Why “Millenials” Are Leaving the Church

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Recently, my attention was drawn, via Facebook, to two different blogs by two separate bloggers (can’t remember if I were sent them by the same person) dealing with the same problem: why the church is losing millennials.  In both cases, they were appended with notes that read something like, “Well-written article.”

And they were.  They both contained nothing but correctly spelled words, the grammar was impeccable, and the syntax was fully paid-up for the fiscal quarter.

They were also remarkably similar.

Not just with each other, but with articles that I was emailed ten years ago with a headline of “Why Generation X is leaving the church”, which greatly mirrored articles sent via snail mail from 30 years ago with titles like, “Why the baby boomers are leaving the church.”  Go back far enough, and someone was probably writing a missive on papyrus about why the Iron Age was leaving the synagogue.

Now, both of you who are still reading to this point, don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying that the articles are wrong, I just find it interesting that every generation has to get to the point where they think they’ve got it right.

Take these two articles I was recently made acquainted with (please).  The gist of both was that millenials (a term undefined in either article but we’ll let that slide for now) are leaving the church because they find it irrelevant.  That could be, but it’s also true that for the last few decades almost everyone leaves the church they grew up in between the ages of 18-25 and only a small percentage of them ever come back (to any church).  I do not deny the possibility that this is the church’s fault, but I also think the generation itself bears some responsibility.  And, let’s not forget, there is an Enemy who wants to keep people out of church and those years are an especially vulnerable time for everyone as we try to figure out our place in the world and where in it we go to get married, find a job, make meaningful friends, etc.

Getting to more specific charges (which were also the charges made 10, 30 and 2000 years ago), the millenials don’t want a superficial church (amen!).  They want a church that deals with real issues, like how to serve the poor (locally and globally).  They also (in both articles) want to be assured that the church will treat well their friends who are living in unrepentant sin.

That one bugs me.  It was in both articles, but neither offered a recipe or outline for what the author/blogger was hoping the church would do (just a vague fear that we would inevitably do it wrong).  As a person who fights cynicism on an almost daily basis (some days I just give in to it), what I am thinking when I read such blogs is that they want the church to welcome their friends in no matter what and ignore or rationalize the sin away.  I have a problem with half that statement (the second half).  At the church where I serve, our motto is, “Welcoming everyone, wherever you are, to be a growing follower of Jesus.”  I stand by that and we work hard to make it true.  We try to welcome everyone (and I think we do a pretty good job), but we’re not satisfied to let ourselves or anyone who worships with us stay where we are.  Is the sin in question sexual, verbal, physical, mental?  Doesn’t matter.  We want to provide a loving environment in which the Holy Spirit can help us work together not to embrace sin but to let that Spirit wash it away.  I hope this is what the Millenials want.

As to the poor, I agree that most churches aren’t doing as much as we can to help the poor.  And, if you read back through Jesus’s words—as well as the rest of the Bible—you’ll find that taking care of the poor and ministering to them is a high priority.  I appreciate that these Millenials want churches that will take up that mantel, but I wonder if they realize that most of these churches that they are leaving in droves are ministering to the poor already.  Maybe it’s not in a big way, and certainly, it can be done better, but it is being done.  These churches the Millenials are looking down on and walking out on, they are participating in a soup kitchen, gathering clothes against winter for the underprivileged and taking worship services to care homes and orphanages.

I would encourage any Millenial (or anyone else) who would like to see their church minister to the poor to a] jump in with an existing ministry, 2] strengthen that ministry, so that they can c] have the standing to suggest ways the ministry can be expanded and improved upon!  It’s a lot easier, though, to either just drop out or jump to another church that already has the program together and all you have to do is plug in.

Instant gratification.  That’s what’s really desired here, by Millenials, Gen-X’ers (which is what I think I used to be—or maybe I was Generation Y, as in, “Y do we keep coming up with these stupid labels?”) and everyone else.  We want what we want now.  No 40 years in the wilderness for me!

