30 April 2012

Centrifugal Bumblepuppy

I was reading Justin Taylor's post on Kyle Smith's look at Neil Postman's comparison between Aldous Huxley's Brave New World and George Orwell's 1984.  (There's enough links to keep you distracted for the rest of the day, and a rather busy run-on sentence to sort out to boot.)

According to Postman, Huxley was right, and Orwell was wrong.  I agree. Here's what he said...see if the shoe doesn't fit-

Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing.

Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression.
But in Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books.
What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one.

Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information.
Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism.

Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us.
Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.

Orwell feared we would become a captive culture.
Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.”

In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain.
In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure.

In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us.
Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.

Where the rubber meets the road on this in my life is my kids' apparent addiction to stimulation.  If there isn't an electronic device in their hands every minute they are awake, they feel out of place.  This is scary until I start thinking about my own activities as a child- at around the age they are now. We didn't have iPods and tablets and laptops and such. But I always had some form of distraction in my own hands.  My favorite was the several sets of 'army men' (little green toy soldiers) that I'd set up and play with in my room.  But I also had a metal pipe that was Daniel Boone's rifle, a couple of phasers made from blocks of wood, and a schematic of the helm of the USS Enterprise drawn on poster board and hung over my head on the bottom of the top bunk above me.  And I had a library.  I was the only kid I knew that owned a thousand books by the time I started high school.  (Yes, I read them all. I never got as far behind as I am today because I didn't have the money to buy books faster than I could read them.  Shame on me now!)

So I then wonder if distraction is all that dangerous to our mental and emotional development, or if it is just part of being human. Certainly, the type of distraction is a factor.  After all, books are not nearly as much a waste of time as TV, and so on.  But there are good books and bad books, right?  And I learned a lot of useful stuff from TV as a kid- like the fact that professors are smart, Ginger isn't, and Skipper will use corporal punishment (hit you with his hat) if you mess up.  That was a valuable lesson.

I guess I'll go read Postman's book.  It's obviously a classic and I've never read it.  It'll be a good distraction.

27 April 2012

Update on Proposed Farm Chore Law

 From today's Daily Caller-

Under pressure from farming advocates in rural communities, and following a report by The Daily Caller, the Obama administration withdrew a proposed rule Thursday that would have applied child labor laws to family farms.

Critics complained that the regulation would have drastically changed the extent to which children could work on farms owned by family members. The U.S. Department of Labor cited public outcry as the reason for withdrawing the rule.

“The decision to withdraw this rule — including provisions to define the ‘parental exemption’ — was made in response to thousands of comments expressing concerns about the effect of the proposed rules on small family-owned farms,” the Department said in a press release Thursday evening. “To be clear, this regulation will not be pursued for the duration of the Obama administration.”

26 April 2012

Consolidated Blogging (?)

I've watched several blogs consolidate in the past year or two.  In particular, the Gospel Coalition has absorbed a few of the independent bloggers into its rotation of contributors.  At first, this bugged me a bit.  I looked at it like Wal-Mart putting the proverbial mom-and-pop hardware and grocery stores out of business.

But now I've changed my view.  I like the idea, primarily for its practicality.  Most of us are not Tim Challies.  (I was listening to the Band of Bloggers audio from T4G12, and one of the panelists made this point...as the rest of us were saying, 'duh'.)  I can't, and have neither reason nor desire, to put a full-length article on line at least once a day; one that people are interested in and want to read.  (I suppose one would need to be an interesting person to be able to do this.  I ain't.)

So the idea of combining forces with a few like-minded individuals seems like a good idea.  The Pyromaniacs were on the cutting edge of this philosophy, and have done a great job of it.  A predecessor to the Pyro guys, perhaps, was the radio program White Horse Inn.  There, four pastors from different denominational backgrounds get together weekly to discuss gospel-related issues.  They've done extremely well at it.

