07/21/17
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A Contemporary Screwtape Letter (3 of 3)

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*Final part of my homework assignment for a CS Lewis seminar. All trolls will find a purgatorial home.  

My dear Wormwood,

Have you not yet understood anything I have been saying? How can you ask me such a stupid question? You have fallen into the same trap as our prey with expressing wonder at the digital world and your unfounded fears as to its potential service to the Enemy. When Lysias proposed to Socrates that the new invention of writing would allow humans to access speeches and remember everything Socrates chastised him, pointing out that humans would now forget everything. We have seen this steady progression of forgetfulness for centuries, and this new invention accelerates humanity’s demise even faster.

I will be as frank as possible in my final letter to you, so there will be no mistaking how we are populating hell, and so you can spare me your fanatical worries. The Christian faith hinges on historical events that occurred in real places. More than an abstract philosophy, this faith seeks embodiment. The Internet enables us to directly attack time, space, and presence.

Screens have replaced geography and presence. Our prey believes nothing is real unless it can be delivered in the form of an image. Even the dangerous words of Scripture have become “floating text” in the digital ether, subjecting them to all manner of wonderful misquotes and partial readings. They turn themselves into images, managing multiple fragmented identities in various locations. Images can be powerful catalysts for imagination, which is dangerous, but we are corrupting the power of the image so that it warps the imagination. We create an image of everything from breakfast cereal to snakes so that it dulls their power to stun and shock. Everything is an image. What’s more “screenshots” allow for images of images which further remove presence, geography, and identity. They don’t know who they are anymore, and no one truly knows them either as images only show fragments of life, or alleged life to be debated among complete strangers.

We have compressed space and time. Instant communication and real-time updates on world events inspire our finite subjects to keep up with infinite messages of every kind. Sabbath is lost even by those who profess to practice it. A never-ending stream of divergent digital revelations follow them as closely as the Enemy’s goodness and mercy would if they had time to experience them. Instead they practice a way of life marked by present absences.

Notice how they can be in each other’s presence but only engaged via screens? New laws trying to ban them from engaging the digital ether while driving continue to fail as they cannot look away. No matter what they do they are distracted by the glow of the virtual icons they carry. They are physically present but otherwise absent. They cannot totally exist “in the moment” because the moment must be memorialized as an image to be shared with others wishing to live vicariously through the image, and they can’t look away. Like an unfortunate soul caught staring into the eyes of Medusa they turn to stone—both in ambition and in capacity for compassion. This ether is an all-encompassing ambient reality that haunts humanity.

Yet they won’t see this, so it isn’t something to waste energy on trying to prevent this realization. Just continue to flood the ether with images of every kind, from the tame to the profane. The Enemy’s image will be undone as the multiplicity of images pressures our subjects to conform by constant engagement. Soon hyperreality will replace the screens altogether and overlay our Enemy’s creation with holographic images. Reality and virtual reality have become one, and people will forget which space they actually occupy. It will be a civilization that functions through disembodied faculties in an augmented reality that will usher in the age of the post-human.

Which is to say, a world of ghosts.

Humanity will devolve into ghosts in the machine and create a spectral paradise. The very thought brings a tear to my old eyes as I see signs of its soon coming.

Until that great day…

Your affectionate uncle

Screwtape

07/15/17
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A Contemporary Screwtape Letter (2 of 3)

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*The second part of my class assignment. Once again the tyranny of the deadline reverted further tweaking, but here is what made the cut thus far.

My dear Wormwood,

I am pleased with your progress with our digital tools, but you still lack a nuanced understanding of their effect on our subjects. Like our prey you naively focus on instrumentality without a concern for ontological potential. Have you noticed the vehement reaction when anyone attempts a criticism of digital mediums? These tools are no longer tools they are culture and identity. They a part of who people are as much as their ancestry and native tongue, and their being is more enmeshed with the machine than ever.

This close relationship with the machine results in their trying to keep pace with it. They receive a notice, usually via some obnoxious dinging or vibration, that lets them know a new piece of information has arrived. Like Pavlov’s dog they check instantly no matter if they in the middle of cooking, reading, or even driving (the rhythm of this culture demands instantaneously engagement)—and consume the images and information.

Efficiency is the new humanity and watching them implode in their race against the machine is the most exquisite delicacy in an age.Even though the Enemy has tried to prevent this through His Sabbath, and through voices like McLuhan, they are too preoccupied arguing with complete strangers to have time to listen.