This is the real reason people of all ages have left and are leaving the church.  It really has very little to do with style of music, outreach to the poor, or the church’s stance on whatever the sin du jour is.  By it’s nature, any church worth it’s salt is going to provoke its members/attendees/adherents/whatever to be something they aren’t.  To minister to both the poor and the rich, to look out for orphans and widows, to love and good deeds, to take up your cross, to be holy.  But in a culture where we are each told our own personal hearts are the best and final arbiter of what is right or wrong, to go into a building where some man or woman points to an ancient book and says, “Jesus is the way and this is his map” … well, that just ain’t hip, dude.

I do think the church needs to change.  There are things we do only because we have always done them—not because they work (pragmatism), because they never did.  There are things we don’t do for the same reason.  And I want to keep asking questions about these things that are, in reality, just forms, not substance.  I want to find the substance, hidden though it may seem at times.  And I don’t want to leave the church to “find something better” because—from where I sit—it seems that most who do so quickly stop looking and settle for nothing.  I want to stay in the church and try to make it better—not by my standards but by God’s.

P.S.  My spell-checker really hates the first sentence of this blog, recognizing neither “blogs”, “millenials” or “Facebook”.

Preachers In the News

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Ministers—professional preachers, anyway—have been in the news recently, both nationally and locally.  And it hasn’t been good.

That, in itself, is a shame, on many levels.

A few years ago I was sitting with a man whose father was on hospice.  I had arrived at the hospital as a hospice volunteer to sit with a man who was dying so that the family could leave the hospital—go home, maybe get a nap or a shower or just get out of the hospital for a while.  One of the man’s sons, though, kept thanking me for being there but not leaving.  He needed someone to unload on, and I was there.  (This happens a lot in hospice: people just needing to talk.  Most of them are pleasant, many are sad, I’ve only had to deal with one who was really angry.)

As the son sat there, talking about the passing of his father, I learned a couple things.  One, the man didn’t really like his father.  He loved his father in a vague way, but he didn’t like his father because—according to the monologue—his father had been hard and harsh and grumpy.  Still, he had provided for his family and taken good care of his wife (their mother), so there was at least some respect for that.

The second thing I learned from this son was that all church ministers/preachers were money-cheating crooks.  Every single one of them.  All they were in it for was the money.  Yes, he knew I was a minister but, while he never accused me to my face, it was clear he was painting me with the same broad brush.  As I thought of my one-car, one-bath existence, I listened respectfully and tried not to argue or laugh.  I did wonder where he had gotten this idea because, as the conversation (monologue) wore on, it seemed like he had only once in his life had any sort of lasting relationship with a minister or church.  I knew the building (not far from where I sit right now) and the man who had been the minister there when this son was young had been someone the son admired.  Loving, good teacher, impoverished.  Somehow, somewhere along the line the son had gotten the idea that all preachers were just in it for the money and would not be disabused of that idea.

I thought maybe he had a story—and, sadly, there are plenty of them out there—of a minister who absconded with some funds or cheated a widow out of her legacy.  If he had such a story, he never told it, to me, anyway.  Maybe he had just seen the stories on the news of mammon-obsessed preachers, but I don’t think so.  It seemed too personal.  Still, I imagine that the stories on the news only fed his preconceived notions.  The son wasn’t a moron.  He knew about local ministers who fed the poor, sat up to all hours at the hospital, visited the elderly, but he ascribed to us—one and all—bad motives.

(This, I am convinced, is how most prejudices work.  They may begin with a legitimate gripe against one person, but the Enemy creeps in and—through news stories and the anecdotes of “friends”—convinces us that our one-time experience is the norm.  Jim-Bob Smith has had one bad experience with a member of a certain ethnic group—against many many good experiences, for instance—but he has allowed himself to be convinced that the bad experience speaks for everyone of that ethnic group and the myriad good experiences were all aberrations.)

So anyway, nationally we have a popular and well-known minister being asked to step down from the pulpit for a time because—at the very least—he seems to have let his fame go to his head and—at the worst—he has become a spiritual and emotional bully.  Locally, we’ve had a couple ministers asked to resign their positions for, shall we say, “indiscretions”?  Like everyone else, I’m wondering, “What happened?  Surely these guys had to know they were going to get caught!  Why throw everything they had worked for away?”  I have been praying for their families and the churches they formerly served.

