Sunday, May 25, 2014

Sunday Musing: Comparing Local News to Local Church

Church services are like the local news and ministers are like journalists, so called. By this, I mean that while both are well intended and both purport to present their products with intensity and professionalism, both fall sadly short of the ideal they want their audiences to believe. Even sadder is the reality that their audiences do believe that what is presented is true and untainted.

Let's compare, shall we?

The news (read: "gospel") you see presented on the local station (read: "church) may or may not be "news". At the very most it has information that is true based on witnesses. At the very least it presents stories that will appear to inform when in fact the intention behind their selection for presentation is designed to keep the viewer tuned in to their station.

Today's viewership (read: "congregation") has been acculturated to believe that not only is the information and stories presented to be actual news, they believe that those presenting it are the journalists (read: "ministers") they claim to be. Would anyone really continue to watch a station that was honest enough to declare that journalistic expertise is trumped by good looks, endearing personality and the ability to read? Of course, we may have to allow that journalism schools only produce attractive and witty graduates these days. After all, its been a long time since I've seen an ugly journalist on TV.

To maintain viewership and therefore stay in business, local (and arguably national) news organizations have to select information, stories and "journalists" that will produce ratings that keep them viable. "Real" news- whatever that may be- is defined by that which will keep the viewer from switching channels to another station whose stories and "journalists" may be more to their liking. You see, for the typical viewer, a local news station is not generally selected because of the "news" as much as the way in which the "news" is both selected and more importantly, presented.

That's why "journalists" change or are changed by management. Rarely has it anything to do with expertise or experience. It may have more to do with viewership losing interest in a personality (as I have done with weathermen, so called, when their cuteness wears off) or deciding the personality lacks credibility (as happened to me when a sportscaster mispronounced the name of a professional golfer). Loyalty to a station can change as quickly as changing the personalities involved.

Granted, a television journalist probably believes they are true professionals who perform their craft with journalistic integrity. And that's fine. But while journalistic integrity may be present in the stories presented to the viewing public, it rarely holds a candle to the criteria of audience appeal.

And the audience does not notice these issues or does not care to investigate. Otherwise why wouldn't there be more outrage that during sweeps month there are more stories about local pet abuse than international human abuse. Audiences cry over Rover's starvation but go to the kitchen to get a snack when stories of starvation in third world countries are presented.

Which should be "news"? Both types of story are true but one has more chance of keeping an audience.

Then, of course, there is advertising. Once the team of "journalists" is in place, word must get out so that news-hungry viewers know who they can trust when it comes to the dissemination of "real" news. So billboards show attractive "professionals" who are easy on eyes and look trustworthy. (Sadly, an attractive news anchorman's trust was exposed recently as fraudulent when he was arrested for possessing child pornography. Interestingly, his good looks were unaffected.)

This "parable" is, in my opinion, tremendously analogous to today's local churches. Yes, there is some true spiritual activity and sincere presentation but behind it there are people selecting the "messages" and the ministers that will keep people coming back.

And the attendees think this is as authentic as the news they watch before they go to bed. They will pick and choose which church they attend with the same criteria with which they select a channel: Is what is being presented "true? Is the minister trustworthy, credible and unquestionably likeable? If these tests don't measure up to the consumers' personal interpretation and standard of quality, they will simply switch stations and ultimately land on the pew of another church in which the "gospel" is uncompromisingly presented through a "man of God" who "rightly divides the word of truth"....

.....according to them.  

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Sunday Musing: Purity of Heart is not just about sin

As a recovering evangelical, biblical, charismatic, conservative ex-minister of 25 years in six "denominations" serving in a variety of staff capacities, I find myself daily detoxing myself from ways of thinking about God and practicing the religion of my historical discipleship. While I'm thankful for the foundation that was laid my parents and churches, I have been blessed to recognize the limits much of this placed on my growth in Christ. Leaving professional ministry and no longer attending churches has allowed me to see not just who I was, but who I'm becoming. I am learning how to follow Christ as an American living in a religious culture not unlike what Jesus seemed to encounter in his day.

And as the barnacles of my boat are removed, I am discovering what the boat looks like in its created form. After all, no boat-builder builds his boat with barnacles already attached. And few boaters seem to care about the fact that barnacles are not original parts of a boat. The boat was built in a certain way to accomplish its created purpose.

Over the last few years, then, I have found myself evaluating the things I do and the perspectives by which I have done them in light of purity. My upbringing and religious indoctrination limited my perspective on purity to be centered on sinlessness.  I'm learning that purity of heart may be more encompassing than simply being rid of sin.

Purity is allowing me to enjoy each moment for its own sake and not because it serves as a the preliminary moment to the next thing. I wonder if being "pure in heart" is more about an approach to all of life rather than a description of a life without sin.

For instance, I think about purity when I watch sports. Typically, and perhaps somewhat naturally, I tend to watch my favorite teams with the perspective of finishing the game with a win in order to get closer to the ultimate goal of a championship. I fail to enjoy the game's competition because I'm concerned about how it will end. Purity is opening me up to the activity of the game itself thus allowing me to appreciate the playing of the game rather than the outcome that I want.

Perhaps purity from God's point of view has more to do with embracing the moments of life rather than the outcomes. If the moments are that which count, then the outcomes can be whatever they will be. Joy is found in appreciating the "now" of life, not the "yet to come".

This perspective on purity continues to expand its application in my life. It certainly affects my experience of God. I'm learning that Jesus redeemed incarnational living and not eschatological focus. In other words, life in Christ is just that- LIFE, not death. Experience with God in purity is embracing our "nows" and not letting life pass because our focus remains on the "not yets".

I want to live life with purity of heart- a quality that Jesus clearly promoted. To limit it to a life without sin may miss the full possibility of a life refined from not only activities that rob me of the full scope of life in Christ, but also religious perspectives that deny what Jesus meant when he said he came to give abundant life.

Purity for me has certainly always incorporated cleanliness from sin. It has not, however, included cleanliness in theology. I'm glad to say that the rehabilitative work of the Spirit for me is refining me like gold from the dysfunctional and toxic dogma that traps people from living abundantly. Hearts are impure but not in a sinful way- just in an infected way.