The Blog (archived)

Category: Faith

Forced To Be Sociable In Church

Monday, August 18, 2008

Today I thought I’d have a whinge about the way many churches force people to be sociable in a widely disliked practice often referred to as “meet and greet”.

For those not familiar, it’s a brief time in a church service when the pastor says “turn and greet the person next to you” or “introduce yourself to someone you don’t know“, or something similar. The idea is to get people mingling, getting to know each other, forming relationships and building community. It’s a worthy goal, but the trouble is, it doesn’t work like that … certainly not in the minute or so allocated. Although some people like it, most find the forced sociableness to be contrived, superficial, unauthentic, awkward and uncomfortable.

Anybody capable of starting a meaningful conversation with a stranger is surely able to exercise this talent on their own, without any pushing. Those of us who are a bit shy and introverted (like me) are extremely unlikely to make a friend or have any meaningful social interaction with a stranger in less than a minute. Especially when the band plays loud enough to make conversation difficult without megaphones and ear trumpets! It achieves little for the non-outgoing (other than discomfort), and I cringe to think how visitors not used to the practice might feel.

I’m not the only one to express this thought, as commented on in another blog (here, 10th paragraph down). Even socially adventurous people may have their off days, when they can do without being forced to make small talk.

To get this gripe out of my system, I visited the Church Sign Generator website and came up this sign for a fictitious introvert-friendly church:

Fake church sign

In case the image doesn’t show, the sign text reads:
“Holy Hermit Church for Shy Folk
no meet & greet
no forced mingling
non-threatening for the timid and introverted”


The Hypocrisy Of Current Affairs TV

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

I normally prefer to write about more positive things, but feel compelled to indulge in a brief whinge after the latest display of hypocrisy by Channel Seven’s current affairs program, Today Tonight.

I felt irritated a couple of weeks back, when Today Tonight aired a story about half the contestants in the finals of Australian Idol being Christians. They made a big deal of this, as if there was something sinister or wrong about it, and alleged that the pastor of Hillsong Church had encouraged its members to vote for some of the Christian singers competing on the show. The allegation was unsubstantiated, and denied by the church, but the truth apparently wasn’t important to the story.

Bill Muehlenberg wrote a witty response in his blog (see Danger! Danger! They Are Taking Over!), highlighting the anti-Christian bigotry often shown by Today Tonight. He points out that in a recent census 64% of Australians identify themselves as Christian. Also, Christians sing a lot in church, increasing the likelihood of developing their talent. The fact that some of those doing well in a singing contest are Christians is therefore a perfectly logical outcome, not a scandal.

And even if a church did encourage its members to vote for certain entrants, they wouldn’t be alone. Clubs, social groups and even businesses do exactly that. Last year an Australian Idol contestant from Albury-Wodonga had the local pub raise money to pay for phone votes, but Today Tonight didn’t run a story on that. Even Today Tonight has been known to promote individual contestants, as they did with the Perth couple competing in “My Restaurant Rules” a few years ago. The couple won, thanks in part to the free promotion Today Tonight gave them.

no-tt.gifWhat pressed my button though was last night’s program. There was a story having a go at a group of Christians hoping to influence the approaching federal elections by expressing their opinions to politicians (how dare they use their democratic rights, like everyone else!). This was followed by another reference to churches “stacking votes” in the Australian Idol contest.

Immediately following this was a story about a Perth dancer doing well in the “Dancing With The Stars” TV show. Apart from being shameless cross-promotion of one of their own TV shows (which was to air later that evening, what a coincidence!), it stongly suggested that Perth viewers support (ie vote for) the celebrity paired up with the Perth dancer. So it’s okay for Today Tonight to solicit votes in talent contests, it’s okay for other groups to do it, but if they think a Christian group might be doing the same thing … it’s a scandal, worthy of a critical “news” story.

It is often said that churches are full of hypocrites, and they have their share. As a church member I can readily admit we’re not perfect. My observation, however, is that more hypocrisy can be seen outside churches than in them, and Today Tonight is a shining example (see this article for more details). They’ve lost one semi-regular viewer, and if Christians are anywhere near as numerous as the census suggests, they stand to lose a lot more.

Now that I’ve got this off my chest I can forgive Today Tonight’s hypocrisy and turn the other cheek … while turning to another channel.


God Helps Those Who Help Themselves - Really?

Thursday, March 29, 2007

You have probably heard the phrase “God helps those who help themselves”, and if you are like three quarters of Americans, you might think it comes from the Bible (as per this newspaper article). Having read most of the Bible but never come across the phrase, I became curious about where it originated, and just how true it is.

I found that the saying is often attributed to Benjamin Franklin, but most likely originated from Aesop’s fables circa 500BC:

“A Wagoner was once driving a heavy load along a very muddy way. He came to a part of the road where the wheels sank half-way into the mire, and the more the horses pulled, the deeper sank the wheels. So the Wagoner threw down his whip, and knelt down and prayed to Hercules the Strong. ‘O Hercules, help me in this my hour of distress.’ But Hercules appeared to him, and said: ‘Man, don’t sprawl there. Get up and put your shoulder to the wheel. The gods help them that help themselves.’”