But what is especially bugging me is that, as a minister of the gospel myself, I know these “ministers” have just helped fuel the thoughts of people like the son previously mentioned who will look at all of us—Christians in general and ministers in particular—and think, “Yep, that’s what they’re all like.”

[P.S.  I mean that my house only has one bathtub, not that I only take one bath a year.]

A Murder, Eternal Assurance and Something About Cold Hands

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The police ruled it a murder-suicide.  Not like a “usual” one, though, where an agitated party murders a loved one, then turns the gun on themselves.  Often sparked by an assumption of infidelity.

No, the perpetrator in this case felt aggrieved over something (does it really matter what?), so he went out and found a complete stranger to murder.  Then, as the song says, “He turned his own cold hand.”

A mess, a tragedy, a crime, a venal sin.  Call it what you want, it was hard to think of any good associated with it.

Unless you were the preacher at the funeral for the perpetrator of this heinous act.  “He was a loving father,” said the preacher and “He’s in a better place now.”  In case that were too ambiguous, the preacher went on to specify that the “better place” was heaven, in the arms of his (the perp’s) Lord.

It was just a few weeks after another troubled person in our town had taken her own life.  A teenager with no known conflicts, no note left behind to explain things, decided death was better than life and brought about her own end one afternoon while everyone was out of the house.

At that funeral, too, the preacher—a different preacher from the other funeral—assured the audience that the dead girl was “in a better place.”  You know what?  Maybe she was.  The Bible speaks of an unforgivable sin, but it’s not suicide.  It’s the blasphemy (or rejection) of the Holy Spirit.  Now, suicide might well be a sign of such a rejection.  I tend to think that, most often, it is.  That, for whatever reason or factors, a person has decided that their life is not worth living and—by inference—God has abandoned them.

I don’t believe God has abandoned them, but once a person gets to that point in their thought processes, turning the ship around is not an easy task.  I also don’t think that suicide is an absolute guarantee that the person has rejected the overtures of God through his Holy Spirit.  Maybe they just forgot for a time, or acted in haste.  (Which, if that’s unforgivable then everything I have ever done because I momentarily forgot or got cocky is going to be held against me, too.)  Maybe it’s the result of a chemical imbalance.  That doesn’t make suicide right—and it certainly isn’t “right” for anyone left behind—and, more than anything, this is in the purview of God. But since he didn’t say, “Suicide is the unforgivable sin” I’m sure not going to say it is.

On the other hand, I have a hard time with declaring someone who has decided their gift from God wasn’t worth keeping as automatically sitting in his mansion.  (Again, it’s not up to me, [praise God!] but) I think about the auditorium of high school kids at that second-mentioned funeral who came away with the idea that, if life sucks, just end it and let God take you to heaven.  If that were the way it worked, why didn’t God tell us all to off ourselves as soon as we came up out of the baptismal waters?

Now, I have great sympathy for those preachers.  They were asked to preside over a funeral—which is an event for the living; specifically, the family—and bring comfort at a time when comfort seems impossible.  The family is already sitting there wondering, “What signs did I miss?  Is there something I could have done?”  Still, to tell everyone that everything’s fine, now, doesn’t seem like the path of honesty, either.

Not too long after these two events, a car filled with teenagers caught our attention.  An inexperienced driver, with a car full of hung-over, under-aged drinkers, plunged to the death of everyone inside.  Horrible, horrible, thing.  Lives lost, other lives shattered.  But once again, we were told they were all in a better place.  In this case, because they had all attended church while children.  No one in the car had been in church in some time, there was no visible fruit of living for God in their lives, but because they once attended Sunday School without actively setting fire to the sacraments, they’re in heaven.

We don’t want to think bad of the dead, and there’s probably no way I can honestly end this blog without coming out harsh to modern sensibilities … but what if all or some of the people from the above-mentioned incidences are not in a better place?  There’s nothing we can do about it now—for their sakes, anyway—but what about ours?  I firmly believe in grace as an undeserved and unearnable gift, but what if how we live after having received grace—what if the fruit we produce, as Jesus put it—really does matter?  What if life—even a hard life—is a gift from God that shouldn’t be thrown away?