The hard part is, where do you find a couple of like-minded folks to share in your blog?  Beyond that, what about the personal side to the blog?  Do you still post family pictures, or videos of your kids playing baseball? (I don't see much of that on Pyro or GC, for example.) What about the days where you just don't have anything to say?

And perhaps the bigger question- how do you deal with the fact that you may not be a writer on par with your colleagues?  If I were asked to be a contributor to an established blog with a large readership, I'm not sure I'd have the guts to say 'yes'.  After all, I can't write like those folks can. So how does one deal with the skill inadequacies?

Lots of good questions.  For now, I'll keep posting here-and-there when I have something to say.  Maybe someday I'll get good enough at this to command some peer involvement!

25 April 2012

Living in Nazi Germany, or Modern America?

 Living in Nazi Germany America

So Rick Perry was right.  The Department of Labor does indeed need to be dismantled.  They've proposed making it illegal for kids to do farm chores.

What is this formerly great country coming to?

24 April 2012

Texas: It's Like a Whole Other Country

Here's a photo from the Hill Country of Texas-

By the way, that ain't the part where I live!  My part looks more like this-

It's a different kind of pretty.  A 'dry' kind. And it really is like a whole other country.

(HT: I love Texas blog)

17 April 2012

"It's My Money, And I Need It Now!"

There's a rather annoying (but effective) commercial for one of those we'll-take-all-your-money-over-time-and-give-some-of-it-back-to-you-now places; you probably know the one I mean.  They say, at least 20 times, "It's my money, and I need it now!".  In fact, other than the narrator giving the address and phone number of the company, that's about the only dialogue in the commercial.  It's effective because it plays directly to post-modern Americans' need for immediate gratification.

'Mr. Wentworth'

Cameron Cole wrote an interesting blog post over on The Gospel Coalition website.  Here's the whole thing...it is worth a read.  But I want to focus on just one of his points. In explaining some of the problems with contemporary youth ministry, he says this in point three-

3. Parents want moral children.

A gospel-centered youth pastor in South Carolina once told me that parents were his biggest opponents to him fully preaching the gospel. After several years of teaching the radical grace of the gospel, parents complained about a lack of concentration on drinking, sexual abstinence, obedience to parents, and "being nice." They viewed the message of grace as antinomian and as a license for kids to pursue hedonism. Parents rightly want moral children, as do youth pastors. Sometimes, families view the church exclusively as a vehicle for moral education, rather than spiritually forming them in Christ, and put pressure on youth and senior pastors to moralize their children. Many parents view the law alone as the catalyst for holy living, rather than law and grace, and want the youth ministry to embrace this same theology.
The fact that parents want moral children isn't surprising, nor (do I think) is it a bad thing to want.  The problem, as Cole hints at in this segment, is they want results now.  I struggle with this in my own parenting.  I keep wanting to treat the symptoms instead of the disease.  One of the things my wife and I remind ourselves and our Sunday School class on a regular basis is, we need to be more concerned about the long-term status of our children's faith than the short-term status of their behavior, without neglecting their behavior.

Here's how we put it: "Would you rather have a perfectly-behaved teenager who doesn't understand the gospel, or would you rather have a teenager who messes up on a regular basis, but has a great understanding of the gospel?"  The question may seem rhetorical, but it isn't.  We need to ask ourselves, and answer to ourselves, that question on a daily basis.  In our daily discipline and instruction of our kids and how they should behave, are we consciously focused on the long-term, big-picture aspects of making sure they have heard the gospel in all that we do toward them?

This isn't an easy task.  If any of you have any magic pills for this, I'll take a bottle at whatever price you ask.  (This could be a better retirement plan than weight-loss pills.  After all, not everybody is fat*, but everybody who has teens struggles to parent them!)

