I’ve been dealing with mandatory obligations lo these many weeks and had to make some difficult time management choices, so as any of my three regular readers can tell you I haven’t had much to say here in quite a while. I expect to be back blogging again shortly; I’ve got a backlog of comments in moderation, too, and hope to deal with them shortly.
Thanks for your continued patience.
I took my entourage back to City of Faith for my second visit. My primary traveling companion would like to give the church an extended try.
So for the duration I will not be blogging about City of Faith.
Sorry folks. My current business trip has been long, mostly off-line, and completely out of hand. I missed a chance to visit Tim Keller’s church, but I got in another visit to Thomas Road. I expect to finish the series on Mars Hill Albuquerque later this week. Thanks for your continued patience.
I’m back from various holidays and various obligations, and looking at a January full of real-world obligations that may keep me offline most of the month. I got a chance to read a James Hefley book and a big chunk of a Kevin Phillips book that just plain curled my hair. Look for summaries later in the week as I have time.
Does anyone remember James C. Hefley? Marti Hefley? Mr Hefley wrote a lot of books (some 70? [link] I really have no idea) but most of them were entirely forgettable. I know I read at least one of his books when I was in middle school, but I couldn’t tell you what its title was if my life depended on it, and none of the extant lists of his works I’ve found ring a bell.
Anyway, Hefley is mostly known for his six-volume chronicle of the conservative resurgence within the Southern Baptist Convention, The Truth in Crisis. If/as I read that I’ll be sure to let you know. Here’s a clue: the book I read left a bad taste in my mouth, like I was reading a book meant for adults but written at a middle-school level. But more on that later.
I will be taking a little break from this blog starting tomorrow through the first of the year or thereabouts due to travel and poor Internet access. I’ve got another church visit lined up that I hope will turn out to be interesting, among other things. Watch this space.
I hate Christmas. You can quote me on that. Here are 10 reasons in no particular order that I hate Christmas:
- The music. There are a handful of (like, literally, five) Christmas tunes that are instantly recognizable and utterly transcendent. I’m thinking maybe Silent Night, O Holy Night, possibly Greensleeves, parts of Handel’s Messiah, and not much else. Beyond that most Christmas music is awful. And not just secular Christmas music of the Jingle Bells/Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer variety.
- The Christmas Cantata. Yes, we as Protestants know that Baby Jesus grew up to be Our Lord and Savior, and He died on a cross, and rose from the dead on the third day. Do we really need to muddle the Incarnation with the Crucifixion every single year? Isn’t the Incarnation miracle enough for one season?
- Advent. In more high-church traditions we spend a whole month of the liturgical year covering roughly the same handful of Scripture verses; this is one of the problems with the liturgical year: we tend to give most of Scripture short shrift and camp out on some aspect of either Matthew’s telling or Luke’s telling every year. This year my home church is spending an entire month on Auden’s poem For the Time Being [link]. I wish I knew why.
- The War on Christmas. My best guess is that this is a fund-raising exercise on the part of certain parties in the outrage industry. Yes, it grates for someone to wish me a “happy holiday;” who celebrates a generic holiday? Are these the same people who drink “a beer” [link], listen to “an album” [link], or make “repetitive generic music” [link]? Of course not; nobody would admit to doing these things. But everything about the War on Christmas strikes me as cynical and manipulative. Seriously: what’s a war without a body count on both sides? And who kills for Christmas?
- Christmas movies. Seriously; name three good Christmas movies. And I don’t mean movies about “the Christmas season” (e.g. Love Actually or It’s A Wonderful Life) or “the Christmas Spirit” (any telling of Dickens’s Christmas Carol), but movies that are actually about Jesus.
- Christmas specials. The fact that Charles Schulz lost his faith [link] kind of undermines the Charlie Brown Christmas Special for me; once we get away from Linus Van Pelt’s rendering of Luke 2 is there anything left worth seeing in a Christmas special?
- Operation Christmas Child; do we really want Billy Graham’s son exporting American consumerism in the name of Christmas? Are there any worse examples of mixing the consumerist aspects of American Christmas with the religious aspects of Christmas than Operation Christmas Child? Have I mentioned that this is a charity with a budget of more than $300 million?
- Christmas charity generally; there is no worse indictment of the soullessness of contemporary American Christianity than the Christmas appeal. For a Christian there really should be no “season of giving” any more than there should be a “season of love” or “season of forgiveness.” That there is is embarrassing.
- Commercialism. This is the easy one: seriously, don’t you cringe every time you see a commercial featuring some big-ticket item wrapped with a giant red bow? How about the current commercial showing the transitional couple crumbling inside because hubby bought his wife the wrong car for Christmas? Who, apart from the occasional divorce lawyer or ad man, loves this commercial?
- Well, Christmas generally. I’d love to see any evidence that the Early Church celebrated Christmas (especially as an alternative to Saturnalia) alongside Easter.
I wish you and yours the best and hope your Christmas is tasteful, authentic, and on-key. Oh, and may you not be subjected to the Ron Howard/Jim Carrey version of How The Grinch Stole Christmas. Seriously.
And if you do anything that helps you make Christmas meaningful I’d love to hear about it. I’m all out of ideas here.