Do We Have Something Better to Do With Our Time Than Worry About the Aliens?

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I receive an email letter each week from a prominent Christian ministry with whom I generally agree.  (I say generally even though, to date, I can’t think of a specific stance of theirs I disagreed with—though I have not read every issue assiduously so there may have been other points with which I would have differed.)  Within each email, there is a question—ostensibly sent in by a reader—and then an answer provided by the ministry.

The question last week was, “Did Jesus die for aliens, too?”

Let me print the first paragraph of the ministry’s two-paragraph response:  “An understanding of the gospel makes it clear that salvation through Christ is only for the Adamic race—human beings who are all descendants of Adam. Do an Internet search and you will find many examples over the years of both Christians and non-Christians who have made comments similar to this. In essence we are saying that Bible-believing Christians would have a problem with a belief in aliens because Jesus died for the human race, and thus only humans in this universe can be saved. Thus Bible-believing Christians don’t (or can’t) accept the belief there are aliens on other planets.”

Now, as someone who has read the Bible from cover to cover several times I take issue with this conclusion in that I don’t think the Bible says a single word—for or against—the idea of life on other planets.  Not one.  (For instance, I believe the angels mentioned are really angels and not “visitors from another planet”.)

I do agree that salvation comes through Jesus and Jesus alone.  I’m going to surprise some people here and put in a “however”.

Salvation comes through Jesus and Jesus alone, however, what if there’s a planet out there with people on it who never sinned?  Who (a la CS Lewis’s “Paralandra”) when Satan tried to tempt their Adam and Eve, stood up to him and trusted in God?  If they never fell, they would have no need for Christ’s redemption.  In fact, they would be walking with God in their garden still.

If they never sinned, were never cursed with death, what would they be like?  Assuming (as I do) that God created all of the universe at the same time, then from the beginning of the universe until now—using fully-functional brains that were not stunted by sin and led by scientists who didn’t die and continued to work on their own ideas—they would be so far ahead of us technologically that, even if they came to earth, we would probably appear to them as something just above a hamster in the intelligence department.

Of course, without sin, maybe they wouldn’t have even seen the need to leave their garden in the first place.  Let’s say they did, though.  What if God did put life on other planets but he only put one life-bearing planet in each galaxy?  What are the odds that we would ever find each other?  Our galaxy’s pretty big, and we’re on a planet in the western spiral arm, so what if the nearest planet with life is in another arm?  Even with incredibly advanced technology, would they ever find us?  Even if we find each other—through radio waves or something—how long ‘til we can actually make contact?

Louis L’Amour (yes, the western author) once wrote that he couldn’t understand the people who want us to be visited by aliens.  Because, he wrote, we would need to hope they were nothing like us as our history is one of conquering or destroying any society we deem inferior to our own.

What if, though, there are aliens out there, aliens who never fell into sin, and they come here one day.  I think of the people who want aliens to come and teach us the “mysteries of the universe” mainly in the hope they’ll prove to us that there is no God.  I’m chuckling as I picture those people’s reactions if the aliens were to show up and start talking about Yahweh God!

But what if, on another planet somewhere, the inhabitants fell into sin just as we did?  Then I trust in God to provide them with salvation.  Would Jesus have to die for them, too?  It seems clear from Scripture that he only had to die once.  So, I go back to my earlier thought that, if there are aliens on other planets, a] they were put there by God and 2] they are sin-free and, thus, do not need to be saved.

Let me return to one of the things I said earlier, though: I find no warrant in Scripture for either the existence or non-existence of life on other planets.  I just don’t think the Bible addresses the subject in any way, shape or form.  Now, when I get to heaven, if God tells me there were people on other planets (and introduces some of them to me) I won’t be surprised.  If I get there and he tells me that Earth was the only planet where he ever put sentient life, I will only be a little surprised (because the universe is such a big place so why not put life on some of the other planets?).

Still, aside from this blog and a novel I will probably never get around to writing, I don’t see a lot of sense in spending much time pondering the matter when there’s so much to be done on the one planet we are convinced contains intelligent life.

