Thoughts on Kingdom, Church, and Grace from an American living in Hong Kong

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Education: What is REALLY important!

In the United States and other developed nations our education system does not prepare the individual for adulthood, but rather to go to college. The question for most is not "Will you go to college? but "Where do you plan to go to college?"

Having spent the last 8 years of my life living in a college town and seeing some of the antics that go on I have often mused, "How is it that we developed a system of higher education that sends our children off on their own at an age when their decision making skills will be at the lowest they will ever be in their entire life?"

With this emphasis on college for our children, the affect has been that a Bachelors degree is increasingly being viewed with the weight of a high school diploma. When everyone has one, then it becomes less important. (Now you have to go to graduate school just to distingush yourself from the masses with a B.A.)
One wonders whether high schools would be serving the population more if they also provided for adequate vocational training and life skills. For instance, why was I required to take 4 years of maths in high school? I am not suggesting that math is not important but all the math I have ever REALLY needed in life I learned by the
9th grade.

Would not I have benefited more if those extra years had been substituted by musical learning (I wish I had been forced now to have learned an instrument), foreign language training, automotive repair (would have saved me much money in my life) or other such endeavors that would have improved my adult life much more than algebra ever did.

Part of the reason for this cultural shift has been the subtle, and not so subtle, contempt our society feels toward blue-collar labor. Despite the fact that skilled labor has much more job security these days than an advertising or marketing manager, and in many cases a skilled job can provide for a very nice middle class lifestyle, we still feel a sense of disappointment when someone enters one of these fields rather than "go to college". I remember hearing in the news a couple years ago that the state of California was short 20,000 plumbers (which paid more than $30 an hour) but no one wants to be a plumber.

In addition, people are coming out of university with sometimes crippling debt and wondering why they even went. Add to that most students choose to go to schools in other states adding thousands and thousands of dollars in room and board costs when often the same quality of education is available at a school close to their home. This is particulary depressing when you realize that 1 in 3 students will drop out before obtaining their degree. Had they really wanted to go to college, or is it just something that is expected in our culture??

Increasingly I am viewing the whole system as a bit of a scam we have collectively bought into. There is very little that is taught in a 4 year program that could not be imparted in just a year or two.

For my own son Gabriel I am starting to make a change. I want him to do well in Math and encourage him but I realize with his temperament he will not be going into a math related field. Living in China my number one educational priority for him is the acquisition of Mandarin Chinese. I will not ignore the "core" teachings per se but will try to alter his education so that it fits him rather than what is expected by the culture. May throw in a little electric guitar as well... (see video)

Any how, in the words of Dennis Miller, "That's just my opinion, I could be wrong."

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The New Sacraments: Relevancy

There are a few words I believe the church needs to have a moratorium on. These include use of the word "Extreme" in any youth group related activities, use of the word "Victory" in any church names, and use of the word "Relevant" in any form whatsoever.

In a previous post I had begun to address how emphasis on traditional church sacraments, such as Baptism, Matrimony, and Holy Communion, have begun to be replaced by what I term 'The New Sacraments' which include Authenticity, Uncertainty (or Mystery), and today's winner: Relevancy.

Peruse any church website and you are more likely than not to see that one of the church's claims is that it's "relevant". I always find the term amusing myself as my first question is always, "Relevant to who?"

Now, my goal here is not to simply trash the notion of being relevant which is simply "how pertinent, connected, or applicable something is to a given matter". Matter of fact, Paul the Apostle paved the way for "being relevant" when he wrote the Corinthian church and said,
"To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some"

When Paul defines it though, it is a straight forward example with his intention being quite clear; the hope that by being relevant some may be saved. That very notion is a stumbling block to an increasing segment of the Christian church today. Some would infer "not all" and thus exclusive. To be exclusive in the church today is even worse than not being relevant. To be irrelevant is to invite pity and perhaps ridicule, to be exclusive is to invite derision.

Also, Paul uses his "relevancy" to get people saved and getting people saved is becoming something the church just doesn't "do" much anymore.