Remember when writing came into the Enemy’s camp? The community of storytellers became dependent upon a reader, then a scholar, and all manner of hierarchies and abuses of powers ravaged them. For all they knew the Priest pronounced curses on them in church—helpless until that miserable Luther…but we managed to use the printed press against them too. They sacrifice critical thinking for the promise of progress and wait in long lines to obtain the latest tool they will not only use to make their life but break it. Remember, the computer developed to handle calculations for the hydrogen bomb—not so people could watch a cat “boop” a dog on the nose. Ignorant humanity still believes in the neutrality of their tools. Their children livestream their own suicides and they simply choose to swipe those images aside with that of a kitten smelling a flower.

As for the Church, it isn’t much of a concern so your alarm at the handful of techno-critics is grossly unfounded. The Enemy’s camp has been successfully divided into those who pine for new and those too terrified to use it critically—the blind and the scared are easy marks. Those who avoid the Internet are chastised as Luddites and those who choose to use it critically are labeled the same, and shamed as those who would deny knowledge to humanity.

Now about your own relationship with this culture, I understand you spent the entire evening Pinning sunsets, puppies, and other aspects of creation? You either have not been told or simply forgotten that, unless you adjust the settings, everyone can see. You have an unnatural love for the nature that is most troublesome. Be a bit more selective.  We want people to fall in love with the images themselves not to the reality they reveal.

Your affectionate uncle

Screwtape

07/7/17
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A Contemporary Screwtape Letter (Part 1 of 3)

1467887167_bbf2bacf75_o*I recently took a doctoral seminar held at Oxford exploring the communication style of C.S. Lewis. This post, and the two following, are part of an assignment to create three contemporary Screwtape Letters. I would have liked more time, but such is the reality of homework deadlines. Gentle critiques are welcome, trolls will be sent to purgatory. 

Letter One

My dear Wormwood,

I am gratified to hear of your recent release after 75 years. No doubt decades submerged in the Stygian Marsh and a year spent in a flaming tomb have given you ample time to appreciate the gravity of your previous incompetence. I trust that you also found time to meditate on my previous lessons.

Much has changed since we last spoke and it has fallen unto me, your benevolent uncle, to enlighten you about our current work in the world. You will remember our discussion about how we confused humanity’s ability to discern truth with the bombardment of the weekly press? How your previous subject had been “accustomed” since childhood “to have a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing together inside his head?”  Well, we have since improved upon that approach…substantially.

We have a new ally called the Internet. Like the press, it serves the Enemy. Yet, through careful manipulations we have turned it to our advantage. It functions as an ether of information. It is a noosophere–an invisible cloud of humanity’s ideas that hovers around the subject at all times. The Internet is place (which is why we treat it a proper noun) where people deposit and access their knowledge through technological devices.

Like mediums searching their crystal balls, they look into their glass screens into a world of floating texts and images—searching for answers.  You are too young to remember, but in medieval times followers of the Enemy used to carry relics around with them as links to the transcendent. Through a careful application of pressure for continual connection, and a fear of silence and solitude, we have replicated this dynamic with mobile technology. They panic and are practically lost without their devices! They bypass contemplation, prayer, and conversation with one another for instant information. Their lives are bound to this ether of knowledge and it is this ether that we will use to undo their humanity and destroy the image of the Enemy.

I will write more later, but it would serve you well to spend time in Hell’s computer lab doing research. I am sure one of the other demons can help you send me your first email.

Your affectionate uncle

Screwtape

Photo credit: Martin Gommel via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

01/6/17
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Homiletics Notes #1 “My Problem with Preaching”

I supposed I should qualify that title by acknowledging the existence of a lot of amazing problems with preaching (including my own failures that I enjoy ruminating on), but what follows is the particular problem bothering me at the moment.

My friend Shawn has been struggling with the practice of preaching on his social media platform, critiquing it as a contemporary church practice. He cites articles that note preaching, especially among millennials, is at its “lowest value in history” and makes mention of EGW quotes such as:

As we approach the end, I have seen that . . . there will be less preaching, and more Bible study. There will be little groups all over . . . with their Bibles in their hands, and different ones leading out in a free, conversational study of the Scriptures…This was the method that Christ taught His disciples (GW 408).

