil.

The stamp features a photograph of a traditional diya oil lamp, its flame glowing in front of a gold background.

The Hindu American Foundation, which helped lead a campaign for the stamp, said the diya is “the most iconic symbol of the holiday.”

RNS-DIWALI-STAMP

• • •

GAFFIGAN FAMILY VALUES

Jim Gaffigan is one of my favorite comedians. He keeps things clean, includes religion in his act (he’s a practicing Catholic), and emphasizes stories about family and home (and food, of course!).

For the past two years, TVLand network has been running “The Jim Gaffigan Show,” which has sought to mirror his life and his act. Now, at least for the time being he and his wife Jeannie (writer, show runner, and director of the show) are calling it quits. They have five children, ages 12, 10, 7, 5, and 3, and as Gaffigan says, “The show was taking us away from our most important project — our kids.”

Our life is very full. Jeannie and I write books. I tour doing stand-up. I get to do movies and stuff like that. It really comes down to our kids. The TV show was great, but our primary source of income is stand-up. And the time commitment to do the type of show we wanted—I’ve been doing this long enough where I’m not seeking a certain amount of fame. Is it exciting that it’s the No. 1 comedy trending on Twitter on Sunday? Yes. Not that I even know what that means. There’s so many pieces, and the creative team of Jeannie and I, we have to manage the expectations of. TV Land’s been great. The TV landscape is changing, so they might want a show that’s going to do 22 episodes. They might want a show that’s going to do a lot of things. What we’re looking for, and the creative outlet we’re seeking, is just incongruous when you have five children under 12. It’s just insane.

Here’s an “Inside the Episode” feature on the show, “He Said, She Said,” which gives you some flavor of the Gaffigans’ take on religion and family.

• • •

BABYLON BEE STORY OF THE WEEK

daniel-plan-lady-696x394HAVELOCK, NC—Roughly three months ago, local woman Heidi Miller, 32, had had enough—and was bound and determined to change her lifestyle.

“I’d been this way since I was a kid—just, you know, life habits I picked up from my parents and my friends at church,” Miller said. “Then one day it just hit me as I walked past a mirror and caught a glimpse of my open Bible on the chair behind me, next to some commentaries and other study materials. That was the moment I realized that I’d been reading the Bible in its proper context for so long, I couldn’t even remember what it was like before I did.”

A burst of courage and a quick internet search brought Miller to Rick Warren’s The Daniel Plan—and nothing has been the same since.

“At first I was skeptical, sure, but after just a few days in the program I couldn’t believe the results I was seeing,” she said, adding that she was “blown away” by the Old and New Testament verses used in the book as though they existed in a vacuum, and the way Warren switches up translations in order to find the one that says exactly what he is trying to say.

“I followed the steps—I dreamed big, set goals, and found buddies to reaffirm me when things got tough, and here I am. After 15 years of only reading the Bible in context, those days are gone and I’m never going back,” Miller said. “The Daniel Plan was a Godsend—it worked for me, and it can work for you, too.”

• • •

HERE’S EVERYTHING THAT’S WRONG WITH OUR U.S. HEALTH-CARE SYSTEM
Excerpted from an article by Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. in WSJ

epipen_origTo whom it may concern:

…Our health-care system is confusing. The public is understandably confused about why we have raised the price of a two-pack of EpiPens by 500% over the past decade—from $100 in 2007 to $600 today.

That sounds like a lot, especially since the active ingredient, epinephrine, has been around since 1901 and is cheap to make. Yes, we recently improved our injector, but guess what? The old injector worked fine. EpiPen, using the old injector, saved thousands of lives, especially children who are allergic to peanuts or bee stings.

The drug can be bought for 10 cents in many countries; the old injector design our would-be competitors are free to copy to their heart’s content. Our prices would surely be lower, then, if we actually had some competitors. Don’t blame me. The Food and Drug Administration has delayed the entry of one competitor and made noises that recently drove another from the market over product-quality snafus.

As I explained to the New York Times this week, “I am a for-profit business.” EpiPen sales have reached $1 billion a year on my watch, up from $200 million a decade ago. Guess how much of that growth is not increased volume but increased profit? A lot. That’s capitalism. I’m doing my job. Maybe the FDA should do theirs.*

(*Mylan employs lobbyists and lawyers to delay competitors from getting their products approved by the FDA.)

Newspaper and TV coverage of our pricing controversy has not been friendly to Mylan, but most reports at least mention the ways we strive to lower the out-of-pocket price for consumers with coupons and rebates to offset their copays and deductibles. We also provide free drugs to hardship cases. The Washington Post even alluded to these efforts in its headline: “Despite coupons, EpiPen’s virtual monopoly roils critics.”

Sadly, the media have proved unable to explain the finer points of pharmaceutical pricing. Not that we blame the media: health-care pricing is complicated and subject to Reporter Complexity Refusal Syndrome.

And yet the essential matter is not complicated. It can be explained in a sentence: Six hundred dollars is the price we want insurers to pay.

Insurers are not spending your money. They are spending everybody’s money. Look at it from the perspective of health-care providers, drugmakers or medical-device suppliers. All of us are competing for a common pot of loot. Naturally, each wants to maximize his share. That’s human nature. If 10 hungry people are sitting around a small bowl of jelly beans, each will eat more, and faster, than he otherwise would.

Notice something else: How much each provider takes out of the common pot has no natural, organic relationship to the value the provider brings to the patient. Why not? Well, in the rest of the economy, when a consumer is spending out of his pocket, he has incentive to judge whether the service he’s buying is worth the price he’s being asked to pay.

Now you know why we offer coupons and rebates to individual consumers. This is our way of trying to re-desensitize customers to the price of EpiPen in order to counter the efforts of insurers to re-sensitize them by hitting them with copays and deductibles.

Then why does getting our coupons and rebates involve rigmarole? Because certain consumers won’t make the effort, and then we get to keep the money that would otherwise go to defray their out-of-pocket costs.

It’s a great game and we have fun playing it. On average, however, it probably does not increase the health-care industry’s profit margins or the public’s health—but only the share of national income diverted to health care from everything else: beer nuts, wedding presents, automobiles. Our industry’s share of GDP is 17%, up from 13% two decades ago. Hooray, that’s $700 billion a year.

For decades, health-care reform as preached by knowledgeable experts has aimed at fixing this dynamic, and yet every law passed by Congress ends up doing the opposite, basically using taxpayer money to fill the pot with more jelly beans for providers to fight over.

Sincerely,

Heather Bresch

Chief Executive Officer, Mylan

• • •

TODAY IN MUSIC…

Tomorrow, August 28, is the 53rd anniversary of Martin Luther King’s famous speech “I Have a Dream” speech given during the March on Washington in 1963.

Before King spoke that day, Peter, Paul, and Mary sang Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind.”

Let freedom ring.

Scot McKnight: Justification is about Unification

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Lisa Dye: Life, Liturgy and Lethargical Dancing

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Wednesdays with James: Lesson Twelve

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Radio Interview: Chaplain Mike on Steve Brown, Etc.

I had a wonderful opportunity last week to talk with our friend Steve Brown on his radio program, Steve Brown, Etc. We talked about my work as a hospice chaplain and my book, Walking Home Together. Here's an excerpt from our … [Continue reading...]

Mondays with Michael Spencer: August 22, 2016

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Pic & Poem of the Week: August 21, 2016

(Click on picture for larger image) August These fields know no idle hours they are kept by wind and by the sudden storms that strip illusion back, which open up creeks among a few stones and send the startled cows to … [Continue reading...]

Saturday Ramblings: August 20, 2016

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