 
{I have great respect for the organization, but in the interest of not being accused of plagiarism, I have to tell you that the above quoted paragraph is from “Answers in Genesis”.}

The Appeal of Legalism

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Legalism is one of those things we dislike in other people but generally like if we get to set the parameters.  And what’s really wrong with it? we wonder.  (When it’s our legalism, anyway.  We know what’s wrong with everyone else’s legalism.)  It just means that some things are right and others are wrong, right?

That’s fine in math.

As much as many of us say we hate math, we like the aspect of it that 2+2=4 and 2+5≠8.  And it’s always that way.  (Yes, I know that it’s usually at this point that some egghead objects that, “Well, not always.  When talking of theoretical numbers … “  Um, dude, I wasn’t talking about theoretical numbers, nor was I talking about 2+2 in the context of a larger calculation.  Left alone, 2+2=4, OK?)

Anyway, we want life to be like that.  In this context, we would like morality to be like that.  I know of a church, a good, strong, Bible-teaching church in most ways, that asks everyone who becomes a member to sign a “no-alcohol” pledge.  I wonder if that includes Nyquil?

And there’s the rub.  See, it’s not just that Nyquil helps some people (not me, it keeps me awake!), it’s that the Apostle Paul encouraged Timothy to take a little wine for his stomach.  Why?  Maybe as a sedative, maybe as just a sort of bi-carb.  I know people who find that a small glass of wine helps them to relax their muscles and sleep better at night—possibly because of the antioxidants.

But see, we also know the danger of alcoholism.  Pick up a newspaper (remember those?  If not, ask your grandparents, they still have one delivered right to the front door!) and read through it.  There was probably a wreck near your house last night and alcohol was the presumed cause.  Someone had too much and thought they could drive just fine.

So it seems easier to say, “Let’s just ban all alcohol.”  And honestly, if I never had another alcoholic beverage between now and death, I probably won’t be missing out on much of anything.  (The same could be said of soft drinks, cheese, and TV, but let’s stick to alcohol for at least one more paragraph.)

If Jim Smith decides that he is going to swear off alcohol, I have no problem with that.  Maybe he’s doing it for medical reasons, or because he wants to be an example to his kids or maybe it was some good friend of his who caused that alcohol-laced crash we read about two paragraphs back.  Maybe Jim just feels like the alcohol was coming between him and God in some way.  When Jim tells me, then, that he’s giving up alcohol and why, I’ll probably say something like, “Good for you!”

The problem is when human nature kicks in, as it so often does, and Jim starts telling me and everyone else around that we have to give up alcohol.  His reason(s) for giving it up might be spectacular.  However, there’s not a Bible verse that says, “Thou shalt not drink alcohol!” and to pretend that there is, or that this man-made wisdom one has discovered should be canonized, is when we abandon wisdom for legalism.

Of course, alcohol is not the only place where legalism creeps in, often under the guise of serving God.  I know of another church which will not allow a person to become a member who has ever gone through a divorce.  I don’t like divorce, either, and could spend another whole blog arguing whether the Bible permits it in some circumstances or not, but what I want to address here is one particular bugaboo.

Joe Public married Janie Abernathy one day.  Three years later, Joe and Janie divorced.  For this blog, we’ll say the reason they divorced was because Janie tended to burn the toast and Joe often left his clothes on the floor.  In other words, their sacred vows were discarded in favor of convenience.  Two years after the divorce, Joe married Susy Applecart.  The new Mister and Mrs. Public started attending First Church—maybe because it was where they got married—and then they decided to give their lives to Christ.  Both come forward and are immersed one Sunday, praise the Lord!

This church I know of (which I introduced two paragraphs back, for those who don’t remember), would not let Joe become a member because of his past divorce.  I understand their championship of marriage, but do you realize what they are doing?  They are holding against Joe a sin God does not hold against him!  Was it a good thing that Joe divorced Janie?  No.  There may continue to be repercussions, especially if he and Janie had kids, but having repented, his sins are now taken as far away as the east is from the west.  How dare a church say, “But we don’t forgive you!”