 (teens not behaving badly)

The problem is, we parents want what we need (good behavior from our kids) and we want it now.  Our own pride rears up when they misbehave.  We worry what other might think of us in the community, and this worry can easily outweigh our (well-placed) concern for the true state of their hearts in spiritual terms.  What that happens, we become like the parents in the blog post above; sort of a spiritualized version of helicopter parents, with just as much risk and the potential for even more damage than a secularized version of the same. We, like the parents in the post, begin to view patience and grace as bad things, when we have directly benefited from these things when we've behaved as badly as our own teens (and this from both our earthly parents and our heavenly father!). We begin to pressure our youth ministers to moralize our children, and the gospel gets lost in the mix.  No wonder we see the long-term results we see.

The only solution I see is to make sure our imperatives to our kids are given in the light of the gospel's indicatives.  We need to make sure we daily plan to purposely steer our kids toward the gospel whenever we also steer them towards the law.  We won't get it right as much as we'd like, but the good news (pun intended) is, the power unto salvation is found in the gospel, not our ability as parents.


*OK, CDC says about 40% of Americans are fat.  That's too many.  The diet pill thing is still a good retirement plan, if you can find one that actually works.**

**This isn't medically possible, so quit wasting your time.  Go for a walk instead.

16 April 2012


I'm not an official distributor and don't get paid by them, but I do use Dropbox and really like it.  It behaves like a folder on your desktop, but is available on any computer you use on the internet.  It's much easier to use for file transfer than emailing things to yourself.

Here's a link to see what I'm talking about:  Dropbox.com

If you sign up, we both get 500MB free space.  You get the same deal for anyone you refer to Dropbox.

Along with Evernote, another software package I use in the cloud, this is a pretty nifty bit of cloudware.

13 April 2012

One Hail of a Storm

We had one of those once-every-thirty-year storms on Wednesday.  It dumped so much hail in one area that it drifted up to four feet deep.

I actually pulled this photo from the Daily Mail in London, UK. The Brits, with their usual dry humor, found the story to be either a bit affable or completely unbelievable.  (Here's the story.)

But it's true.  We get those kinds of storm here every once in a while.  In 1993, a similar storm dumped up to 6 feet of hail and nearly a foot of rain about 20 miles South of my parent's house.  The hail took nearly two months to melt in the Texas heat, and the playa lakes that formed took close to three years to dry up in the West Texas desert climate. 

Here's a short video clip someone took of some of the flash flooding the next day.  You can't see much, as they didn't get any wide-angle shots, but you can see why flash floods kill people who are caught by surprise in a low-lying area.
Not a snowstorm; but a hail storm.

We've been stuck in a two-year long drought here.  The rain is welcome.  I just wish we didn't get it all back in one storm!

04 April 2012

Congrats to the Baylor University Lady Bears!

The Baylor women's basketball team finished 40-0 this season, winning the national championship last night, 80-61 over Notre Dame.  Congrats to the Lady Bears!

I got my master's degree at Baylor, and met my wife there.  It was a great two years.  This was in 1988-89, the last part of their glory years in football under Coach Grant Teaff.  After Coach Teaff retired, things went downhill, and they were down and out for a long time, so it's great to see them back winning across the board. 

One interesting statistic is, their 'Big 3' teams- football, men's basketball, and women's basketball won a total of 80 games this season.  That's the most of any NCAA program in history.  That's impressive.  Maybe even more impressive than a girl who dunks.

03 April 2012

What Do We Do Now?

I ran across a very interesting article on the GC Blog today.  It is by Dave Wright, and the original can be found here.

After giving a brief summary of the roots of youth ministry, Dave says the following-

By the early 70s, churches began to realize the need for specialized ministries to teenagers and began hiring youth pastors. Some of these were former staff members from YL and YFC. With this the church imported the relational strategy of the parachurch movement. During the 70s, youth pastors seeking to reach large numbers of youth for the gospel began to employ a more attractional model. Gatherings with food and live music could draw enormous crowds. Churches found that large, vibrant youth groups drew more families to the church, and, therefore, encouraged more attraction-oriented programs. Later in the decade, this writer watched leaders swallowing live goldfish in both the church youth group and local Young Life club when we brought enough friends to reach an attendance target.

