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

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

02/28/13
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The Hurt That Heals

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The most frustrating part of having my wisdom teeth removed was when I blindly tried to find a different song on my iPod and inadvertently shut it off.

Replacing my chosen sound track was a high-pitched drill and the snipping of scissors cutting into my fleshy gums.

I fumbled in vain to turn the device back on and get back to my playlist, but instead wound up playing a song I had never heard before, and didn’t even know was there.

To make matters worse, I hated it. So I turned off the iPod again and patiently waited for the surgery to end.

After the procedure was complete, I made my way back to the lobby with a thick wad of gauze in my mouth and half my face numb. My wife grimaced when she saw me.

“Are you OK?”

“Ungfh,” I replied eloquently.

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02/19/13
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Searching For God’s Most Elusive Creation

black-and-white-panda-obviouslyIn 1994, Pollyanna Pickering embarked on an incredible expedition by traveling to the remote Tibetan borderlands in a quest to find and paint one of the rarest of all God’s creatures: the giant panda.

A year of research and organization was necessary to open the door into regions of China that had been open to Westerners for only eight months.

Upon arrival, she stopped at several reserves to paint the pandas; but the pinnacle of her trip happened at a tiny place called Fentergxiao, on the borders of the Tibetan plateau.

It was a grueling three-day journey to arrive at this small reserve, which had an animal hospital where she worked for six months with a baby panda.

While she was able to paint and take care of the baby, however, it wasn’t what she had come for. She had begun her quest to find one in the wild–and into the wild she needed to go.

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02/18/13
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Beyond Spiritual Hot Flashes

flambe-2At some point in history someone decided to write a song with the lyrics “It only takes a spark to get a fire going.” This person has obviously never been camping with me. When I or someone I’m camping with tries to “get a fire going” in that charcoal-caked fire pit, we’re about as effective as a matchstick on an iceberg.

Sure, getting a fire going would seem like a simple task. Put wood in a pit, throw some paper in with it, and light a fire.

Despite the amazing simplicity of this act, I still struggle. I’ve tried arranging the wood into a tepee with paper in the middle, a log cabin with paper as the foundation, and even into an ark with a paper dove.

Nothing.

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02/12/13
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Oops! I Guess I’m Going to Hell

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The word “oops” can be defined as a spontaneous expression of aggravation, frustration, lamentation, mortification, and/or exasperation when a person comes to realize that they have made a mistake, or done something undesirable out of ignorance or not paying attention1—it is also a cousin to the word “whoops.”

Interestingly, no one seems to know where this expression came from, save perhaps the time somewhere around the 1920s or 1930s. But this makes sense—the word itself is a spontaneous expression, so it fits that it has spontaneous origins.

However it came to be, the question is: Have you ever made an “oops”?

The most mortifying “oops” I made in recent history happened a couple years ago when we first moved to Nebraska.

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02/12/13
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More Than a Symbol

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The cross of Jesus has become the universal symbol for the Christian faith. There are even songs about it.

The hymn, “The Old Rugged Cross,” talks about clinging to the cross, loving it and being attracted to it.

The New Testament of the Bible also speaks a lot about the cross.

All four Gospels describe the death of Jesus on this hideous Roman torture instrument, and how He carried it to the place of His execution.

John says, “Carrying his own cross, [Jesus] went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha)” (John 19:17).

We also know, of course, that a man named Simon of Cyrene carried it part of the way (see Matthew 27:32).

Around the time of year commonly referred to as Easter, Christians centre their attention on the “Passion Week,” which focuses on the experiences of Jesus over the week that led up to His death.

Mel Gibson’s movie, The Passion of the Christ, helps us to understand Jesus’ suffering in graphic and confronting imagery.

But while the cross is certainly an important symbol for Christians, is it the only important element among the events that occurred that week?

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02/12/13
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Free to Give

in-god-we-trustOn a website called the Most Expensive Journal, which catalogues the most expensive items in the world, gamers are tantalised by a PlayStation 3 Supreme, a rendition of the video game console completely plated in 22-carat gold that retails for $US323,000.

There pet owners can procure the Lillian Cuddle Couch (coated in Teflon), featuring brass studs on the tassels that cover the legs.

The price for pampering your pooch—and the Cuddle Couch can withstand up to 100 kilograms of dog—is $US1101.

Ladies, do you need a new purse? Guess who makes the most expensive handbag in the world?

Louis Vuitton’s Tribute Patchwork Bag can be yours for just $US60,000—leaving you with no money to put in it.

People spend all kinds of money on life’s basic necessities and, as these examples show, some of us also spend huge amounts of money on other things.

But how much do we “spend” when it comes to God?

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