Through all this, I still say I understand the appeal of legalism.  It would be easier to just say, “No alcohol, no gambling, no divorce, no whatever!”  But, amazingly, God gave us brains and trusts us to use them!  Sure, alcohol can be a problem but used properly it can be a help.  Gambling can become a problem and—it could be argued—is a waste of money about 99.9% of the time, but maybe God didn’t prohibit it because he knew that serving him is going to require us to take some risks.

Maybe it’s why he tells us, through Paul, to “take every thought captive.”  Every day, every moment, every thought, has great potential.  Maybe some of these things aren’t sinful in and of themselves, but—at this moment in time—they could cloud or derail that potential.

Nobility, a Thought

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A particular TV show has been recommended to me quite often of late, several of the recommendations coming from Christians I respect.  I don’t have cable, satellite or Netflix, though, so my only way to watch would be through the purchase of DVDs.  Before plunking down that kind of money, I thought I ought to do a little research to see what the show was like.

Adventure, swords … “A lot like ‘Lord of the Rings’” one good friend told me.  That did sound intriguing.  Based on what I had read, though, I asked him, “But doesn’t it have a lot of nudity and graphic sex?”  He replied, “I don’t pay attention to those parts.”

Based on the fact that he is a male, with a wife an children of his own, I immediately concluded that he was lying.  More on that (maybe) in a minute.

Another person who I talked to about this show assured me that “I don’t let my kids see those parts.”  He didn’t deny seeing them himself.  And secondly, notice that neither of these people denied that the show contains copious amounts of nudity and sex (not to mention graphic violence—something I don’t have as much trouble with but maybe I should).

Before I go any further, let me be clear (as a politician with a particularly opaque behavioral pattern is fond of saying), I am in no way advocating for censorship of this show (or any other) or even a boycott of it.  I realize that freedom of speech is easily abused, but I have a great fear that if it is infringed upon (in the case of a TV show like this, for instance) the next infringement will be on my freedom to preach the gospel or write things like this.

Still, I can’t help but think of the Apostle Paul’s words when he wrote (or said, I happen to think he dictated his letters), “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”  (Philippians 4:8, for those of you keeping score at home.)

Is this a command?  Even if it’s not, even if it’s just a suggestion on Paul’s behalf, I think two questions are worth asking in light of the current discussion: 1] what benefit is gained by following it; and 2] what are the consequences of ignoring it?

The benefit of following is a mind (and heart and life) filled with light.  The danger of ignoring, is that we let darkness—even if it’s just one hour’s worth of darkness a week—into our lives.  The same thing could be said of much of the TV, movies, music and books we let into our lives.  Does every word we read need to be Scripture or written by Max Lucado or CS Lewis?  No, but I think it’s worth asking what this “entertainment” I am choosing puts into my head [it stays there, I can’t pretend it doesn’t when I hear a song—even a worship song—I haven’t heard since high school and still can sing along with every word] and how it is influencing further thoughts.

Comic book from Samuel Ben White now available on Kindle!

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The first issue of my adventure/humor comic book, “Burt & the I.L.S.” is now available on Kindle and Kindle Fire!  Read more about it here!

In the vein of “Terry & the Pirates”, with a healthy dose of “Cottage & CO” humor thrown in, “Burt & the I.L.S.” is the most fun you’ll have with your Kindle today!  And it looks just as good on a standard (black and white) Kindle as it does on the Kindle Fire!

Click on the pic to the left there to get a peek at the first page.

“Do Not Let Your Heart Be Troubled”

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There I was, reading my Bible in a mostly daily fashion when I hit this like a tree thrown in front of a stagecoach in an old western:

“Jesus said, ‘Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust in me.’”  (John 14:1)

Why did that verse catch me so?  I know I’ve read it before.  May times, in fact.  I’ve heard it quoted many times, too.

And that was the thought that came to mind when I first came to a stop on this verse.  I wasn’t thinking about past readings of it, but of a past quote.  “Most of a quote” I should clarify.  For, in the movie adaptation of “Fellowship of the Ring,” it is Galadriel who says to Frodo, “Do not let your heart be troubled.”  (I looked it up—by reading the whole novel—and yes, she says it in the book, too.)