Someone from PRBC was kind enough to contact me with some clarifications and corrections. Here’s the promised follow-up:
I wrote earlier [link]
I was a bit disturbed to note that the parking lot only had room for 12-15 cars, and the building seemed quite small, so I was concerned that PRBC was some sort of separatist group, single-extended-family church or even a cult.
The church property extends along 12th from Indianola to Clarendon and the lot on Indianola is complemented by a comparable amount of parking on the Clarendon side. We parked on the street, off church property; I’d guess with overflow there’s parking for maybe 50 cars. I’d refer kind readers to the original post for context for the “even a cult” part.
The person who contacted me was kind enough to let me know that the church property is paid for. My congratulations to PRBC for that; I wish all churches were debt-free.
Second, in the earlier post I wrote
since he is an elder at PRBC and occasionally preaches but isn’t so far as I know ordained or paid by the church.
The person who contacted me was kind enough to tell me that James White “has a regular preaching schedule, is ordained, and is paid by the church.”
For reference sake the church’s website [link] mentions in its frame header that both Fry and White are elders. So far as I’ve seen it doesn’t elaborate on what this means, and casual readers may be confused as a result. It mentions [link] that the New Testament mentions both deacons and elders, and that in RB churches they are distinct offices. If there are any deacons at PRBC I can’t find them on the website. Nor can I find any language to suggest that elders are ordained and paid.
I haven’t been able to find a constitution, by-laws, indication of an affiliation with an association, etc. I’d appreciate any and all assistance here.
To my knowledge in the churches I’ve attended deacons and elders are rarely paid, and they aren’t ordained. I’ve seen the occasional Brethren church that just has elders, with a position of “teaching elder” that is an unpaid rotating position, but I rarely see any other churches where elders preach. I’m accustomed to “pastors preach, elders teach” distinctions, where pastors are professionals and elders are amateurs, for lack of a better word, and elders teach Sunday School or Bible studies but never step behind the pulpit. This strikes me as a situation where Scripture says something, different groups interpret it differently, and there’s plenty of discussion as a result.
Anyway, for the record PRBC apparently has one elder who is also a pastor and one who is not; both preach regularly and both are paid.
Someone from PRBC was kind enough to contact me with some clarifications, corrections etc. that I’ll deal with here soon.
Unfortunately when I responded to him I got back a spam filter response with an attached legal notice I can’t comfortably agree to, so our interaction may not be as neat as we’d all like it to be. Such is the nature of modern electronic communication. Thanks for your patience.
As I’ve said before, it’s a perilous thing to visit someone else’s church, and it’s doubly perilous to talk about it in public. I tend to visit churches when I travel, partly to see what’s going on in the Church Universal, partly because I’m not entirely happy with the church I attend most regularly, and partly because I sometimes visit a church looking for something in particular. One of the grave dangers in visiting a church is to have in one’s head a picture of how everything should go, and to criticize everything that doesn’t measure up to that standard. Another grave danger is to decide that whatever a group of people who call themselves Christians want to do is okay and there’s nothing left to do but describe what group X is doing.
It turns out there aren’t lots of guides online to visiting churches. There are some interesting points from the Ship of Fools Mystery Worshipper columns [link], but they seem to be most appropriate for people with Anglican or UK Catholic expectations. There’s a guide for visiting Episcopal Churches for non-Episcopalians [link], courtesy of a real estate company in Tennessee. There’s a list of ten tips courtesy of a layman of the United Church of Canada [link]. And there’s David Cloud’s 2003 visit to Saddleback [link]. And that’s about it, so far as I can tell.
It’s my general impression that in a random church most of the people there would be somewhere else if they knew where to go. So it’s not fair to wonder why, after visiting a particular church, to wonder why anyone puts up with what I’ve just seen week after week. It’s because they don’t know what else to do. Or they’re afraid to leave. Or they’re resigned to staying. Or they have some commitment to the church that keeps them there. People who actually love their church and look forward to going back week after week are rare.
It’s important to remember when visiting a church that there are things that are essential and things that are not essential, and it’s important to keep the distinction between the two clear. For example, I don’t particularly like contemporary music; I was raised on a series of Baptist hymnals, and I’m accustomed to four-part harmony pitched so I can sing along, with verse-chorus distinctions. And I don’t think it’s necessary to sing every verse of a given song; sometimes the most beautiful words in the English language are “third verse as the last.” But I have to remember e.g. that there’s nothing necessarily wrong with guitars in church, and repetition, while occasionally tedious, isn’t actually evil.
Finally, every church has something weird going on, something unhealthy or wrong-headed, and there’s nothing innately wrong with pointing it out. It’s just vital to do so gently and without scorn. And it’s helpful to do so without Christianese if possible: i.e. no “they shame the Word of God with their lack of attention to its teachings” when “the sermon was only ten minutes long” would do.
I’m more or less back from a few days working elsewhere and a week of visiting my alma mater and family. Yes I saw Liberty University in its current incarnation. Yes I visited Thomas Road Baptist Church. Yes I think the Snowflex Center makes the Monogram somehow less tacky. I hope to be back to posting normally tomorrow. Please stay tuned.