So what does Relevancy in the church mean today?

Well, if you are an evangelical it might mean your church:

* has a really great coffee bar with a high end espresso machine
* has lots of great personal potential workshops so you can be the best God made you to be
* has an "extreme" youth group doing lots of "extreme" things like skateboarding and XBOX 360 Halo parties

If you are a Post-modern or Emergent Christian, relevancy may mean:

* apologizing for things the church may (or may not) have done for the past 2000 years
* having conversations on how we are going to get people to like us and not confuse us with...*gulp*...*shudder*..evangelicals.
* declaring Bono your patron saint

If you are a Charismatic, relevancy might mean:

* A life size portrait of the Senior Pastor and his wife in the church lobby
* A deliverance and healing service complete with holy laughter and departing demons
* Lots of big hair and makeup

Now, I've been involved in a lot of church discussions in my life and quite often hear the criticism that the church just isn't relevant. My thought is, "It is relevant, it just isn't relevant to you".

Often, the biggest critics come not from outside the church but from inside. It is said, "Familiarity breeds contempt" and many Christians have allowed the familiarity they have with the church to become a breeding ground for contempt. One cannot claim to love Jesus and have contempt for His bride. The person who says to me, "Steve, we like you a lot but your wife is a real jerk." is not going to get very far in my book. Its not to say that that we can't have honest criticism of "the church", but that criticism has to be rooted in love, not contempt.

So what does "Relevant" in church circles mean? I know that Jesus says if the world hated Him, at some point if we are obeying him, they are going to hate us too.

For me, that puts a whole new spin on what it mean to be relevant.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Ron Silver 1946-2009

Character actor Ron Silver has passed away after a two year battle with cancer. I blog about this for two reasons:

1: Ron Silver was a wonderful actor who I have enjoyed immensely through the years, particularly as Bruno Gianelli, the hard nosed political strategist on The West Wing.

2: Ron Silver was a liberal Democrat who became a Bush supporter due to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He endured the ridicule from his own friends and embraced a VERY unpopular position that negatively affected not only his reputation with the Left but jeapordized his career.

I was at a dinner party once where the participants were all liberal Democrats (hey I lived in Boulder) except for me. When the topic of Ron Silver came up, a collective disgust came out from the company. "Wow", I thought, this guy really struck a nerve.

Ron Silver was on a panel discussion a couple years ago and I was amazed by his reason and rational. He mentioned something to the affect that for years he saw, and was well aware of, the far right crazies but how he had come to learn, and fear, the far left crazies just as much, if not more.

I resonated with that attitude as I had come to the same conclusion from the opposite end of the spectrum. I had always seen, and feared, the far-left crazies. They were the enemy trying to destroy all that was good and noble about this country. Then I ran for the U.S. House of Representatives in 2004 (yes, I lost...but I did win the primary) and was quickly made aware that my own party had its fair share of crazies.

For years I listened to pundits like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity and saw the world in the way they sold it. But something certainly happened to me. I don't know if I moved to the middle, or they moved to the right, but now they sound like clanging cymbals to me. Its not that I always disagree with what they say (I often agree) its more in the way they say it.

Its become pretty in vogue these days for evangelical Christians (particularly the under 40s) to proclaim their disgust with the Republican Party and proudly proclaim their support for the Democrats

...but not I.

I certainly sympathize, but the reality for me is there are more deal breakers on the left side of the aisle than the right, although I retain the right to step over the line when I feel the issue deserves it.

Ron Silver was a liberal until his death bed, but his sharp mind allowed him to alter his positions on a number of areas where reason would trump ideology. In this clip I was saddened at the obvious toll the cancer took on his body. As a survivor of cancer myself, I am particularly empathetic for people living with this horrible disease.

So Rest In Peace Mr. Silver, you'll be missed!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Tony Blair on Christianity

"Sometimes I think we as Christians are more sensitive than we should be" explained former British Prime Minister Tony Blair in a recent interview to the Daily Telegraph.