Galadriel is promising a rest from weariness to Frodo—and the rest of the fellowship—if they will but tarry a while in Lothlorian.  Thanks to the skill of the elves, they can keep the bad guys out for a while.

It’s a great line from a great movie (and even better novel), but it’s also just that: a line from a movie.  And, even within the context of the movie, it’s not a blanket statement.  Galadriel knows that what she is offering is only a temporary respite.  Eventually, Frodo and company will either have to get back out on the road/river, or evil will break down the defenses of the forest.  Like other stops along their path (most notably: Elrond’s house), Lothlorian can only shelter them for a time.

Jesus’s promise has no such temporal qualifier.  He goes on—in the next few verses—to promise his followers a room in the very house of God which won’t wear out.  No evil will ever encroach on it, let along get inside to spoil it.

Yet, there is something he asks of us—a key to the door, you might say: trust in God and trust in him.

How hard is that?  Incredibly simple, isn’t it?

Until we try it.  Then, it turns out to be one of the hardest things we’ve ever done.  Especially in the good times.  When laying in a hospital bed, or sitting next to one and watching a loved one slowly slip away, it’s pretty easy to trust in God if for no other reason than, “What else can I do right now?!?”

Often, it’s harder to trust in God when things are going great.  Bills are paid, no one in the family is sick, and there’s a good show on television.  It’s hard to trust in God at those times because we don’t feel an overwhelming need to do so.

As I write this, the wind is whipping by outside the window with such ferocity I keep looking up expecting to see pieces of the roof flying by.  It occurs to me to trust in God to keep the roof (and steeple) on because I sure can’t do anything about it.  But if I lose all or part of the roof, so what?  It’d be a pain and inconvenience, but not much more.  It might even do me physical harm or, if I’m lucky, kill me, but big deal.

That’s nothing compared to trusting God and Jesus with … everything.  Not just life or death moments, but those simple little moments that might turn into heaven or hell moments—for me or someone I’m called on to minister to.  I think that kind of trust comes only with practice and complete surrender.

Do I trust enough to surrender?  Can I surrender enough to trust?

Sick of Nostalgia

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As my laptop cratered earlier this evening, I thought about getting mad, but then I thought: why bother?  It’s what computers do.  They wear out on us.

Some people, whose intelligence I will try my best not to disparage, say at a time like this, “Oh, for a good old typewriter!  Am I right?”  And then they begin to list all the advantages of a typewriter: instant hardcopy.  No problem when the power goes out.

And then they’re pretty much stumped.

See, I “grew up” on a typewriter.  I remember the typewriter we had in our house growing up in Abilene, Texas (official motto: “We’ll think of one eventually”).  It sat on a bureau in the kitchen, right under the wall phone, where a quick label or even a short letter could be banged out by anyone in the family at a moment’s notice.  Mostly, it provided people with something to do while listening to a boring phone “conversation” (i.e. monologue) from someone whose feelings you didn’t want to hurt by hanging up on them though you wouldn’t have minded hitting them with a hammer.

As I grew older and became enamored with the power of words and a fascination with producing them on a typewriter, I began to lug said typewriter to my room, where I would type on stories until the wee hours—much to the chagrin of my sisters who were in the next room.  And did I say “lug”?  That may be too mild of a word.  Our family actually had a typewriter that was (probably) advertised when new (sometime during the Harding administration) as “portable”.  I can just see the ads in “Life” and “Colliers” that probably showed some smart, trim-looking woman wearing the height of fashion, stepping happily down the street, carrying our typewriter as if it weighed no more than a bagel—and it was conveniently shaped like a purse, too!

In reality, it weighed something more than a beagle and had all the aesthetic charm of an anchor.  The keys were all made out of metal that had only partially been melted down after the Merrimac was decommissioned and were guaranteed to stick every time you tried to type too quickly a word with a “th” in it … or a vowel.

The ribbon!  Who can forget the joys of typewriter ribbon?  How many people in nursing homes today landed there because of the alcohol they drank to try and forget the typewriter ribbon?  For those of you young enough to not have any idea what I am talking about, as you typed on the keyboard of a typewriter (whose keys were arranged in the same non-alphabetical order as what you see on your modern keyboard), tiny little metal “things” would strike a black “ribbon” and print “letters” (and even quotation marks) on the paper you had—hopefully—remembered to insert in the typewriter.