By the 80s the emergence of MTV and a media-driven generation meant church youth ministry became more entertainment-driven than ever. Youth pastors felt the need to feature live bands, video production, and elaborate sound and lighting in order to reach this audience. No longer could a pile of burgers or pizzas draw a crowd. By the end of the decade the youth group meeting was being creatively inspired by MTV and game shows on Nickelodeon. The message had been simplified and shortened to fit the entertainment-saturated youth culture. By the start of the 21st century, we discovered many youth were no longer interested in the show that we put on or the oversimplified message. Christianity was no different from the world around them. Some youth ministries intensified their effort combining massive hype with strong messages that inspired youth but did not translate to everyday life. We realized we were faced with a generation whose faith was unsustainable.

The Result

What happened in all that? First, we moved from parachurch to church-based ministry (though the parachurch continues). In doing so, we segregated youth from the rest of the congregation. Students in many churches no longer engaged with "adult" church and had no place to go once they graduated from high school. They did not benefit from intergenerational relationships but instead were relegated to the youth room.

Second, we incorporated an attractional model that morphed into entertainment-driven ministry. In doing that we bought into the fallacy of "edu-tainment" as a legitimate means of communicating the gospel. Obscuring the gospel has communicated that we have to dress up Jesus to make him cool.

Third, we lost sight of the Great Commission, deciding instead to make converts of many and disciples of few. We concluded that strong biblical teaching and helping students embrace a robust theology was boring (or only relevant to the exceptionally keen) and proverbially shot ourselves in the foot.

Fourth, we created a consumer mentality amongst a generation that did not expect to be challenged at church in ways similar to what they face at school or on sports teams. The frightening truth is that youth ministry books and training events were teaching us to do the exact methods that have failed us. The major shapers of youth ministry nationally were teaching us the latest games and selling us big events with the assumption that we would work some content in there somewhere. In the midst of all this, church leaders and parents came to expect that successful youth ministry is primarily about having fun and attracting large crowds. Those youth pastors in recent decades who were determined to put the Bible at the center of their work faced an uphill battle not only against the prevailing youth culture but against the leadership of the church as well.

The task before us is enormous. We need to change the way we pass the faith to the next generation. Believing in the sufficiency of Scripture, we must turn to the Bible to teach us how to do ministry (rather than just what to teach). Students need gospel-centered ministries grounded in the Word of God.

This description parallels pretty closely with what I saw happening in my dealings with youth ministry from the mid-80s on.  It didn't seem to matter very much what the denomination was, nor the level of commitment to 'biblical inerrancy' or the conservative/liberal bent of the churches.  Everybody was doing the same thing.

Back then, I didn't have Utes of my own, so the process didn't really register on me with any more depth than, 'gee, I wish we'd had this much fun when I was a youth.'  Now, I have three teenagers and another soon-to-be.  This is very important now.  How context matters.

Our own youth ministry has pretty well done away with the attractional model of youth ministry.  As a result, the numbers are low.  Many of the kids who used to come go to a church down the street where they are still doing rock concerts and throwing food.  But those kids aren't being fed.  Our kids are, and I'm thankful for that.  The big question for the youth leadership is, how can we 'compete' with the attractional models?  I understand this isn't really a competition, and so do the pastors at church.  But still, it's hard to reach some of the kids who seem to need it the most when they aren't around at any of the events.

I suppose this is a good picture of why non-attractional models must of necessity be missional models.  If they won't come to you, you are going to have to go to them.  Sure looks that way.

02 April 2012

What Do You Think?

The US Supreme Court has finished the hearings on the Obama health care package.  Here's my prediction:

   The Supreme Court will NOT overturn the law.

OK, I'm on record.  What's your guess?