I remember watching the funeral of Princess Diana. Tony Blair got up to read a portion of the Bible and the way he read it I thought, "He believes what he's reading" I suspected then he was a Christian. Not the Christian who inherits the moniker because they were born in the West, but the Christian who has seen Jesus Christ as the Son of God and changed his life because of it.

Since Mr. Blair has stepped down as PM, he has been much more outspoken about his Christianity admitting he needed to observe certain "boundaries" as the Prime Minister lest he be viewed as a "nutter".

Blair went on to warn, "that faith is in danger of being seen as a "personal eccentricity" rather than an important influence on the country."

"He also criticised the "ludicrous decisions" that have led to worshippers punished for expressing their beliefs, such as Caroline Petrie, the community nurse who was suspended for two months after offering to pray for an elderly patient, and Jennie Cain, the primary school receptionist who still faces the sack after she asked for spiritual support from friends when her daughter was scolded for talking about Hell in the playground." said the Telegraph.

I've always been a fan of Tony Blair. I got to meet him once in Hong Kong and he is a very warm, genuine and engaging man. I don't always agree with or endorse some of his positions (both politically or theologically) but I also know he is navigating Christianity in waters few Christians have had to swim in.

So kudos to Mr. Blair for publicly proclaiming his belief in Christ in an area of the world where it would be much more popular not to.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Life on Mars axed!

Ok, I'm a little irritated! One of my favorite TV shows was just cancelled and I want to sound off. In an earlier post I mentioned some of the new shows this fall season that I thought were pretty good.

I have watched one by one as they have all been cancelled. First My Own Worst Enemy, then Eli Stone, and now the one that really disappoints me, Life on Mars.

Life on Mars had it all; Cool cops with 1970s clothes, 1970s attitudes, 1970s political incorrectness, 1970s soundtrack mixed with Harvey Keitel, time travel, and tiny little nano robots. Cripe! its a crying shame that this show gets axed and idiot reality shows that play to the lowest level of our society get promoted.

Word on the street though is that the ABC execs liked the show even though they killed it and are giving them until the end of the season to wrap up the story line.

I know this is just gripeing, and considering the real pain going on in the world, this type of post seems trite.

But gosh dang I love good story telling...and the story I was listening to just got cancelled. :)

Monday, March 2, 2009

Louis CK and the Simple Life

I still don't have a cell phone. I lost one about 3 years ago and never replaced it. People keep trying to get me to get one. People keep asking me how they can get ahold of me quickly...and you can't :)

Which reminds me of a story:

When I was working as a Community Relations Manager at Barnes & Noble Booksellers, our music manager said they had someone come in to the store asking for me and had a question. They tried to get ahold of me but were only able to get Tammy (my wife) on her cell phone. She said they were a little irritated at not being able to contact me. I said I was sorry but they can leave a message at home and I would have got back to them. She said, "What if it were an emergency and we HAD to reach you." I replied something about "how our business was selling books and not brain surgery so there would be no instance when they would ever HAVE to get ahold of me."

Anyhow, you see where I'm going with this.

With the economic crisis hitting hard on many families, it has been a good opportunity for people to re-evaluate what is important in their lives. CNN reported the other day that the number of people requesting information on how to become a Franciscan Friar has rose dramatically.

I'm not surprised. It may be time for everyone to take a look at what is really important in their lives.

This clip, featuring comic Louis CK during an appearance on Conan O'Brian, highlights this return to simplicity as well as some wonderful pokes at our often over indulgent, narcissistic, fast food culture.

Lately, I've been making a point of just being content and thanking God for the things in my life I so often take for granted; A wonderful healthy family, a climate controlled roof over my head, a job that pays the bills as well as debt, food in the fridge and after a hard days work, a glass of wine. Really, what else do we NEED??

One of the advantages of having moved to a developing nation is that the "little things" becomes so special. An English magazine, taco seasoning, or a cup of coffee from Starbucks take on a whole new added appreciation.

Oh, and by the way, I still have NEVER sent a text message.