For a while.  Eventually, the ribbon would run out of “black” (or even red, remember those?  The typewriter with the duel-colored ribbon which, in theory, allowed you to type the New Testament but usually just produced writing where the top two thirds of the letters were black and the bottom third was either red or non-existant?).  When the ribbon ran out of black, you were supposed to replace it.  Except that only the people in the State Mental Home for the Chronically Overprepared had spare ribbons on hand (or knew where they kept them—we sometimes owned several new ribbons, but they hid in the backs of closets until unneeded).

This is where typewriters became really fun, kids!  All typists believed that, somewhere on the ribbon that had been in their typewriter for several senatorial campaigns, there was a “sweet spot”, a place on the ribbon where there was enough black to finish out the letter to Aunt Rose you were typing.  So you would hand-wind the ribbon back and forth, looking for that spot, only to find that—yes, there was SOME black left but, unfortunately, by that time it was all on your fingers.

And have I mentioned those erasers that were supposed to be capable of erasing typed print but were actually little bits of sandpaper shaped like an eraser and designed to, with two quick strokes, rub a hole all the way through your paper?  I haven’t?  Well, don’t get me started.

Yes, I want to boot my laptop (not as in “reboot”, but as in “kick it like a football”), but I have just enough brain cells left to know I don’t want to go back to a typewriter.  Maybe I’ll just write all these things out in pencil and tie them to the feet of birds—any bird will do, I’m sure—with express instructions to take the message to the High Plains Observer.

Hole-y Cow!

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In one of the more alarming news stories you probably missed from the great state of Indiana (official motto: “We have a motto!”), holes are forming and disappearing at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

Now, officials are quick to tell us these are not like the sinkholes we’ve been seeing on the news that have swallowed houses and—in one of the most tragic events of our young century—several classic Corvettes.  No, these are little holes that are only about a foot to eighteen inches wide—barely big enough in which to lose a small, cherished, family pet—which appear for a day or two and then DISAPPEAR.

Yes, you read that right.  The holes appear in the sand dunes seemingly out of nowhere, and then they fill back in.  If you’re like me, the first thing that comes to mind is a thought like, “What’s for lunch?”  The second thought is a more thoughtful one like, “Sounds like a problem that solves itself.”

Researchers at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, which is near the wonderfully-named Indiana town of Michigan City, however, are extremely worried about this phenomenon.  One of the main researchers, Geologist Erin Argyilan, is said to break into tears at the mere thought of these mysterious holes.

She is also said to be seven months pregnant in the article I read.  Now, pardon me for being an insensitive and misogynistic chauvinistic pig for thinking this, but could some of the tears have been caused by the hormones of pregnancy?  I remember when my wife was expecting our first child and—I’m not kidding—once broke down crying because the self-serve line at the grocery store wasn’t open.

Having holes that randomly appear and disappear in one’s landscape, I can see where that might cause some alarm, but tears?  Then again, maybe she’s worried about losing something in one of those holes, something she really cares about, like her car keys or something.  I shouldn’t be so quick to judge.

There is much speculation about what is causing the holes.  These sand dunes apparently cover an area that once had trees, so some people are speculating that, as the trees underneath the sand decay, they eventually collapse and a hole is formed, which then fills up with the blowing and drifting sand.  Living in the Texas panhandle, I can understand the concept of blowing and drifting sand.  I can’t really picture it filling in holes, though.  All the sand that has blown into my back yard these last few days, none of it has filled in the holes the dog dug.  (“Dog dug” is a fun phrase, say it to yourself a few times.  See what I mean?)  No, the sand that blows into my back yard will very carefully cover the one section of the yard that actually has grass.  This way, I have to go out there and rake the sand away from the grass like I’m in some kind of weird golf course, in hopes the grass doesn’t follow the rest of my yard into the great beyond.

But I’m not sure about this concept of trees.  I’ve heard of them, but what are they?  I would call Geologist Erin Argyilan, but I don’t know how long ago the article I read was written and she might be in labor by now and I hate to interrupt her at a time like that.