So much for the idea that the saying comes from the Bible - it doesn’t. But is it a biblical concept? Not really.

It may appeal to our “do it yourself” culture, but spiritual self-reliance is not consistent with Christianity. The Bible teaches that God helps those who trust in Him, who are not able to help themselves - the ultimate example of this being Christ dying in our place to pay the penalty for our sins. God does instruct us to work diligently, and demonstrate our faith by our works, but when he blesses our work it is in response to our heart and our trust in Him, not because of the work itself. Some relevant words which do come from the Bible:

  • Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the Lord. - Jer 17:5
  • He who trusts in himself is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom is kept safe - Prov 28:26
  • You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. - Rom 5:6
  • Give generously to him and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. - Deut 15:10

Even if a phrase sounds biblical, has been around a long time, and many people think it is from the Bible - that doesn’t necessarily mean it is. If in doubt, check it out!


Curiosity and the Burning Bush

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Most people are aware of the bible’s account of God speaking to Moses from a burning bush. On the surface, God would seem to be grabbing Moses’ attention in a forceful, compelling way, but is that true? In a recent re-read I saw it as a something more subtle.

The relevant bit:

Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight - why the bush does not burn up.” When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses, Moses!”
[Exodus 3:2-4 (NIV)]

These points came to my mind:

  • No bush would completely burn up instantly. Moses must have been paying attention to it for a little while - long enough to have concluded that it wasn’t burning up.
  • For Moses to “go over and see” implies he was some distance from the bush and had to go out of his way to find out what was going on (he was shepherding sheep at the time).
  • Its only after Moses became curious about the bush, and did something about it, that God spoke to him.

I believe this is a typical style of encounter between people and God. He uses the direct approach when needed, but for most people, most of the time, its more subtle. God may orchestrate something to arouse our curiosity, but we usually only encounter Him directly after we show an interest and take the time to seek an answer. Its like God is a gentleman, issuing invitations then waiting for us to respond, rather than forcing himself upon us … as with Moses and the burning bush.

If you have no interest in God, and don’t seek him, you probably won’t find Him. But if you are curious, and seek answers …


Rules for Achieving

Friday, January 12, 2007

There are only two rules for achieving anything:
1. Get started
2. Keep going

I noticed the above many years ago on the wall of someone’s office, along with other motivational slogans. It’s simplicity appealed to me, and something I just read on the Internet reminded me of it. I repeat it here because it is relevant to this time of year when people tend to make resolutions.

Lots of worthwhile goals are never achieved - like writing a novel, sorting the photo collection or sock drawer, losing weight, reading a series of books, building something, etc. One reason is procrastination - we simply never get around to starting something. Or if we do start we may not see it through to completion, due to lack of time, losing interest, unrealistic expectations, or a million other reasons.

The slogan I quoted distills some profoundly simple logic from the business of achieving goals. If we start, and keep going, we should finish … eventually (and an achievement that takes a long time is better than one never started or completed). Looking at it this way can make a large project appear more achievable. The trick is in dividing it into bite sized pieces that our self-discipline and schedules can realistically cope with.

My example is the reading of the Bible from cover to cover - something I decided I wanted to do over 20 years ago. For years I read bits and pieces but never got around to tackling the whole Bible. Eventually I started a one-year reading plan, only to abandon it because I couldn’t keep up with the reading schedule. I thought a three-year reading plan would be more achievable because the lighter reading schedule would be easier to stick to, so two years ago I began. So far, so good. One year from now I will have finished reading the whole Bible, systematically and thoroughly. All I really had to do was get started, then keep going.


Bono On Faith

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Bono, of rock band U2, is a God-fearing, bible-believing Christian. However this is not obvious to a lot of people, as he and his band are not outwardly evangelistic. His quote in the book U2 at the End of the World says something about his faith:

“We’ve found different ways of expressing it, and recognized the power of the media to manipulate such signs. Maybe we just have to sort of draw our fish in the sand. It’s there for people who are interested. It shouldn’t be there for people who aren’t.”

Bono’s spiritual beliefs permeate U2’s music, and his activism in social justice issues reveal his faith in action. The messages are there for those tuned in to them, but are subtle and non-preachy enough to not annoy non-believers (otherwise U2 wouldn’t be one of the world’s biggest bands).

The more direct “in your face” confrontational way of expressing faith in music has its place, and many respond to it. However it can alienate other non-believers, without doing much for the spiritually undecided who may be open to Christianity but don’t want it rammed into them. Both approaches are valid, and U2 are a great example of expressing faith in subtle (sometimes even cryptic) ways.

See @U2 Lyrics for examples of U2 song lyrics and allusions which are derived from, or inspired by, bible verses or themes.