This isn’t to say that he is against preaching ; being a biblical and historical tradition it can’t be written off as wrong, evil, or unscriptural. Plus speech communication, whether it’s a critical presentation at work, a simple (albeit terrifying) speech for a high school class, lines in a play, or a YouTube vlog, won’t go out of style for a long time. People talk and will continue to talk publicly. To me the issue isn’t public speaking or it’s homiletical (preaching) form, it’s more questioning a communicative reality.

People just don’t seem to connect with sermons. Honestly, I don’t blame them.

Is it the content?

Kind of?  There are cringe worthy messages reflecting either the presumption that the Spirit blesses a lack of study or unrecognized personal issues the preacher takes to the pulpit to beat his or her people over the head with. Also, every preacher has sermons that are the tragic victims of hasty exegesis or poor hermeneutics (biblical interpretation).

However the problem goes deeper than that…

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12/20/16
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Pastor Journal #1 “Pastoring and Stuff”

Having neglected this poor blog for some time, despite paying renewal fees, I have decided to make use of this space for more pastoral and academic reflection. Pastors always end up with sermonic material/reflections on the cutting room floor that I feel congregants may want to read at their leisure–instead of sitting through a 60 minute sermon. Academically this provides a place for me to process ideas that haven’t quite settled in my brain yet.

I am choosing the word “journal” because “diary” makes me feel like a 12-year-old girl.

These are meant to be short entries, even the academic ones. Sermons and papers require hours of work and meticulous formatting–this is a place to fling stuff out at random with little regard to citations or APA/Turabian/MLA/OCD what have you. I will at least try to keep my spelling accurate, but I can’t rpomise.

As 2016 ends I am challenged by several dynamics in pastoral ministry–it’s a weird time to pastor, for several reasons, not all of which will be mentioned here.

First is the growing generational gap between digital natives and immigrants. A presentation at pastor’s meetings last year from a professor at Fuller Seminary, noted that for every physical generation separating people–it equals four technological generations. Which means in addition to bulletins churches/pastors have to maintain a host of digital platforms, each with their own language to master. You have to be bilingual in analogue and digital.

Second, the continued fascination with Millennials by every church publication exhausts me (and I am a late millennial, depending on who you read). I get worn out reading these articles since they sound so much like the lamentation of lost youth articles that have been in publication for decades. It’s futile trying to make hasty generalizations about generations. Ministry is relationally driven, and we seem to be at a continual impasse with intergenerational ministry with people not taking them time to befriend each other (which includes both older and younger generations making effort). Just make friends, take people to lunch, spend time. It is so weird that this is so hard.

Third, there is an intensifying post-church trend that is difficult to face. People are sporadic with church. This isn’t a millennial thing. People who were involved at church when their kids were little now seem to be on hiatus, as if they “did their time” and can retire from the Body of Christ. Before anyone feels lecturey, I know the “church isn’t a building” and going to church doesn’t make you a Christian, blah blah blah, but relationships and community matter to everyone. Church becomes stressful for a lot of people, it’s not supposed to be, how does this change? The answers to these issues are legion and contextually specific, but many ministers  feel like they expend enormous amounts of energy convincing people of something they aren’t sure they want to do, but has the potential to be so good.  My first sermon series next year is “The Art of Church”…I debated on calling it “Make Church Great Again” 😉

The fourth reality for pastors is the digital parish–we all have them, or should. I know a few colleagues who seem to pride themselves on being digitally illiterate, which is tantamount to a missionary bragging that they refuse to learn the local language. What makes this dynamic weird, is not only the fact that I have “followers” outside of my physical parish, but they span all kinds of beliefs. I have followers who don’t attend church and don’t identify as Christian who “like” and engage on spiritual/Christian posts. Additionally, as followers increase, when a national tragedies happens I now feel pressure to say something pastoral.

When I do the response is overwhelming.

I have stated elsewhere that I often wonder if, should current social media trends continue, “church” will look more like denominationally sponsored digital rabbis with their online followers. It feels like we all have an “independent ministry” now.

There’s more, but that’s enough pondering for now.

Shalom.

Photo credit: Etrusia UK via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

02/5/16
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Pierce Family Adventures 2016, Episode 1: “Fruit Poops.”

During a recent ride home from an afternoon of risking life and limb at IKEA , my eldest daughter informed us that she needed 100 of something for a school project in the morning. Being exhausted and poor, my wife and I began to make suggestions to our daughter based on what we had in the house. She vetoed many perfectly viable, but apparently dull suggestions. Fearing we may actually have to invest some energy in our daughter’s education, I had a moment of inspiration. I made a suggestion that not only garnered her approval, but may have changed her life.

“How about Fruit Loops?” I offered, feeling confident, but certainly not exuberant about my idea. She responded, aghast at the suggestion.

“DAD! GROSS! No. Not Bird poops.”

I will not pretend that suggesting bird poops is outside the realm of possibility for me. They are free, countable, and abundant depending on the season. However, in this case, I did NOT make that suggestion. I swiftly corrected my daughter and, relieved, she accepted the offer of the colorful cereal dwelling in our pantry. I would like to tell you that the rest of the ride home continued appropriately; but the damage had been done.

Even though my daughter possesses my wife’s sensibilities, she also has my sense of humor and the normal propensities of a second grader. After the horror connected to the word “poop” passed, the humor of the word took over. From the driver’s seat I began to hear giggling, as my daughter worked out the pun. “I said bird poops…that sounds like fruit loops…fruit loops…bird poops…” This revelation was repeated in various forms as she talked herself through the sounds–allowing her glee to move past giggling to wild cackling as I heard her say, rather too excitedly, “Fruit poops!”

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01/4/16
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PhD Pastors: An Interview with David Hamstra

This interview was conducted via email with my colleague and friend whom I’ve known since elementary school. Even during the early years of our education everybody knew David was smarter than than everybody else 😉  David is one of many pastors who hope to pursue advanced education and his conference’s approach to allowing him to do a PhD is rather innovative for Adventists. It’s also valuable for ministers and conferences wanting some idea of how approach the subject. Thanks to David and the Alberta Conference for allowing this interview to happen.

Okay, give me the biographical breakdown: How long have you pastored? Where have you pastored? How long have you been out of seminary?

I’ve been in full-time pastoral ministry for 10 years (if one year of volunteer youth work in Australia counts and seminary doesn’t). I’ve spent my entire professional career with the northernmost Adventist congregations of Alberta, Canada. I graduated from Andrews University with my MDiv in 2010.

2. The Dmin is the usual doctoral route for Adventist pastors, tell me a little about your decision to pursue a PhD instead.

I think of myself as a pastor whose ministry specialty is theology. My first call was to be a shepherd to the flock, and God hasn’t indicated that I should have any other carrier ambition. But in addition to that, during my MDiv, God also called me to work on a specific theological project. So for my advanced training, I knew that an academic doctorate would prepare me to make that theological contribution in a way that a DMin is simply not set up to do.

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08/5/14

Shampoop

Like most parents, freshly risen from a semi-restful night of slumber, I made my first stop the master bathroom to conduct my morning business.

Our spacious lavatory includes: a double-sink situation to minimize marital conflicts and a massive walk-in closet to contain piles of unwashed clothing. It also has a nice shower, with sliding glass door, to remove all hope of privacy when marauding children barge in and ask any number of questions vulnerable dads don’t feel like answering in the shower.

The most useful component of our master bath, however, has to be the commode with its own door. The commode not only contains our toilet, but the small room doubles as a library, reading nook, botanical garden (pending wife approval), and all purpose sanctuary/retreat center.

It was after a respite in our commode, still waking up, that I opened the door, stepped out into the commons area and beheld one of the most terrifying, panic-inducing, sights in all of parenting history: Continue reading

06/29/14

Awkward Girl Games

girlsFirst let me say that I appreciate the miracle of breastfeeding.

I support women who do it publicly (not in a creepy way) and give my wife the admiration she deserves for making that choice for our children–and even model it for our older girls in the hopes that, should they decide to be moms later in life (much much later), they will embrace the practice too.

So I shouldn’t have been as alarmed when my daughter and her friend began playing make-believe in the car on the way home from some church meetings. Continue reading

03/17/14

80% of Adventists Still Unsure When to Clap

clapWe’ve all been there. On a rare Sabbath morning a competent musician delivers an awe-inspiring rendition of a spiritual song ushering the congregation into the presence of God.

And upon their conclusion the congregation enters into the valley of wide-eyed uncertainty and indecision.

To clap or not to clap? THAT is the question.

Gratitude is not something commonly expressed in Adventist congregations. Taking a dutiful approach to ministry it is expected that you share your gifts on demand because God—or the Nominating Committee—says so.

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